When we read about the importance of observing play – and, specifically, players – it’s because doing so is far more important than less experienced might think. Listening to music, watching TV, phoning friends, exploring social media and so on might seem like worthy distractions from the (perceived) boredom, but this is a very bad habit to get into. Moreover, if you’re entertained only when actually involved in a hand, and don’t find the rest of the time sufficiently engaging, then you’re not fully appreciating the game and what it has to offer. And, consequently, you’re not going to get enough out of it – of course, it’s an imperative that we enjoy playing and derive our money’s worth of pleasure at the tables, but it would be rather counter-productive to not give ourselves the best chance of building our bankroll rather than seeing it dwindle.

To have the best chance of any kind of success, then, we need to focus. If you’re not convinced enough to take the time to observe every hand, here’s how it makes a difference from a practical perspective…

Let’s say we never bother taking any notice of what’s happening around the table when we’re not in a hand. We’re dealt AA on the Button, and only the Big Blind calls our pre-flop raise. The flop brings J 9 7, the BB checks, we make a substantial bet and they immediately shove! This is a very awkward dilemma that’s exactly the kind of scenario we want to avoid when seeing aces. The two available options couldn’t be more contrasting. One gives us a good opportunity to see our Aces safely home and pick up a mountain of chips in the process, and the other means backing down from a challenge despite initially being dealt the best hand in the game, and also having invested a chunk of chips. After a long and torturous think, we fold, and as much as we know not to let negative results eat away at us as we move on to the next hand, we can’t help dwell on the matter, wondering whether we just got bluffed and missed out on a juicy chip boost.

Now we’ll rewind several orbits, and switch to a parallel universe in which everything is exactly the same with just one exception, namely our much better approach to the game that this time sees us – instead of indulging in distractions –  closely observing every hand. And this means we can learn, in some detail, about the playing habits of our opponents, what mistakes they make in this or that situation. One such is that the same player simply can’t help but try to bully opponents whenever scare cards appear, and we have also noticed that they have been caught out a few times thus far. Then, we’re dealt the same Aces, and exactly the same hand starts to play out… But this time we’re not in the dark as far as our opponent’s history is concerned and armed with a wealth of potentially decisive information, we can be more confident in making a properly informed decision. Of course, it’s possible that our opponent has 99 and that the J 9 7 Flop has delivered a set, or that they called our pre-flop raise with 10 8 for a flopped straight. But given what we’ve observed this time, while we still might decide to fold, we can also quite justifiably call.

Crucially, a typical session or tournament might see these critical spots arise several times – enough to make whichever decision we arrive at a very important one, given the thin line between profit and loss, or winning a prize or being eliminated or missing a great opportunity.

Only by being observant and soaking up information can we put ourselves in a position to make optimal, informed plays or, conversely, great folds. There’s no logic whatsoever in sitting down to play and making so little effort that, from the very first hand, we’re giving the rest of the table an ever-increasing edge.

Good luck at the tables!

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About the Author


AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

Latest changes

The last changes of the page “Good Poker Habits: Focus, Observe, Act” was made by AngusD on May 20, 2021