“I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.”
I love the quote above from Byron Katie, an American speaker and author who wrote an incredible book called, Loving What Is.
A lot of pain in life, and in poker, comes from non-acceptance of reality.
You’re late for work for the tenth time and get written up. “My boss is such a jerk! It’s just five minutes!” Reality check: it was your choice to stay up too late bingeing your show on Netflix and hitting snooze seven times on your alarm.
Your dog pooped on the rug, again, and you’re forced to clean it up… again. “Darn dog! When’s he going to learn to poop outside!?” Reality check: you’re the one who hasn’t trained your dog to poop outside yet.
These same things happen in poker.
The normally passive player suddenly wakes up and raises your AA when the third spade comes on the river. “My AA can’t be beat! Maybe this fish is bluffing… I call.” Reality check: passive players only raise on rivers with the nuts.
The tight-aggressive (TAG) player, who NEVER limps, limps into the pot. You hold 88 and decide to iso-raise, then you’re surprised when he raises you 4x your bet. “What kinda jerk limp/raises? Maybe I’m still ahead… I call.” Reality check: limp/raises from TAGs is a play to sucker more chips out of you with their KK or AA.
Every action that your opponents take on the table indicate their potential hand strength. You just need to listen to what they’re actions are telling you.
I reviewed a hand the other day with a student I’ll call “Denying Denny”. He’s getting much better, but still has had a hard time listening to what his opponent’s actions are telling him, and this hand illustrates that perfectly.
Denny open-raised UTG with JhJs. A very passive player, Fishy Frank, called in the BB.
It’s heads-up on a flop of Th 6h 4h, giving Denny an overpair + fourth nut flush draw. Fishy Frank donk bets 5BBs into the 6.5BB pot.
Reality check: Fishy, passive players betting near pot into the pre-flop raiser on a 3-flush board = flush or nut flush draw. Sets, 2 pair, top pair, and second nut flush draws are just check-calling.
Denny ignored this sign of strength and raised to 15BBs, Fishy Frank called.
Reality check: calling a large 3x raise after making a large almost pot-sized bet means Fishy Frank isn’t scared of Denny’s holding on this super wet board.
The turn brings the 8h, putting four hearts on the board.
Reality check: the fourth heart means that Fishy Frank has a flush, potentially the nut flush, based on his flop play.
Fishy Frank checks and Denny bets three-quarters pot with the fourth nut flush. Fishy Frank makes a min-check-raise, leaving behind only 27BBs in a 118BB pot.
Reality check: A fish would only check-raise on a 4-heart board with the nut flush, especially against a large ¾-pot sized bet. The second, third, or fifth nut flush would just check-call in hopes that Denny didn’t have the Ah.
Denny shoves in his remaining stack, putting Fishy Frank all-in. The river is a 6d and Fishy Frank tables the Ah4s for the turned nut flush.
Reality check: Denying Denny lost his full 100bb stack due to his inability to listen to what Fishy Frank’s actions were telling him. If Denying Denny had just called on the flop then folded on the turn when the fourth heart hit, he would’ve saved himself 92BBs and a lot of heartache.
Become a Better Poker Listener
I believe that most players tell me what they have about 99% of the time. That doesn’t mean I listen 99% of the time, but when I review a hand, it’s normally quite obvious what they held.
I’ve had to develop my listening skills over the years and I want to help you do the same. Action is the greatest teacher, so I have three action steps to improve your poker listening skills right now.
- Begin a daily hand reading practice. Hand reading is the #1 skill in poker because it forces you to put your opponent on a range of hands then logically narrow that range through the streets based on their actions. This consistent, daily focus on analyzing your opponent’s actions off-the-felt will translate into better in-game decision making.
- “What are they doing this with?” This is poker’s ultimate question and you must ask/answer it with every play your opponent makes. He check-raises on the 4-flush board… what’s he doing this with? He 3-bet shoves with 22BBs pre-flop… what’s he doing this with? Your answer to this question will guide your response.
- Replay the action of the hand. Any time a player gets aggressive with bets and raises, replay the action of the hand. Realizing that, “Oh, this is a 3-bet pot” might save you a lot of money with your weaker top pair hands versus multi-street aggression from the 3-bettor.
Good luck and have fun learning how to listen to your opponent’s actions.