One of the most important tool you can use to be a successful poker player is pattern recognition. This can apply to betting patterns, action patterns, live tells etc. In fact, when we think that we have picked up a live tell or read on someone we are actually identifying a previous pattern—one that we think that we can use to our advantage. Maybe someone’s hands shakes when there very strong other times they talk when they are weak. These are all patterns we have drawn from past play.
Weaker players, especially at the lower levels, find it difficult to break their patterns even if they are brought to their attention. I was dealing with a student of mine a few weeks ago that was having difficulty playing with a very big fish. Every time my student called the fish had the goods and every time that he folded the fish was bluffing him. But it only took me a few rounds to figure out that the fish only bluffed when he perceived his opponents to be weak. Whenever his opponents had shown strength in the pot—whether it had been by betting multiple streets or calling down a raise—he never bluffed. I informed my student of this and the next time they played together the following hand went down several weeks later.
My client, we will call him Joe, was in the big blind and called this opponent’s $20 raise from the small blind with T♠ 7♠ in a $5-$5 blind game $800 effective. The flop came out Q♦ 6♦ 7♥. The small blind bet out $25 and Joe called. The turn came a T♣ giving my student two pair. The small blind checked and Joe bet $60 in position. The big blind thought for a while and then check-raised to $275. Now, this is a tough spot against an unknown that hasn’t shown me that he drastically overplays hands. I think a lot of the time folding is not giving up too much. There are only a few two pair combinations that T7 beats and I think that those hands are way more likely to lead the turn, just like with AA, KK or AQ, than to go for a check raise on such a draw heavy board. However, this particular opponent had shown that he actually leads out on the turn with his nut hands, something that can be very rare at this level. So when he check-raised his hand is a draw a fair amount of the time. The beauty of this situation was that due to pattern recognition my student was able to call the turn with the plan of folding to a large bet on the river because of the fact that we had never seen this opponent bluff when he perceived the other player to be strong. So, Joe called the raise. The river was the 2♣ and the small blind checked. Joe checked behind quickly and the small blind tabled K♦ J♦ for a busted 15 out draw. If the small blind had known that Joe would have folded to further aggression than obviously the best play for him would have been to bluff the river. But, much like others in his spot, he never recognizes the pattern of his play.
Poker is very similar to conditional philosophy if people are not adapting or balancing their play. If we know our opponent’s tendencies then we can find the correct solution. Another hand went down later in the session where the big fish raised preflop in position and my student called in the big blind with A♦ 6♦. The flop came out A♣ 5♠ 9♦ and both players checked. The turn was the 5♣ and Joe bet out sixty percent of the pot. Surprisingly the preflop raiser made it 2.5x and Joe called. The river was an A♥ giving Joe aces full. What’s Joe’s best play here? Well, let us go over his opponent’s tendencies—1. He was very showdownish and would basically only bet nut hands with position on the river. 2. He was very call happy. 3. His bluffing frequency was described above.
Versus another type of player who would always value bet a 5 and would bluff some of the time checking would be a fair option. However, against this opponent leading large should be far and away the best play. We would never want the guy to check behind the river with a 5, we know he is not going to bluff AND he will call down somewhat light.