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by Bart Hanson |  Published: Sep 05, 2012

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July 19th — Don’t  level yourself into thinking that your opponents are thinking

One of the biggest mistakes that any serious player can make is giving other players too much credit. The simple fact of the matter is that most poker players, especially recreational ones, are only playing the strength of their own hand and nothing else. They are not thinking about ranges, pot odds or what types of hands that they can represent. Most of them, when trying to determine whether to call or fold, are just wondering if we have “it” or not. And they might not even know what “it” is. They are definitely miles away from actually knowing what we hold.

Obviously this is good for us as thinking players. We have a big advantage over these simple player types and can easily exploit them. However, I have seen many good players out level themselves into thinking that their opponents are capable of making sophisticated moves. Most of the time this involves making some incredibly stupid call downs because if they reversed the situation they think that it would be a good spot to bluff. They do not adjust to the fact that most of their opponents are not thinking at all.

A great example of this is a hand that I saw happen at the Bicycle Casino last week. We were playing $5-$10 no-limit and this eighty-five year old was at the table playing like it was January of 2004. I literally never saw this guy raise for the hour or so I had been at the table – like it was his job to check/call every street. Effective stacks were about $2,500 when he finally opened to $50 under-the-gun. This young, hoodie, headphone dude to my left three-bet him to $165, everyone folded and the guy called. The flop came out JDiamond Suit TDiamond Suit 3Club Suit. The older guy checked and the kid bet $175. Without hesitation, the guy called. The turn was the 6Diamond Suit. The old guy checked again and the kid now bet $500. Almost instantly, this Johnny Hughes (from 2+2) lookalike moved all-in for $2,200. The kid thought about it for a long time and then finally flipped over JHeart Suit 6Heart Suit to get a read. I could not believe it was taking him so long to make a decision. When have you ever seen a guy who was over eighty years old check-raise the turn all-in on the come? “Call,” the kid said. Of course, the man tabled ADiamond Suit KDiamond Suit and scooped over a $5,000 pot.

A few orbits later the old man got up and left. One of the kid’s buddies came over and the two started to discuss the hand. Mr. Hoodie’s explanation for calling wasn’t that he thought that the man might be overplaying a hand like AHeart Suit ADiamond Suit or KHeart Suit KDiamond Suit – but rather that it was a good spot for the old man to bluff the flush because the kid rarely has suited cards in his range in a three-bet pot. I literally spit out my coffee.

Here was a guy who obviously did not study the game. He had enough trouble reading his own hand. He was not contemplating what other people held. How is he going to suddenly decide to reverse float in a three-bet pot and bluff a front-door flush draw? Are you kidding me? This concept may seem obvious, but I see players make bad decisions based on giving their opponents too much credit all the time. I even will sometimes do it, although not to that extent, but it is one of the leaks in my game that I am trying to patch up. Sometimes, especially when I check back the flop as the preflop raiser, I think that my opponent is very strong when they bet into me on a turn card that should hit my range. Like if the board is Q-6-8 and I check back the flop with 9-9. I get concerned when my opponent suddenly leads out on a king turn and usually I will give up my hand. Lately, though, I have figured out that this is not always correct. My opponent, a lot of the time, is betting the turn merely because I checked backed the flop. They are not putting two and two together.

The moral of this story is if you are a thinking player chances are your opponent is not. Do not base your decisions on what you would do putting yourself in your opponent’s position.

July 24th — You shouldn’t feel like you are priced in to calling the blinds with hands that you would normally not play in any position

In capped games, a large percentage of your winrate is directly correlated to preflop hand selection. I cannot reiterate this enough. And one of the most common preflop mistakes low-level players continuously make is defending way too wide out of the blinds, especially in multiway pots. It is almost unfathomable how having a little dead money in the pot can change the entire outlook of an otherwise tight player in the blind. Last week, a student went over a hand with me where an early position player raised to $20 at $5-$5 and three people called. It got back to him in the big blind, and this guy, who normally only plays less than twenty percent of his hands, called with 9Club Suit 3Club Suit. I immediately stopped him and inquired as to why he would call with such a speculative hand. “I was priced in,” he said. Priced in? Really? Like that extra $5 you had in the pot should suddenly widen your preflop range to the top eighty percent of hands?

Let us say we were on the button with the 9Club Suit 3Club Suit and the same set of circumstances occurred – early position player raises and three people call in between. Should we call on the button? Of course not!!! So why would we ever consider calling in the big blind? Some would argue that we are closing the action in the big blind and we know that the pot will not be reraised. That is true, but that does not make up for the positional disadvantage we face postflop nor does it take into account that unless the blinds are squeeze happy it is very unlikely that the pot will be reraised anyway if we call on the button. And, if we call, we actually may induce the blinds to come in giving us an even better price. There are so many compelling reasons as to why this hand would be better to play from the button as opposed to the big blind. But we still are going to fold it preflop. It is total trash. Yet, because people have a small portion of money in the pot due to being in the blinds, they so often feel compelled to complete.

The fact of the matter is that in big-bet games position is unbelievably important. The more trouble spots you avoid from out of position, including the blinds, the more that your win rate will increase. ♠

Want Card Player and Bart to provide analysis on a cash game hand you played? Send full hand details (blinds, stacks, street-by-street action) to @CardPlayerMedia. If we choose your hand, we’ll send you a Card Player subscription.

Follow Bart for daily strategy tips on twitter @barthanson. Check out his podcast “Deuce Plays” on DeucesCracked.com and his video training site specifically for live No Limit players—CrushLivePoker.com. He also hosts Live at the Bike every Tuesday and Friday at 10:30 pm ET at LivettheBike.com