When first learning the game of US online poker, and at the lower skill levels, players focus almost exclusively on playing their own hands. So their decisions will tend to be based primarily on the cards that they hold, and we know that a better hand will win at showdown more, and a weaker hand will lose at showdown more, so this ends up determining your decisions for the most part.
As players get a little better, they come to realize that it’s not just what they have, it’s what their opponents have, and they perhaps move toward the next stage of things, trying to put their opponents on hands and then looking to take this into account to various degrees.
This is certainly a step in the right direction, and one can get fairly good at this with practice, perhaps looking at the board and the previous betting action and using this information to help decide what to do.
The next stage is to go from looking at these things generally, what kinds of hands players may have given the way the hand has proceeded, and then look at what a specific player’s tendencies are. So some players play more tightly or more loosely than others, so a bet or a call or a check from one player versus another may mean different things, and we want to take that into account as well.
This is especially important actually, for instance if a tight player who doesn’t bet a lot bets, you know they probably have a strong hand, and if a loose aggressive player, who bets a lot, makes a bet, this may not require much at all of a hand, or perhaps not even a hand at all.
Since we are looking to do well in the hand, we then look to see what we have and compare that to what they probably have, and decide whether to stick around or not. These decisions aren’t just made in a vacuum though, as we need to also account for the money odds of the decision, how much it costs us if we lose versus how much we gain if we win, and also look to how much more we will have to put in to see the hand through.
While getting better at all this will certainly help us, what we need to realize is that all of this focuses on strengths of hands, which only matters at showdown. A lot of hands never make it to showdown though, and we definitely need to take those outcomes into account as well.
There are two ways to win a poker hand, you have the best hand, or everyone else folds. So if you can get everyone to fold, that’s a great way to pick up hands, and in fact it is necessary to be good at this part of the game if you expect to become a good player.
So you want to not only look at what they may have, but how likely they are to fold to pressure, and this is the main reason why it pays to play aggressively at the poker table.
Playing passively only allows you to win when you have the best hand, while playing aggressively, betting and raising more, provides you two ways to win, when your hand is better, and when they fold.
So this involves paying close attention to the tendencies of your opponents and that’s the way to really beat them.