Mantra Moment #3: Reading people. “Poker is a people game, played with cards."

By: Tom McEvoy, Poker Samadhi Guru

This is a quote often heard in the poker world. I didn't originate it but have been preaching it, like the gospel, my entire poker career. Great cards let you win in the short run, but in order to be successful in the long run, you must understand people and what makes them tick. Every great poker player knows this and realizes that psychology is a large part of the game. Always remember that you can learn a lot more by listening than talking. Pay attention and observe what your opponents are saying, or not saying. Try to figure out who is just there for fun and who is taking the game seriously and looking to win. Look for those who are playing a lot of hands and those who haven't seen a flop in over an hour. This makes all the difference in knowing what hands to play against them and what hands to fold. 

Here is a classic example: Take the guy who hasn't played a hand in over an hour, and whose chips are collecting dust because he hasn't put any of them in the pot. Then, he suddenly raises under the gun in a hold'em game. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he probably has a very strong hand. Therefore, you must have an exceptionally strong hand to play against him. 

Here is another example: Think of the very loose player. This player has been drinking and having a great time. He has just raised for the third straight time. It’s possible that he has the goods, but most likely not. If you have a hand like Ace Jack, which is a hand you would have quickly folded against the tight player, what should you do? Well, if you can re-raise and eliminate most -- if not all of the other players -- do it, so you can then play head-up against the wild player. You will get called most of the time, but you probably have the better starting hand. Position is also important! If you put him on the defensive and he has to act before you, you’ll really like your chances of winning the pot. 

Like life, Poker doesn't always turn out the way we expect. This means that the type of player, who is playing way too many pots, will often draw out on you way more than you will draw out against him. This is because if you are playing correctly, you will have a better starting hand most of the time. Expect to lose some of the time, but remember, this is the type of player who is your greatest source of profit. If you lose, do so with grace and either say nothing or say nice hand. A player who is friendly at the table often gets more action on his good hands, and even more importantly, they won't mind losing to you as much. 

The late Chip Reese was a master at psychology. He had such a charming personality that people wanted to play with him. He made the game fun for them. He was possibly the greatest all around cash-game player in the world. People knew this and played with him fully knowing that he was a better player than them.

Great players that can master the people side of the game can transcend the luck factor. Bad players can occasionally beat top players, because they either get better cards that day, or just take the worst hand and draw out. Sometimes the math side of the game laughs at you. Keep putting your money in the pot with the best hand, and you will win in the long run.

In life, and in poker, it is important to study other players. Whether they are an opponent or a teammate, always watch their moves, pay attention to their tells and listen to what they do or don't say. If you do these things, you are sure to play your best life.

Tom McEvoy Poker Samadhi Guru, Four-Time World Series of Poker Champion, Poker Hall of Fame Member

1 comment

  • Al Spath

    Don’t allow yourself to be results oriented. Make sound decisions and live with the consequences and know that the players making the most correct decisions will generally prevail. Try to be ahead in pots you enter and allow those who gamble being less of a favorite, put there money in with negative expectations and usually will come up short, which is always good for your game and strategy. Don’t let your opponents luck change your game but examine closely when this happens and see (if any), how you could have played in differently that would or could have caused a much better outcome for you!

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