Poker Skills You Can't Learn from a Book
By Fred Renzey
Lots of professional poker players learned everything they know from the school of hard knocks. These particular guys couldn't tell you the odds of making a flush with two cards to come if their lives depended upon it. Yet, they'll virtually never make the wrong play when faced with that situation. If a flush will win and their suit is live, they'll draw to it. If there's a prominent chance they'll make the flush and lose, their hand hits the muck right now.
I know a number of players like this. They're "street players." When you're thinking during a hand, they're tapping into your brain -- feeling and interpreting every flinch. When one of these players heard I was writing a book on poker he said to me, "Freddie, do you really think you can show people how to win at poker by writing about pot odds, and outs, and all that crap? I mean that's fine and all, but there are some things you gotta just know -- just feel, that you can't read in a book."
He's right. He wasn't talking about sorcery or ESP. What my friend was referring to was the super subtleties that slip right past most recreational poker players. They're a combination of minute hints, barely noticeable that give you precious insight into what's happening in this particular hand -- right now. This goes beyond poker odds -- beyond the textbook.
So today for you poker players out there who weren't blessed with an astute poker "street sense" at birth, I'll try to spell out just one of the many all important things you can't learn from a book. It's called:
KNOWING WHAT'S HAPPENING THIS TIME AROUND
Did you know that the odds against being dealt a roll up in 7 Stud (trips on the first three cards) are 424-1. I sometimes go for weeks without being rolled up. But odds are just odds and only tell you what you can expect given that you have no other information. Every time you play a hand of poker, however, you should be gathering and processing valuable information. The reason you do that is so you can draw conclusions that are more accurate than just going by blind odds. In that sense, playing by the odds is merely a fallback -- something you're forced to resort to when you don't have anything better to rely on. But winning poker players nearly always have more information to go on than just the odds. Look at the following 7 Stud hand illustration as an example:
|THE BRING-IN:||?-? / 2-Q-7|
|INITIAL RAISER:||?-? / K-7-Q|
|YOUR HAND:||J-Q / Q-7-J|
The deuce brought it in, the king raised, then both you and the deuce called. You're curious as to what the deuce might have called a raise with since he's a pretty snug player. Right now you think he might have some small buried pair, or two deuces with an ace kicker.
On the turn the king bet, you called and the deuce hung right in there, calling along also. On fifth street the king bet again. Having made queens up, you raised and now the deuce re-raises. What's his hand? Forget about 424-1. He's rolled up. Now it all fits perfectly into place.
This scenario was concocted with nearly perfect cards to illustrate that sometimes it doesn't matter what the odds are. The play will reveal that this opponent just has to have a particular hand.
If you still want to look at it mathematically, you might ask yourself, "Of all the times a tight deuce calls a raise on third street against two picture cards, then calls on the turn with an off-suit deuce/queen, then can re-raise on fifth street with most of his 7s and queens dead, what percentage of those times will he be rolled up? The answer is -- virtually all of them! This, right now is that one time in 425. Even with this unusually large pot, your queens and jacks are so dead that you have to give up any notion of trying to fill up -- and must fold immediately.
Usually a player's hand won't be that obvious, but signs will always be there. What are his exposed cards (in stud games)? What position did he do that from (in flop games)? Was the pot raised earlier? Is he a tight or loose player? Does he just bet his hands, or is he a shifty bettor? Is he on his game, or stuck and steaming? You've got to pick up on those signs and develop your reads -- then learn to trust them!
It's fine to know that having pocket aces in Hold'em is a 220-1 shot, or that flopping a set with a pocket pair is 7-1 against. But that alone won't do you any good if you can't figure out ahead of time that in this hand, right here, right now, your pocket aces are no good! Any poker mope can just play his own cards. Winners must figure out what's happening this particular time around. That's what you need to focus on.
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