In poker, don’t overestimate your opponents

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If you are a true student of the game and are always working hard to become a better player, you will soon find yourself sitting as one of the best players at most tables.

While this is something we all should strive for, I have to warn you about something that I have been faced with a lot over the last few months at the World Series of Poker and in a deep-stack tournament at Borgata.

Once you develop the skills to effectively put your opponents on specific hands, this allows you to make more advanced plays on them throughout a hand.

If you know what they are holding — or what they are not holding — this will allow you to make bets or raises to take pots away from them when you actually have an inferior hand. It also allows you to make calls on the river with modest holdings, because you just know that they cannot have a hand that is better than yours.

Sounds great, right? Doesn’t sound like a warning at all. The warning is that you have to be very careful projecting your skill onto your opponents. While you want to treat them as competent, you have to remember they may not be as competent as you and they may not be thinking poker on such a high level.

This means you may make an advanced play on a player who you feel is competent, but they may not understand what you’re trying to do because they are not quite at your level.
Similarly, this imbalance in the level of competence can result in you laying down the best hand because they simply don’t understand how weak their hand is by the river, yet they continue to bet it for value.

So, while every good poker player must lay down the best hand from time to time to be successful, there are times you have to make some thin calls against a player who actually thinks they are making a value bet with the best hand. This is different from making calls against players who you think are bluffing, but that’s going to be a topic for an upcoming column.

The next time you find yourself thinking, “How could he make that call?” take a step back, replay the hand in your head, and really try to figure out what went wrong. You just may find you played the hand phenomenally and Phil Ivey likely would have instantly folded to your well-crafted play, but you may have made a mistake in assessing your opponent’s competency.

As you become more competent and begin to think about poker on a higher level, you must then take on the responsibility of getting into the mind of your opponents and assessing their true competence level.

Balance playing at your level while also adapting your mind-set to think about hands on your opponents’ level to consistently make the right decisions.

Decide to Win!

— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Check out his site at www.acumenpoker.net.