Our world today is awash with distractions. Many people, when presented with moments during which they’re not being entertained, reach for the nearest device on which to access social media or videos of cats playing the piano and so on.
Each to their own, of course, but if you do have such a habit it’s imperative that you refrain from succumbing to such distractions when playing poker. This is particularly true of online poker, where we’re free to make countless mistakes and pick up all sorts of damaging habits, and all under the cover of anonymity…
Information is key. And that means observation is key. And we can’t properly observe our opponents if we’re distracted by other stuff. Once we’ve established a practical, positive, Poker-oriented playing environment, we can get into the habit of observing our opponents.
Observation = Information
I would recommend watching everything that happens at the table. In particular this should be making a note of the hands players are willing to go all the way to showdown with, for example, but, for the sake of thoroughness, there’s every reason to simply keep an eye on what’s going on. It would be a pity to lose chips/money as a result of making this or that play that we would not have done had we noticed that an opponent tends to act in a specific way in a specific situation, for instance.
There’s so much to learn about players from simply observing them. And this includes pre-flop. Do they limp a lot? Or are they super-tight and voluntarily put chips in the middle pre-flop only rarely? Do they respect position? Are they so aggressive when on the Button that they’re probably trying to exploit their superior position to steal the Blinds? How do players react to a raise when in the Big Blind? Do they defend the BB and, if so, do they defend too much? Do they give up their Blinds too easily?
These questions hint at just a selection of what we should be looking out for – and this is before we’ve even seen the Flop! If you’re not trying to maintain this level of observation, then you’re simply doing yourself an injustice every time you sit down to play. It’s careless – at best – to plan and subsequently invest time (often hours) in a tournament, and then not avail ourselves of whatever information we can glean from properly focusing our attention. We should no more fail to observe as much as we can when playing poker than a weekend golfer should ignore the conditions around them when spending a day on the course. Moreover, our aim when playing is to try to win something! Whether the target is a prize in a tournament or to increase our bankroll in a Cash game, the point is to perform well enough to have improved our overall poker situation when the session has ended.
So, with this in mind, OBSERVE the play. Get into the habit of looking around the table. A good way to make sure we don’t miss anything is to start with the player to our immediate left and simply continue making whatever mental notes we can as we monitor clockwise all the way around to the neighbour on our right. It’s a very bad sign regarding our bad habits when we don’t even notice that a player has been replaced! This might not seem like an important issue, but apart from the fact that it’s indicative of how little notice we take of what’s going on around us, we’d feel very foolish indeed to make a certain play because one of our opponents is an habitual, risk-taking bluffer, only to learn – as our chips head across the table after calling off for a chunk of our stack – that there’s a different player in that seat!
Essentially, whatever our level of experience, closely observing as much of the action (or inaction) as we can is the only way to both maximise our chances at the table by using all the information we can muster, and pick up the useful, positive habits that are part of a winning player’s armory. The more we observe, the more we appreciate in terms of decision making, typical player habits, how hands pan out, bet sizing and so on. The ‘feel’ that good players have isn’t necessarily a magical, instinctive ‘gift’, but rather an accumulation over time of the countless lessons that can be learned from simply watching others.