Poker Psychology: How To Read Your Opponents

Poker is a people’s game that requires a solid grasp of math and psychology. From a math perspective you need to have a solid understanding of “outs” and odds. This will ensure you are making fundamentally solid decisions, as the math will suggest it’s a profitable play in the long run.

It should go without saying that with poker being a skill based game, understanding basic as well as more advanced strategy will improve your game in leaps and bounds. There are so many situations that will be similar in poker, and over time you will be able to draw upon this experience to help you in future situations that play similarly.

However, one can not discount the importance of psychology in poker. The better you can understand the human aspect of the game, the better you will be able to read your opponents’ hands to gauge the strength of them, allowing you to play in an optimal manner against them.

When it comes to poker psychology, one of the biggest factors you have to be mindful of is tilt. Playing poker can be an emotional rollercoaster, with big swings a natural part of the game. As a result of this, it can have an impact on a player’s mindset. Sometimes it can be subtle, other times really obvious.

When a player is on tilt, they are not capable of playing their normal game, which inevitably deteriorates and can end up costing a lot of money. Are you going on tilt or can you notice other players on your table starting to tilt?

A player who is frustrated and tilting is going to play worse, so you must adjust your decision-making to account for this. A common situation is when a player loses a really big hand due to a suck out or bad beat and then spew shoves the next hand, or a few hands later, so be prepared to stack off wider when the short stack moves all-in.

Outside of tilt, one of the things you need to be on the lookout for during a game is tells. Picking up on tells will help you to read your opponents. Due to the face-to-face interaction of playing at a land-based casino or local card room, it’s obviously much easier spotting these “tells”, but there still are tells you can discover when playing online.

It’s important to realize that tells can be player dependent, so figure out what it means for a certain player. Just because you spot a particular tell, unless you can confirm it means they’re weak/strong, don’t assume too much, because it can just was easily mean the opposite of what you thought.

By putting opponents on a range of hands they could potentially have in particular situations, it will also help to confirm whether or not you think they are strong. For instance, if there are very few bluffs they could have in a certain situation, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense trying to convince yourself they must be bluffing, when all you have is a bluff catcher.

Also, even though you’re not involved in a hand, doesn’t mean you should let your guard down and stop observing the play. In fact, this is the best time to look out for your opponent’s tells, since you’re not involved in a hand, and can focus exclusively on your opponent’s mannerisms and behaviors.

Be mindful of other player’s betting styles, are they aggressive/passive? Observe their betting patterns. When they’re the preflop aggressor, are they always continuing with a bet on the flop?

Pay close attention to the chip stack sizes of the opponents you’re playing against. This is one of the first tells you can use to start assuming stuff about an opponent. A short stacked player is likely going to be a fish, because if they were any good, they’d be sitting down with a full stack, not in fear of losing the chips in front of them.

Also, keep your ears open at the poker table. Some players love to be vocal and chatty during hands, and you can pick up on a great deal of information about their playing style or the strength of their hand when they’re talking during a hand. For the most part, when playing against fish, they will act strong with a weak hand and vice versa in an attempt to deceive their opponents. Don’t be afraid to talk to opponents when you find yourself in a difficult spot. Many players will respond in a manner that is giving you information, hence the reason you should never talk yourself.

There can be a lot going on when you’re involved in a poker game. If you can remain focused, so that you can observe the play, you will be much more likely to pick up on these useful tells to give you a better idea of where you’re at in a hand.