One thing I’ve been working on recently is reading my on-line opponents. Obviously I’m not talking about shaky hands or how my opponents eat their Oreos, physical tells don’t exist on-line. I’m talking about things like how passive or aggressive my opponents are, their betting patterns and any other interesting bits of information I might get from seeing them play (e.g. do they slow play monster hands, do they bet their big draws).
Keeping track of all this inside your head can be tough, sure you’ll remember certain players and hands but there’s no way most players are going to be able to keep track of the thousands of players they face over the months or years of play. The good news is there are a range of tools at your disposal to help keep track of this information, here’s what I use:
This essential application will keep track of all your on-line ring and tournament game play. I’m not going to go into detail here (the benefits of tracking your game with apps like Poker Tracker (PT) are well documented across the ‘net) but I will say that if you’re serious about playing on-line and you’re not yet using any kind of tracking software you’re missing out on leaning a lot about your game.
This little utility interfaces with your PT database to provide information on your opponents while you are playing in the form of stats overlayed on the table. You can configure GameTime+ (GT+) to display any of the wide range of stats that PT tracks, here’s my configuration:
- Voluntarily Put Money In The Pot % (VP$IP)
- Pre-Flop Raise % (PFR)
- Post-Flop Aggression Factor (PFA)
- Went To Showdown % (WSD)
Along with the icon assigned by PT and the players name. There’s a great article on how these numbers should be interpreted here:
Well worth a read if you’ve never examined these statistics in the past.
Player notes are a feature provided by most on-line poker rooms and are a great way to keep track of:
- The overall rating of the player based on stats (e.g. Loose-Aggressive/Passive for someone who is loose and aggressive pre-flop but passive post-flop). This allows me to pick good seats at tables before I sit down and fire up GT+.
- Anything I feel sets this player apart from others in that category (e.g. “May slowplay top pair heads up” or “Willing to cap flop betting on a strong draw”).
I always make sure that I’m continually updating player notes as I learn new information or something that I had inferred from an opponents previous play is contradicted by something new (in this case I may make a note that a player is smarter and less predictable than average which would alert me to watch closely how they are playing that day).
Putting It All Together
So, you’ve been tracking players with PT, can see their stats in GT+ and you have all your player notes up to date. How should all this affect your game? The unfortunate answer to this question is that (like most things in poker) “it depends”. It depends on the hand, the stats and your general feel for a situation. I like to use these tools to verify something that I’m already thinking, if I’m getting bet into post-flop by a player who is usually extremely passive post flop then I can more easily throw my marginal hands away. If in this same situation my opponent is ultra aggressive post flop (indicating a lot of bluffs or continuation bets) I might decide to re-raise and see where I’m really at.
I’ve played a couple of hands recently where the information I’ve had on my opponents has directly influenced the decisions I made making me do things that I would not usually do against random opponents.
The first hand was at low stakes 6 handed limit hold’em table, I was on the button and had been dealt:
A player with stats of 60% VP$IP and 33% PFR raised from middle position and it was folded to me. I re-raised, which is standard play with queens on the button so nothing interesting so far.
Then, to my surprise, the player in the big blind (a player I had flagged as Loose-Passive/Passive with stats of VP$IP 41% but only a PFR of 1.6%) capped the betting. Alarm bells started going off in my head, here was a player who practically never raises pre-flop capping the betting. I couldn’t help feeling my queens might be in trouble.
The original raiser calls and I call since I’m getting great odds. We see the flop:
: : :
Now, usually I would like this flop for queens (as much as you can like a flop with an over card on it) but with that cap on the flop I’m not so sure they’re good. What can you put a player that passive on when he caps pre-flop? AA, AK, KK and maybe QQ are what came to my mind at that point.
I was surprised however when the action was checked to me. Of course I bet, maybe all that pre-flop action was just an anomaly? Well both players call and at that point I feel so sure that the BB is beating me. The third player in the pot doesn’t concern me much, he’s usually aggressive and would have bet any made hand. He might have hearts but ace high is more likely. So we see the turn:
Totally irrelevant, except for some crazy straight and the action is checked to me again. This is where the stats and my feel changed my normal play, I’m normally betting again here but I really think I’m beat. Given the unusual pre-flop aggression from the BB I feel I might be being trapped here and elect to just check and see the river:
Another straight card but I’ve all but discounted that possibility (the maniac could play A5 but since I thought I was already beat on the turn it’s irrelevant). The BB player now bet causing the maniac to fold and leaving me getting 8.5 to 1 on a call where I really felt I was beat. The odds coupled with the fact that I decided he had to bet even if I was wrong about the hand (there’s a difference between you’re beat and knowing it) made me call and he turned over:
For a set of kings on the flop. I happily mucked my queens knowing I’d lost (nearly) the minimum. Sure, slowing down with queens after a lot of action and an overcard is no super poker move, but the truth is that if I was up against any other style of player I would have lost more on this hand by betting the turn and likely at least calling the inevitable raise setting myself up for more pain on the river.
The second hand was in the same type of game, against different opponents. The unique thing about this hand is that the player in the small blind had the following stats:
- VP$IP = 80%
- PFR% = 55%
- PFA > 7
- WTSD = 70%
In general a maniac.
The action is folded around to me where in the cut off I have been dealt:
Perhaps not the best hand to play against this type of player, but I felt I wanted to see the flop. Since I didn’t really want the player on the button to hang around I felt a raise was in order, so I raised and just to be annoying the button called anyway (he had a VP$IP of 55% also so it shouldn’t have surprised me too much). Our maniac in the SB re-raised (this was not at all surprising or scary and didn’t narrow down his holdings too much – he probably has at least one high card or a pocket pair) and the big blind folded. I called and we saw the flop:
: : :
I like this flop. I want to play this flop aggressively. The SB maniac bets – which he does on every flop – and I re-raise. The button called (unexpected, he’s hit something I’m just hoping it’s not a better flush draw). The SB re-re-raises which makes me think he’s at least got a pair (he’s crazy but not crazy enough to think he’s going to bluff out two opponents especially when I’ve been playing the hand so aggressively so far) and I decide to cap in a last ditch effort to get the button out. The button calls and we see the turn:
And once again the turn is where my play differs from normal. The 4s is a great card and usually I’d expect my opponents to slow down when it comes but in this case the SB bet, I raised, button called, SB re-raised, I capped and they both called.
I would never play the non-nut flush this way against any opponent I respected. At this point I have no doubt the SB has an ace and at the time I was thinking A8 or A3. The button on the other hand is a bit of a mystery, I was now thinking that he might have a set of 3′s or 8′s. Of course spades were possible but unless he had the king I felt he would have re-raised the turn. Maybe he’s just sticking around in because the pot is so large, either that or he’s making a very smart play by letting the SB bet for him. I decide I can’t be scared of a higher flush and my plan is only to slow down if a fourth spade drops. The river:
And the SB and I cap it again (with the button coming along for the ride). The button turned over A6o and earnt himself a player note “can’t fold a pair of aces” and the maniac SB turned over AJo for a better than expected holding but still a crazy play.
So there you have it, two examples of changing play based on opponent stats and reads. The first where I played a hand very passively that I would usually play aggressively and the second where I played hyper-agressively with a non-nut hand that I would usually slow down with against similar action from any other style of player.
If you don’t already, get hold of the programs I’ve mentioned here (or their equivalents) and start tracking your opponents. You’ll be surprised at just how useful this information can really be!