How to Develop Your Awareness at The Poker Table
November 15, 2013 2 Comments
This article deals with no-limit Texas Hold’em poker cash games. For an overview of how to become a profitable cash game player, please consult our extensive poker cash game strategy section.
For such a simple game to learn, poker is an extremely difficult game to master and experience a profit in the long run. Poker is played and enjoyed by individuals of all ages and demographics. While a fun and enjoyable time for some, poker has developed into a game that has the ability to be beaten in the long-run. In order to experience a profit in the long run, you must develop and possess a variety of traits that will enable you to take your game to the next level. This development requires (but is certainly not limited to): commitment, dedication, discipline, brutal honesty, and most importantly, awareness of your ultimate goal as a player.
Awareness begins with understanding that you will need to be able to slip into a trance during competitive play of poker. If you are not completely focused and aware of what is going on at the table, you are setting yourself up to fail in the long run.
You might win here and then, think you are good, but be sadly mistaken. You might get lucky and think you are the best in the world. Once again you are mistaken. Even if you win some money in the short term playing poker, you are bound to lose money in the long run to the more experienced and aware solid players at your table. Always assume that your opponents are aware of your every move, while you practice the same approach to developing reads on them as well.
Complete awareness at the poker table means that you have developed the ability to eliminate any possible distraction that could affect your poker game in a negative way. In a live brick-and-mortar casino, there are plenty of ways to get distracted. There are sports games being broadcast on TVs all over the room, and you most likely have your cell phone available at all times.
The problem with focusing on these distractions is that you will miss keen details about your opponents in hands you are not involved in. When you finally get involved in a hand with them, you want to have as much background information as possible at your disposal, or be prone to make fatal mistakes that can simply be avoided had you practiced awareness at the poker table.
Assume that every single opponent has been observing you in every hand you play. Take into account how you have already played certain hands, and take account of which hands you have revealed at showdown. On these showdown hands, take note of who is observing the action. Make sure to know that these players are here to win, and not have fun. They want your entire stack, and you should have the same exact goal.
Who wants it more?
Developing Reads on Your Opponents at The Poker Table
I have gone into detail in previous articles about common poker tells. You should make sure that you are not giving away any information at the table, while simultaneously gathering as much information from your opponents as possible. This information is vital when you find yourself in a marginal spot against a known opponent. We must be able to determine what our opponents range of hands are in each and every spot we encounter.
We never want to play the guessing game. We want our opponents to continue to guess, until they break and lose their entire stack to us. We always want to have the initiative in each pot we play, so we are able to maximize the value on our made hands, while also finding opportunities to blow our opponents off weaker holdings when we are bluffing. If you can’t bluff successfully in certain spots, don’t expect to make any significant profit from poker in the long run.
In a live game, many opponents are easy to size up and read. Their ability at the poker table can be quite obvious at times, and we need to take advantage of that. We are looking to assault the weaker “fishy” type opponents at our table, as they are most prone to making mistakes and not understanding how we are playing against them. We are in complete control, we control the size of the pot we want to play, and we determine their breaking point. We keep the pot small when we know we may need to fold, and we inflate the pot when we have a monster hand and are looking to capture our opponents entire stack.
No-Limit Hold’em Cash Game Poker Strategy
In my opinion, no-limit cash games are the most profitable form of poker to play. The major advantage of this game is that you have the ability to bet as many chips as you want on any betting turn. This creates a dynamic that many weak opponents fail to adjust to, resulting in strong, solid players exploiting them for maximum profit in the long-run. For example, a common mistake that many novice poker players make is overvaluing their hand. While being dealt AK, and hitting a flop of A24 might seem like a monster, these players often fail to exercise awareness of what their opponents might hold in this situation.
Against multiple opponents in a deep stack cashed game (200bb+), AK is extremely vulnerable here. You are dominated by any 2 pair A2 or A4 combo, as well as almost drawing dead to any flopped set or flopped straight. In multi-way pots with multiple opponents, you never want to play for a big pot. Experienced players pry on situations like this to exploit their opponents. This holds true for super aggressive opponents who bet, bet, and bet, never truly revealing what they have until they show down the nuts.
Here is an example of a hand I played at Turningstone Casino in Verona, NY:
2/5 NL game, $1000 deep buy-in. I have been playing for a few hours, extremely active with betting, raising, and re-rasing opponents I know don’t want to play against me. I have $1150 in front of me. I know that at some point in the near future, someone is going to want to play back at me. This is when I look to hit a big hand and disguise it as a bluff.
I am dealt 35 suited on the button (We are looking to hit a disguised hand that our opponent will have trouble putting us on.) UTG (under the gun, first to act pre-flop, plays tight starting hands but overvalues them post-flop.) ( $1500 stack) opens for $20, 3 callers, I call on the button, and the blinds fold. Total pot is now $87.
We see a flop of A24 rainbow. Original raiser leads for $75, 3 folds, and the action is on me. I think for about a minute then make the call. (Pot is now $237) Turn is a K. UTG bets $200. At this point I know I have him completely crushed, and hope he has AK-AJ or a flopped set of 4s. I know I can take his entire stack on the river by simply calling here and seeing what he does on the river in position. (I call and pot is $637.)
If I raise here, I give my opponent the opportunity to fold, and I have position so he must act first on the river.
River comes a J. Opponent thinks, and bets $350. I tank for another minute, counting out chips to get a feel on my opponent. I already know I am sending it all in, but I don’t want to make it obvious I have the nuts and see him miracle fold. I want to appear uncomfortable even though I am as comfortable as can be at this point in the hand.
My opponent appears SUPER COMFORTABLE as if he has AK and is value betting me here. I wait more, than announce all-in. He snap calls to see the bad news. (He didn’t show his hand, but I am certain it contained an ace, and most likely AK because he was playing super tight the entire night, and wouldn’t raise under the gun without a premium hand.)
I felt I only won his entire stack due to my image, without my image, he might check the river and I have to put out a small value bet ($250-350ish, maybe even less) that isn’t my entire stack. The J is a perfect card for me on the river as it may have given my opponent and additional 2-pair that he will have trouble getting away from.
I know for almost certain that I am not beat here, as our opponent based on our reads is never showing up with the only hand that beats us, Q-10. We have his entire range of hands beat. We also can assume he is committed to this pot (has invested over 50% of his entire stack) He would most likely fold Q-10 UTG, and he isn’t the type of player to c-bet the flop into 4 players with air, and also bet the turn with a gutshot after being called.
We capture his entire stack. Mission complete, and fish hooked.
Patience was the key (it will take hours sometimes playing live poker to find a great situation like this), and the situation presented itself where we could exercise our skill to outplay our opponent for everything in front of him.
How to Become a Long-Term Winning Poker Player
Unless you have a disgusting amount of free time to study and understand poker, I suggest simply playing for fun. I had the opportunity in college to balance some of my free time with study/play that helped me become the player that I am today. I never am satisfied with my play, and I constantly evaluate hands I play to understand how I can play them more profitably.
I know that there are stronger players than me, and I want to reach their level of competition. I find myself at times desperate for competition, and poker is constantly available for me to exercise my competitive spirit. I like to keep poker as a hobby, because I believe achieving balance in my life is more important than achieving success in poker. I can have both, assuming I manage my time as efficiently as possible. You can do the same if you become aware of what it means to win not only at poker, but at the game of life. Both aren’t necessarily “easy”, but nonetheless, ultimately achievable.
Good luck at the tables!
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