Poker fans can find advice in the most unexpected places…

For example, let’s consider the following line: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

So goes an amusing saying that, while seeming merely comical, and simplistic at best, is founded on logic. Indeed, the point being made is a serious one. The implication is essentially that we can identify an unknown subject by observing its habitual characteristics. It’s even been attributed to – amongst others – US Senator Joseph R. McCarthy during the infamous campaign against alleged Communists in the 1950s. In fact it’s an oft used argument in legal reasoning.

And it can be quite appropriate for poker, too. As much as the game has been studied and almost scientifically dissected by a lot of very smart people, for many players – especially those new to poker or with as yet insufficient experience to introduce this or that nuance into their armoury – it is distinctly straightforward.

Much of the time at lower stakes it really does tend to be so simple that things really are as they seem. In our efforts to garner information we tend to be guilty of overthinking the evidence in front of us. The further we venture into the rabbit hole that is poker, the more complicated it becomes. The notion that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is not lost on poker, where a combination of over-thinking and a touch of self-indulgence runs the risk of our thought processes at the virtual tables rebounding on us.

We can take an opponent’s simple action and analyse it in such an unnecessarily complex and contrived way that our ultimate deduction and consequent decision is way over the top. It’s the poker version of the old joke about a man trapped on a desert island and driven so mad that, when he finds a speedboat washed up on the beach, he breaks it into pieces in order to build a raft.

If ever there was a game in which we all too often can’t see the wood for the trees, then poker is up there at the top of the list. And not necessarily because we lack enough information to properly formulate an effective plan. Rather, the irony here is that the more we learn, the more we’re prone to dispensing with some of the fundamental aspects of the game and replacing them with ostensibly refined but ultimately ill-judged ideas and subsequent actions.

In low(er) stakes poker, while anything can happen (and we should keep our minds open to all manner of eventualities), there’s a good chance that how we initially interpret an opponent’s bet or a check, for example, is quite likely to be as simple and straightforward as it looks.

New players quite naturally put way too much stock in their cards and how they might or might not relate to the board and, basing their decisions at this stage of their poker career almost exclusively on this factor, bet accordingly. Or they check accordingly! It really does tend to be as simple as that at micro stakes!

If we’re playing at a $5 max or $10 max game – which, incidentally, absolutely affords us an opportunity to significantly boost our bankroll by playing no-nonsense, common sense poker – then an opponent betting out is most likely signifying strength. If they check, they’re probably holding nothing and are essentially inviting us to bet so that they can fold and see what the dealer brings in the next hand.

If a player has a habit of calling – and never raising/bluffing – with lesser hands, and then we hit, say, a runner-runner nut flush on the River out of position, now is NOT the time to suddenly think ‘Well… he’s called every time thus far in this kind of situation, so a decent value bet here will be paid off… but I think a smarter, more sophisticated option is to check – he might bluff and represent the flush!’ What will happen when we think we’re being clever by checking is that this player will never feel inspired to change his automatic, unimaginative habit. Moreover, it’s not even a case of his weighing up the pros and cons of bluffing the River and suffering some kind of internal conflict… he won’t even contemplate such an out of character move in the first place! Instead of seeing his actions at face value, we’ve left money on the table through over-thinking and unnecessarily complicating what should have been an easy value bet.

Low stakes poker tip: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.



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.

· Published 01.12.2020 · last updated 04.03.2021

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