Often, people will pay much too much attention to their own hand, and too little attention to what others may have. A lot of this comes from habits players get into, not really paying much attention generally, which comes back to bite them when they end up with a good hand, someone else has better, and the risk would have been apparent had they been paying attention enough. This can be a expensive mistake of course, and we want to be aware of these dangers when they occur, which will require us to develop good habits while playing.
We've spoken on the importance of actively participating in the hand several times before, and it bears mentioning again. Never just go to sleep while you're at the table. If you're playing correctly, in the overwhelming majority of cases you're not going to be involved in the hand at any given time, as far as having active cards. You ARE involved in the game though, as what is happening at all times WILL affect the game from your perspective, because there is information to be gained that you need to pay attention to. And in doing this, you're going to have to watch what hits the board and how the players react.
In developing good habits in watching the board, over time, in this game and generally as well, you will develop a good sense of reading the board. This is a fairly complicated affair, and it's only through the development of these skills over time that you will begin to master this enough to really put it to your advantage. Thus, practice throughout the game becomes very important to this.
We always want to start out our assumptions about other players based upon being up against random hands. As the cards are dealt, we will alter our perceptions based upon two primary things - the cards that are on the board, and the playing styles of the opponents in question. It is these 2 things in combination that we need to be concerned about, so we are going to have to give due attention to both.
Throughout though, it's still going to be important for us to have an understanding of the probabilities in play here, so not to make the mistake of overassuming. For instance, if you're up against a single opponent, and a third of a suit comes up on the river, we're still going to have to know what the probabilities of him hitting the flush would be. We'll deal with that in a lot more depth in later lessons, but for now, we'll look at ourselves as detectives, looking to piece together the story from the opponent's normal tendencies, his specific actions in this hand, and the cards that fell that may have inspired them. Using this, we'll use our skills to deduce the sort of hands we may be up against here, and proceed accordingly.
When we don't give enough credit to our opponents, we run the risk of overrplaying our hands and running into situations where we're losing more money on certain hands than we ought to. On the other hand, we don't want to make the mistake of overvaluing their hands either. In the above example, unless there's a good reason to do so, we're not going to put our opponent on a flush and assume we're beat. We're simply going to be aware of the possibility and see if it fits the play that has ensued.
For starters, we want to look at the top card on the board and watch the play of the opponents in reference to this. Does their play indicate they have top pair? What sort of kicker do they nornally play in this situation? Did he end up having top pair after all? What could the other players have to keep them in the hand? What did they actually have?
We also want to be aware of better made hands like trips, sets, or two pair. Trips are easier to read because there's already two of them on the board, and they are more of a risk then sets, which involve an opponent having a pair in the hole and a third on the board. We always want to reference the kinds of hands that particular opponents are prone to playing though when we seek to decide these things. If an opponent only plays high cards, for instance, we don't want to worry too much about him having a 3 in the hole. However, an K and a Q may give him a set, two pair, or a good straight draw. Always pay attention to the starting hand tendencies of players, as this can give us valuable information.
So, if he's betting like he may have a set, we'll look back to both the pre-flop round and see how likely this is the case. If there's been no pre-flop raise, we're probably not up against a high card set. If the players don't play low cards, we're probably not up against a low card set. And so on.
In terms of two pair, again we'll be referencing the sort of cards that are typically played, when we see the betting action indicate this as a possibility. The same is true with flush and straight draws. Do the players normally play a lot of suited hands, or connectors? And does the betting indicate that a hand like this may be made? What we want to do here is to take the starting cards that would be needed to make this hand, take the likelihood of anyone having this in general, take the likelihood that someone would have played this far with a hand like that, and put this all in reference of the betting action, with the normal tendencies of the players involved being accounted for.
As we get deeper in the hand, we're going to have more and more information to work with. When a particular card hits that we're concerned about, we need to reference back to earlier rounds to try to piece together the likelihood that the hand we're worried about may be in play. If it doesn't add up, we will discount the chances accordingly. If it does add up, we'll be more wary.
What we want to avoid through all this though is making the mistake a lot of players make, even some pros at times, which is putting our opponent on a particular hand. What can happen when we do this is that we can blind ourselves to other possibilities, and this can end up costing us a lot more money when we're wrong. And, less experienced players can take this even further, too optimistically putting opponents on a hand that they can beat, and getting beaten more than they should when they're wrong. What we need to do is think of this in terms of probabilities, look at several possibilities, and always look to re-assess if necessary as the hand develops.
So, there's a lot to be gained by correctly watching the board and using this as a tool to determine what we may be up against. We will benefit properly though only if we see this as an important component of our game, and look to develop our skills here in the diligent manner it deserves.