If you’re like me, your typical online poker session will look something like this: tables on one or two monitors, internet browser on another monitor, music playing, and the television on. That’s one of the things that makes online poker so grand. You can play and do whatever else you want at the same time, provided you can stay connected to the internet.
With all of that, though, comes a problem. Many of us opt to pay attention to everything else in the room when we aren’t in a hand rather than maintaining our focus on the game. Our poker session might be more enjoyable, but the quality of our play might suffer. Knowing this, I make a conscious effort to observe my opponents at all times. Here are some of the things I observe.
Speed of Action
This is something that can be observed while actively participating in a hand, but is easier to focus on it after you fold. Since I can’t actually see my opponents thinking about their actions, I like to determine if there is any consistency to how long it takes for them to act, especially pre-flop. Players on the extreme ends of the spectrum – those who act instantly and those who tend to use every bit of the clock – are usually good targets for blind stealing.
Someone who acts within a millisecond, usually via the auto-fold button, very often has something else going on at the same time. Thus, he’s not making complicated pre-flop decisions. You’ll often be able to raise him off his blinds, but if he calls or raises, you will know he usually has a legit hand since he didn’t check the “Fold to Any Bet” button. Similarly, someone who takes forever to act pre-flop on virtually every hand is probably multi-tabling. He is distracted by his other tables and will not bother analyzing your move enough to sniff out a blind steal. This player may also simply have a bad internet connection, which is another reason not to give him a chance to check while his connection recovers.
Not Afraid of Commitment
Looking at pre-flop action timing is simple enough and doesn’t really take that much concentration. But when it comes to how certain people play specific hands, we need to be more observant, and for longer. The first people I try to pick out are those who over-commit to strong hands early on. I look for those players who have something like A-K or A-Q flop top pair and decide that’s the nuts. Or someone who thinks there’s no way he can lose when he has an overpair to the board. As you may figure, people who over-commit to solid hands early are great candidates for a slowplay if you hit the flop hard. You can just let them hang themselves.
Of course, you will want to try to keep track of your opponents to see who slowplays sets, chases draws, and so on, but for me, the ones who start spewing with top pair or an overpair are the easiest to spot. They also tend to be more consistent in their style of play, making reads on them more reliable.
If studying individual opponents could be considered the micro view of the table, then studying the table as a single entity could be considered the macro view. Understanding how certain opponents play helps me steal blinds and make more informed decisions when I am engaged in hands with them, but understanding their collective tendencies can help me practice intelligent hand selection, setting me up for further gains as I see flops, turns, and rivers.
At some tables, I might see that my fellow players love action. They are there to gamble. In these cases, it is best for me to be more selective with my starting hands and look to destroy the flop. If people are going to toss their chips around willy-nilly, I only want to be involved when I have them beat. Chasing draws is not a good idea at a table like this, as the price of hope is too high.
On the other side of the coin, a passive table can be run over. If it is tight pre-flop, blinds can be stolen. If it is loose pre-flop with lots of limpers, I can widen my starting hand requirements and have greater success betting people out of the pot after the flop.
Again, like I noted earlier, all of these observations can be made at any time while you are playing. It is during your down time after you have folded that you will have the best opportunity to spot trends and patterns.