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Poker Fever

Big blind with my jack-three off suit, I found myself able to see a free flop as the action was checked back to me. Typically, jack-three off suit is a hand I, or any other poker player with the slightest knowledge of the game would not even look twice at, but when the flop of communal cards comes out jack-eight-three, it is a very pleasant surprise. I checked the action, meaning that I did not bet, trying to slow play my two-pair. The action was checked around and the turn revealed yet another three, giving me a full house (three of a kind and two of a kind). I checked again, acting like I had nothing. This time Joel, a very skilled poker player in my opinion, bet.

Normally I would take a second to think of what he could have, and figure out my odds of winning, but this time I didn't have to. Only pocket jacks, meaning that my opponent has two jacks in his hand, could beat me, and I was confident that he did not have that since he did not raise the pot pre-flop.

I could only hope that he had a high pair or a high flush draw (a flush is five cards of the same suit) so that I would be paid off. I re-raised quickly and without hesitation. Joel took a second, looked at me, and asked "How much do you have left?" meaning that he was contemplating putting me all-in.

Inside, I was overjoyed at the possibility of doubling my money off of this hand. I counted out my chips in what I thought was a completely normal, calm fashion. It came out to be around twelve dollars which Joel had covered easily. In my mind I thought "Here it comes, time to get paid." But I was shocked to hear Joel say "Not this time, I put you on jack-three." I watched in horror as he folded his hand. Never before had I been so distraught over a hand, and the strange thing was that I had won that hand. I had to know how Joel had played his losing hand so well, and how he had read me like that.

I knew then that if I did not improve my game, I would always be an intermediate poker player, and I would miss out on a large sum of money over many hands that would be doomed to go like that one.

Poker fever caught my group of friends back home on Long Island in April of 2004. We began playing cash games for $10.00 and for the most part it has remained that way except for the occasional $20.00 game. I wasn't very good at all to start, but as time went on, I learned what hands to play, and when to fold them. I managed to get by like that for quite a while, and even became very good at playing my own hands, allowing me to do well against less experienced players. It was the games full of hands like the one against Joel that made me realize that being descent at playing my own hand just isn't good enough in many games.

After that game I went to Joel and asked him how he knew that I had a good hand. He told me that it was a combination of things. He said that he could tell that I was trying to be calm and especially passive during the hand, and that my hands were shaking slightly. He said that I counted out my chips slowly and quietly trying not to make any noise. He said that all of this is contrary to how I play when I am either bluffing, or am not sure that my hand is best. He said that when I, and most people for that matter, are bluffing, they count out their chips in a loud and aggressive manner, sub-consciously trying to intimidate their opponent. He later told me that there are different stages of poker knowledge.

1: Knowing your hand and how to play it.

2: Reading what other people have.

3: Reading what other people think that you have.

4: Reading what other people think that you think that they have.

I decided to try to improve on the first three of those steps, and believed that doing so would drastically improve my game as a whole.

One of the first and most important things that I learned had to do with when and how I bet. I learned that it is important to change the pace of my bets so that they are not predictable, and to raise the pot before the flop with lesser hands on occasion. The goal is to bluff when you have everyone believing that you don't bluff, and to have a hand when people think that you are bluffing. I also learned not to bet my cards value. This means not betting $1.00 for a low pair, $2.00 for a high pair, and so on, consistently. Doing this allows your opponents to have a fairly accurate guess as to what cards you are holding. For example, this could leave you at a huge disadvantage if you consistently bet the same amount with two face cards. If the flop comes out all low cards, a smart opponent might have called your raise with low cards knowing that if there were no face cards on the flop, he would have a huge advantage.

Reading what other people have depends on many different things. The first thing that I realized that I should do in any game is try to determine what type of players my opponents are. I learned how important it is to see who is loose with their money, who is tight with their money, who bluffs a lot, and who rarely bluffs. When it comes to reading their bets, I basically need to look for all of the things that I try to conceal for myself, such as betting patterns, and opponents only raising to their cards value. I also learned to look for tells, such as the ones that Joel saw on me. These include changes in pace or mood, facial expressions, shaking hands, looking at their chips right after the flop. A tell could be any unconscious action that gives away the strength of your hand.

Reading what other people think that you have depends largely on how you play your hand. I learned that you can purposely bet a certain way in order to make your opponents think you have something different. You can also give off false tells and signals. A simple but effective example of deceptive betting is the check raise. If you check on your strong hand, your opponents will think that you do not have anything strong. You hope that they will bet into you with a weaker hand or a bluff so that you can re-raise them. Ideally they will already be pot-committed, meaning that they have invested too many chips into the pot to fold. They will be forced to call your re-raise with their weak hand, paying you off. (For more information on any of these strategies, or for other similar tips visit pokertips.org, or read Poker For Dummies by Richard D. Harroch, and Lou Krieger.)

One night, a couple of weeks after the disturbing hand against Joel, and after I became interested in all of these concepts, I found myself at a table comprised mostly of people I didn't know, in a different building. We were also playing for $20.00 up from the usual $10.00 for me. From the start, I paid close attention to the type of players that my new opponents were, and what betting habits they had. One thing that I noticed that became particularly useful to me was that two opponents to my left would frequently call intermediate bets chasing a flush or straight draw. In this particular hand I was dealt pocket seven's. The pot was raised a small amount before the flop, and I decided to just call. It was just me and the two players to my left for this hand. The flop could not have been better for me. It came out seven of clubs, jack of clubs, jack of diamonds, giving me a full house. I was also excited at the possibility of getting paid off by someone with three jacks or someone that would eventually catch a flush. I checked my hand and tried to give off the subtle signals that I was disappointed with the flop. The action was checked around and out came the turn. It was a six of hearts. I wasn't the happiest person ever seeing this card because it would not help anyone get their flush. I made an intermediate bet, the type that would be called by anyone on a flush draw and would be re-raised if someone had trip jacks. I tried to make them think that I had either a single six or a single seven in my hand.

Both of my opponents called, and out came the river. It was a two of clubs. Money! I checked trying to act intimidated at the possibility of a flush. The opponent directly to my left raised, and the next opponent re-raised. I was ecstatic. I re-raised both of them everything that I had left. The opponent to my left folded; apparently his flush was only nine high. The other opponent called, and showed me his ace high flush. I showed him my full house and his bad news. "Nice hand," he said, "nice hand." And it was.

Jeff Clowes

jeff.clowes@richmond.edu

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