Reading your opponents is an essential skill. People often think of this in terms of "tells," and while that's part of it, this isn't what we're going to be addressing today. Rather, we'll look at patterns of play in opponents, to seek to determine the sorts of plays they are likely to make. There's a lot to cover here, and for now, we'll just touch on some of the things we need to be looking for. In later lessons, we'll go into some of these areas in more detail.
In all these areas, we need to be looking to what the overall trend of the table is, and what the trends of particular opponents are. In loose online games particularly, opponents tend to mostly pay attention to their own cards, and don't watch the play of others too closely. So, by getting in the habit of doing so ourselves, we can establish a significant advantage over them in this regard.
The first thing we need to do is to determine the percentage of hands played, overall, and by particular opponents. We'll have a good idea of the overall percentage from the table stats, and most sites provide pre-flop percentages. We want this percentage to be fairly high of course. And this will tell us what quality of hands are played generally. Of course, it's good to have an idea of how many hands a particular player plays PF. Although there are programs like Poker Tracker which can keep track of this, and a lot of other stuff in real time, we can still gain a fair bit by just observing. As well, pay attention to the cards an opponent has played when they show them at the end. This is very important and will give us all sorts of information, not only what he plays PF, but how he plays them throughout the hand. In having an idea about what sort of cards a player will tend to play, we will know more about where we may be at when we're against him
If you want, you can keep notes, either on a real pad or online, with observations. Some characteristics that may be observed here include things like - plays a lot of hands (will be weaker than average), plays few hands (will be stronger than average), plays high cards with bad kicker (great when we have top pair good kicker), plays low suited connectors (have to watch for flushes and straights more), plays lower ranked flush draws (watch more for flushes, and pound him when we both may have made one), plays random hands (weak all around), etc. Whatever observations come to mind, write them down.
Next, we want to observe the raise rate among both the table and individual players (higher rates mean better hands of course) Pay attention to what position they are raising in (more raises in a certain position means weaker), to seek out patterns there as well (early, late, first in). Observations include raises a lot (weaker hand), doesn't raise when he should (can't predict he doesn't have a real strong one when he doesn't raise), raises a lot in late position (probably with not that much then), attempts to steal (same thing), re-raises (more aggressive), raises from the blinds (either bad understanding of position or very strong hand), raises with fairly weak hand (good for re-raising him), etc.
The tendency to call raises is another important variable. We need to know how often they cold call (to see if they'll cold call ours), and how often they call after putting a bet in already (good for raising them in late position). Other observations include calling raises from the blinds (tougher to deal against, and loose playing), calling raises with weak hands (soft opponent), etc.
Now we're on the flop. We want to know first of all how many times they will bet if they have the initiative (first bet in the round) versus how many times they check instead. This will tell us a lot about how aggressive they are. The more they bet with the initiative, the weaker the hands they will bet with. We also want to watch to see what kind of hand they had when they bet, which we'll determine when we see their cards at the end. Also, we want to monitor their call/fold rate (higher fold rate means we can be more aggressive with them, and lower means more profitable when we have something good). And of course what kind of hands they are calling with (the weaker the better of course, and if stronger, we have to be more careful with them) Their raise rate is also going to be very important (need to be more careful with higher, but we can be more aggressive when we have the goods). We want to pay particular attention to how often they raise on the flop as opposed to other streets, especially in limit (are they looking to thin the field?) Do their raises mean less on the flop, as is often the case (raising more there means lesser hands). Does it appear they are bluffing (a lot of raises, ad especially with not much). Do they check-raise, and if so, how often? (and if so we need to be more careful with them). Do they check and call a fair bit? (loose fish, which we really want to see, with probably not a lot, but like action). Do they tend to fold more than call when they check first? (can run them out of the pot with more folding, and string them along with less folding). Do they bet it out a lot when last to act and everyone has checked to them? (may be looking to steal the pot if so, and this indicates weaker if done frequently). Do they fold to raises a lot? (can be bluffed more, and need not to be too aggressive with if so). Do they re-raise, and if so, how good a hand to they seem to need? (if they do this a lot they are very aggressive and we can look to play back hard with strong hands). And so on.
In the later streets, we're going to want to watch everything that we do on the flop, plus a few more things. Do players slow play only to raise on the turn or river, and what kind of hands do they have when they do this? (need to watch out for that if so). Is their fold rate higher than on the flop? (if so they can be bluffed more easily). Do they fold more on the river rather than call, especially when it appears as if they are drawing? (if so, we want to be more aggressive on the river with them).
By tracking all these areas, and whatever other observations you can come up with, we can categorize their play more, and seek to use this information against them. And this will turn out to be a big advantage, especially when they're not tracking us much.