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Playing Texas Holdem online presents two problems.  The first is the same for online and on land Holdem: two cards are hidden from view.  When you play Texas Holdem online, you also have the problem of “opening” the “closed book” that is the online poker player.

The Importance of Knowing People

The great American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, spoke about how an author simply puts into any story everything he or she knows about people.  Poker players have to do the same thing.  It is a bit more challenging for online poker players but we can learn a lot about our opponents even if we can’t see them.

No One is That Good an Actor

There is a school of thought that some “tells” even at land based poker games are just acting.  They are designed to make the opponents think that they have detected a tell when in fact it is all an act.

There may be some poker players who can pull off a subterfuge such as this on a regular basis but most players are simply not that good as actors!  A tell is usually a tell!  The same is true of online tells or other methods we might use to read an online opponent.

Oddities in Early Position

We all know that there are only nine hands that poker players are advised to play in early position.  They are:

  1. Ace-ace
  2. King-king
  3. Queen-queen
  4. Jack-jack
  5. Ace-king
  6. Ace-king suited
  7. Ace-queen
  8. Ace-queen suited
  9. Ace-jack suited

Inexperienced players often follow this advice to the letter.  Thus, they are an open book when they call or raise in early position.  These players lose a lot of pots they might have won by playing too close to the vest.

Experienced players know that they have to play lesser hands in early position from time to time.  If you play lesser hands too often from early position, you get known as a loose player.  Loose players lose money they should be safeguarding for better hands.

The key then is to find a happy medium.  Otherwise, better players will be able to read these players’ actions.

Learn to Read More Complex Situations

Obviously, reading online players is a lot more involved than how players act in early position.  The challenge is to learn to read people in more complex situations.

Stephen Frey, an associate professor of communications at the University of California-Davis and others did a study on poker.  They spoke specifically about how players can use information that opponents might not want known in choosing a direction on any specific hand.

The study is pretty long but it is well-written and accessible to non-academics.  Here is one quote from the abstract that indicates the direction the study took and our challenge in this article: “the important difference between winning and losing players is not in the amount of information they process, but in how they process it.”

Even the Best Poker Players Don’t Know Everything

In light of the above quote, we can see that poker is ultimately a game in which we have to make important decisions with incomplete information.  There are many other areas of life in which that is the case and many others in which we can have full information.

Here are a few areas where we make decisions without complete knowledge:

  1. Relocating
  2. Taking a new job
  3. Getting married
  4. Do our guests like broccoli?
  5. Will the team we want to bet on win?
  6. Will our picnic be rained out?
  7. War

Here are a few areas where we can have complete knowledge:

  1. Whether a product we want to buy in the supermarket is gluten-free.
  2. If the shoes we are interested in buying feel comfortable.
  3. What the price of gasoline is at this gas station.
  4. Should I shave before the job interview?

In poker, as in everyday life, there are moments of uncertainty and moments of certainty.  The players who win the most often in poker don’t worry about incomplete knowledge; they concern themselves with processing the knowledge they do have.

Clues about Opponents

Here are a few ways to read opponents.  They will not provide absolute certainty but they will clarify a larger area of possible certainty that can help you win more often in online piker.

  1. Boredom.  If an opponent appears bored, either by a change in their betting cadence, or an off-hand comment they make, or because they are skipping a larger number of hands, they may be prime targets for a well-timed bluff.
  2. Taking too long to make a decision.  As we said earlier, most poker players are not great actors.  If a player is taking much longer than usual to make a decision, it is very often a ploy to fool you into thinking the opposite of what his or her true hand is.
  3. Losing players often chase losses.  This is common in all areas of gambling and we are adamant in our advice to all gamblers, poker players or otherwise, to accept that losses will occur, wins will occur, and we should look at winning in the long run as the ultimate goal, not winning in the short run which might very well come down to this hand!
  4. Some players don’t seem to care if they lose.  Sometimes these are players who just like to play and can afford to lose some money.    If a player shows little regard for losses, they are primed to present you with some wins.
  5. Controlling tilt is important.  Some players telegraph that they are in tilt.  It could be a remark they make in the chat room.  It could be the way they bet on the next hand.  A player who is playing while tilting cannot make reasoned decisions and can be cajoled into putting money into a pot they should not be playing.

What Makes a Person Tick?

There are as many answers to that question as there are people!  We cannot have all the information to know what makes our opponent tick.  We can gather as much information as paying attention and close observation can provide. 

So, that’s what we need to do: observe and pay attention.  We also have to keep in mind that a good opponent will be doing the same to us: observing and paying attention.

We are all both open and closed books.  That is what makes poker such an exciting and challenging game!

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