It's all the rage. Ever since Matt Damon went around the table of his professor's poker game in Rounders and declared what everyone was holding, poker fans have been obsessed with acquiring that secret power of knowing their opponents' hole cards. It would be a huge edge. What are the secrets?
In stud, your best view of your opponents' hole cards come from the reflection off of their style of play and the cards they already have exposed. This is a good thing, since it leaves less up to the imagination. Here's an example:
Imagine you have a rock to your right. Three players have called the bring-in. He has a king. You have an ace. He hasn't played a hand in about an hour; he raises. What do you think he has?
Since he's a rock, he doesn't play many hands. Maybe he'd squeeze out a bluff on third street with the high card once every few hours. But he'd wait to be the last guy, with no prior callers, and only do it with the high hand showing. Here he's not the high hand, there are three callers, and you have yet to act with an ace.
It doesn't take a thorough knowledge of psychology to put this guy on a pair of kings.
Keeping track of betting action also helps. Here's an example of that:
You're dealt a split pair of nines with an ace kicker in the hole. Two guys called the bring-in, including another player with an ace. Someone folded an ace as well. Three of you see fourth street.
You're dealt a king, the first one you've seen in this hand. The ace gets a suited card. The other guy gets a blank. The guy with the suited ace is first to go. He bets. The other guy folds. What do you think the guy with the ace has? What do you think he doesn't have?
He almost certainly doesn't have a pair of aces. If he did he would have raised on third street. Plus, you can account for two other aces – the one in your hand and one that was folded. It's probably that he's betting on the come with a four-flush – or maybe a medium pair that he just made. Your nines are almost surely good. You should raise.
Deduction is probably a more important skill to the good stud player than looking for giveaway tells (those unconscious actions that give away the hand of the opponent). Here's an example of some deduction helping you cipher out your opponent's hand:
You're in a nice loose game. No one is especially aggressive. Six of you saw fourth street and the field has gradually narrowed to just the three of you.
You missed your flush draw on the river but hit queens up. You are last to go out of the remaining three people. You have an opponent to your immediate right who is a very tight player. He called on third street, fourth street, fifth street, and sixth street. He showed one and then two hearts and never showed a pair. On the river, the player to his right bets. He had been leading the betting since third street with an exposed king . He caught an open pair (not his door card) on sixth street. He bet sixth street and now he bets the river into a field of three players. The pot is very large.
The opponent who called all of these bets looks at his hole cards and raises. What do you think he has? And what should you do?
Unless he is an especially tricky player you should surely fold your hand. Without knowing anything about psychology you should be able to deduce that the guy with the king has kings up and the third player, who had called all the way until the river, has just hit his flush.
Players may bet a busted flush as a bluff (a poor one by the way) on the river if they are heads up – to bluff their way to the pot. But they will rarely raise – figuring correctly that players will only rarely lay down a hand they bet initially. And they almost certainly will never raise into a pot with two other opponents who have played all the way to the river.
The above not withstanding, there are some useful tells that players exhibit unintentionally, that are worth knowing in stud. I'll cover them in my next columns.