In poker, as in most aspects of life, the learning curve is different for every player. Some pick-up the subtle nuances of the game quickly, and there are others (like myself) who find it hard to put the clues together until they hit us square between the eyes like a Kerry Wood fastball. Of course there are also players who after being plunked in the noggin just sit back up and keep playing without realizing their world could be changed with a little study and effort. God bless them.
Chip Reese remembers the early 1970's in Las Vegas when he found juicy hi-low split games at the $400/$800 level with players like Puggy Pearson and Doyle Brunson. It's not that they were terrible players, it's just that they were venturing out from their comfort zone, and a savvy player like Chip was able to exploit them for a while as they learned to play better at a game they weren't used to. While he was playing, Reese didn't go on tilt when someone pulled a three-outer on the river and made a wheel to beat him. He simply accepted the situation as a natural aspect of the game: weaker players will make long-shot draws more often because they attempt more of them; usually at poor odds. Again, God bless them.
Some time ago I was playing 7-stud with a friend of mine, Tom Klein. He's a solid player who was working a lot on heads-up hold'em the last time we talked, but he likes stud also. Anyway, we're playing a medium limit game and it's a bit rocky. A lot of pots are heads up and not many hands are shown at the river. In other words, we may starve tonight.
On one particular hand I raised with pocket sevens and a queen showing. Two of the remaining players fold and it goes around to Tom who reraises the max. I fold. Tom shows rolled-up nines and then sits there in silence, realizing that the best starting hand he is going to get all day netted him just one big bet.
It should be obvious that Tom was playing his own hand with no concern for the other hands out against him. Since there were no aces, kings or queens showing, it can be concluded that I was probably trying to steal the antes with a represented queen or big cards. In other words, I wouldn't be happy about calling a raise, and if I did, I would have to improve on fourth street or fold. On the other hand, if he just calls, I probably lead all the way to the river and really bury myself if I happen to catch a third seven or a queen. At the least, he needed to wait until fifth street when the bets double to pop me back. Tom fell into the trap of not considering the other player's cards.
Annie Duke adds, "Too many people, when they start playing poker, play only their own hands - they get caught up in their own cards and don't spend much time trying to determine what their opponents are holding." She states that you have to "narrow down what that opponent is likely to hold - and play based on that." That may sound simple, but based on what I see at the tables every day the concept is as lost as Atlantis to many players.
According to Kaseem "Freddy" Deeb, the most important aspect of making money at poker is outplaying your opponents by making fewer mistakes than they make. That sounds like Freddy. The problem with his advice is that as simple as the concept is, it's nearly impossible to do. It takes patience, it takes determination, and it takes talent.
Freddy was a twenty-year old kid from Lebanon when he arrived in Logan, Utah ready to study mechanical engineering. He had some vague idea about returning home after obtaining his degree from Utah State, but before he could graduate, war erupted in Beirut. His money dwindling down to a few dollars, Freddy, unable to contact his family back home, was unable to pay for school. He had only a student visa, which didn't allow him to work in the United States, so before he could earn his degree he left Utah for Nevada.
He had played some poker in school, and with a tiny bankroll he started grinding away at low-limit seven-card stud. In the late 1970's, most clubs raked a maximum of $2 per pot. You could actually make two to three times minimum wage per hour in a small game, and with all the 99-cent breakfasts around town, Reno offered a cheap ride.
Of course gambling is a harsh mistress, and most players on the fringe eventually bust-out, but not Freddy. By the mid 1980's he was already a formidable opponent. We played regularly at Harrah's - usually pot-limit games (which were rare in Reno at the time), and Freddy usually came out ahead. I had a tendency to over-bet my hands preflop, and Freddy, like a tap-dancing counter-puncher, was excellent at post-flop play. He had an uncanny ability to sniff-out any bluff, and often sent my cards to the muck even when I had reasonable hands by making a pot-size bet.
At the end of October, 1987 (I know this because on Black Monday, October19th, I lost a good portion of my portfolio in the stock market crash while playing cards) Freddy and I were driving around Los Angeles looking for the best games. We tried two or three clubs before heading into the Bicycle Club where we stood momentarily stunned by its size.
Harrah's in Reno offered 12 poker tables, and the Hilton had 16. California had recently legalized hold'em and stud (where it had only offered lowball and 5-card draw before) and the place was packed. In fact, there were waiting lists for most games and there were 100 tables going. We thought we were in heaven.
Apparently Freddy was. He headed off to play $20/40 hold'em while I waited for a 7-stud seat. As always, Freddy was ready to gamble. Often putting the bulk of his bankroll into a single game he was up several thousand dollars before I even got a seat, and before I got a handle on the game I was playing was at a $100/$200 game. We didn't play much together after that because Freddy learned quicker than I did.
Over the years Deeb has played in higher and higher cash games and now lives in Las Vegas. His opponents have included most of the big-name players of poker like Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese, and his buy-in at the table is no longer more than a tiny fraction of his bankroll. His steady, aggressive style has netted him plenty of hard-earned income from the cash games, and his tournament play and success has been increasing over the past few years.
Freddy boasts a World Series of Poker gold bracelet from the 1996 $5,000 Deuce-to-Seven Draw tournament (where he won $146,000), and had already made the final table of several earlier events. Since that time he has cashed for over $100,000 in many tournaments, and most recently won the World Poker Tour Ultimate Bet Aruba Tournament and pocketed $1 million dollars.
How did Freddy really do it? Well, the truth is, he played his opponents and their cards, not just his own cards. He adapted. He gambled when he had to. Unlike so many players that continually cry, "I can't beat the bad players," Freddy changed his game from just trying to win with the nuts. He looked for tells, he pushed hard at pots when opponents looked weak, and he realized that if a player barely knows what their own cards are, there is not too much sense trying to outthink them. He knew instinctively to adapt his game to thinking like his opponents, and then using that information to out play them.
While I was plugging away at new hold'em table and moaning about being outdrawn by hands like five-deuce suited, Freddy was eagerly anticipating hands like that from the other players and was seriously punishing them when they didn't hit their long-shot outs. Believe me, that thinking is the difference between world-class and middle-class.
If you don't believe this, consider that even Paul (the Apostle, not the Beatle) said, "whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him." Take your game to the next level by thinking about not just your hand, but how your opponent is playing his hand, what his range of cards is, and what he thinks you think about his hand. When you can do this, you will be amazed at how transparent some players become. Good luck.
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