Monday, February 2, 2009

Skill #4: Identifying Betting Patterns

What are betting patterns?

Every poker player tends to get into habits. Habits occur because a player sees so many hands of poker, it is easier to
simply react rather than to take time to make a decision.

For example, you raise pre-flop with A-K and one opponent calls. On the flop comes A-6-4 with two spades. You bet your top pair and your opponent insta-calls. What does your opponent have? The answer is derived from both observing a betting pattern and a tell.

An opponent who instantly calls a bet in this situation is more than likely to be on a flush draw. The reason this is the case is the following:

a) If he had also hit top pair, he would most likely pause to think if his hand was best or if you outkick him
b) If he he two pair or a set, he would most likely pause to think about how to play his hand to win the most chips from you.

Pre-flop betting patterns are often the easiest to identify

Common betting patterns often occurs pre-flop. Players think they have a simple decision pre-flop. They get two cards and decide the strength of their cards. The result: placing bets that are based on the strength of their starting hand. This is a mistake. But players get lazy. A couple of examples:

Big pre-flop raises compared to the size of the big blind usually indicates a player who doesn't want action. A raise five times the big blind may indicate a middle pocket pair like 9's, 10's or the dreaded pocket Jacks.

A player in early position makes a three times the big bling raise. Everyone fold to the player on the button who re-raises just double the original raise. Why would he make such a small bet knowing his opponent has the pot odds to call? Because he has pocket Aces, and wants to build a bigger pot or get action.

Actually I witnessed this exact play at the WSOP. Unfortunately, the raiser had pocket 9's and hit a set on the flop. When he checked, his opponent moved all-in with his pocket Aces and got knocked out. (By the way, I think this small re-raise is a poor play when you and your opponent have deep stacks. You will only win a slighly bigger pot, but you may get knocked out when your opponent hits a monster.)

Observe and Identify betting patterns

If you know when your opponent is weak, you "almost" can't lose. ("Almost," since there are those things called bad beats.) Therefore, one of the best ways to beat your opponent is to determine when he is strong, mediocre or weak by observing his betting patterns.

Watch his play and notice:
how often he raises pre-flop, and from what position.
how he plays when he is in the blinds.
how he plays on the flop, and the sizes of his continuation bets, probe bets, etc.
how he plays his monster hands and how often he bluffs.

Overall, determine if any of your opponents have a predictable betting pattern. If so, you need to use this information in making your decisions. Oh yeah, don't forget that your better opponents are watching you to find your betting patterns. Don't get lazy and get predictable.

(This is the 4th skill in my Tournament Poker series--let's all win a WSOP bracelet.)

1 comment:

Steve Brogan said...

Great thought. Online, I tend to get a little careless. My casino play has been limited to 5 sessions in a 2/4 cash game I and have not built enough experience yet. I try to be a little unpredictable. And I am trying to learn by watching what the other players do at the table. This takes time, but I am sure it will be worth it.

What's Your Poker IQ?