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Know Your Foe: Poker Knowledge Is Power

Jonathan Little

When English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon coined the phrase “knowledge is power,” little did he know that hundreds of years later those three little words would reverberate around poker players’ heads each time they sat down at the poker table.

Before you start shouting at your screen and telling anyone who will listen that I am wrong, answer me this little question: “What are the first things you do when an opponent sits at your table?” If my wallet contained dollars and not moths, I would bet the bottom one that you look at the player, consider how the player is dressed, note the player’s sex and age, and also take a look at the number of chips the player brought to the table.

While you may not have actually said “knowledge is power,” your answer confirms the importance of that idea. As the new player arrives, you instinctively begin a quest to discover more about your opponent, including starting to make assumptions about how the player approaches the game.

Poker is a game played with incomplete information due to players having hole cards that are hidden from our line of sight. We never discover what our opponents’ hole cards are unless they are required to reveal them at showdown or they choose to flash them at us for whatever reason they see fit.

This means we must look for other snippets of information and clues as to what our opponents are holding such as their bet sizing, the speed with which they act, and how they have played hands previously.

One sure-fire way to turn information into knowledge on opponents — and to give yourself a better chance to retain what you’ve learned — is to take detailed notes about them. Many serious online players make a habit of constant note-taking about opponents’ tendencies and plays, but taking notes can be done in the live setting as well. Pictured above is Jonathan Little doing just that at the table during a European Poker Tour event.

When a hand goes to showdown we get to see our opponent’s holdings and can then retrace the hand to see how our opponent played on each street. That provides a great opportunity to jot down some notes about how our opponent plays.

Suppose our opponent wins a pot with {K-Spades}{Q-Spades} on a board reading {9-Spades}{3-Diamonds}{5-Hearts}{J-Spades}{A-Spades}. You may look at the hand — especially if you were not involved in it — and think to yourself that your opponent won with a flush. Big deal.

But if you take a moment to think back through the hand, you see how he actually went runner-runner to hit his flush. Think back to the flop — did he continuation bet this flop with king-high? What did he do when he picked up a flush draw on the turn? Did he continue the aggression or slow down? How much did he bet when he hit the stone-cold nuts on the river?

All this is information that you can use to your advantage if you find yourself in a pot with the same player at some future point.

Aside from taking notes, you can use the plethora of information that is out there to your advantage. If you are playing in a major live tournament it is likely there is a seat draw made available before each day of the tournament. Look it over, take note of who is seated at your table, and look them up on a site such as [BThe Hendon Mob[/B] to see if they have any major results to speak of.

You can do this for online play, too. A quick search of the internet for an opponent’s alias will often reveal past results, blogs mentioning the player (or sometimes even written by the player), or forum posts that can be used to piece together a picture of the player’s skill level and experience.

My own personal favorite when it comes to gathering information to improve my knowledge of how a player plays is the seemingly forgotten art of conversation. You will be surprised at how eager your opponents are to let you know their usual stakes, how badly they have been running of late, and how they “luck-sacked” their way to a big online win a few nights ago.

Always be on the lookout for information that you can use to build up a knowledge base of those players at your table whenever you play poker. It sometimes feels like a thankless task, but the one time that you make a big call or fold on the river based on one of your notes and discover that you made the correct play, you suddenly realize that having knowledge is power in the world of poker.

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