Learning From the Pros: Respecting Your Opponent

by Greg Cavouras

Poker is a game where one of the easiest ways to gain a better understanding is to watch the professionals. In this article I’d like to discuss using your bet as a tell. Every player leaks information, whether they wish to or not, and one of the only tells that you can really control is the size and speed of your bet. To illustrate this, I’d like to refer to a hand recently played in the Poker Superstars Invitational. The hand wasn’t spectacular, but it shows some very very good plays by two very talented poker players.

With 8 players at the table, and blinds at 1000 and 2000, early position Doyle Brunson is dealt QC 9C, which he calls. Following Brunson, is Howard Lederer, who limps in with a 6D 3S. The Flop comes out 8 7 J, all clubs. Brunson has hit an instant flush, and has to know he has the nuts. Lederer, ever the professor, knows he has nothing, and after Brunson checks it to him, Lederer checks right back.

The turn comes down 2S, and Brunson, hoping to extract some value from Lederer, checks it again. Howard makes a small bet, and Brunson quickly calls. At this point, an amateur would probably have raised over Howard’s head. Why didn’t Doyle do this? Because he read Howard perfectly! He knew that if he made a bet, Howard would quickly fold his garbage hand, and that would limit the total value Doyle is able to extract from his beautiful club flush.

On the river, a 3D comes out. This catalyses a great play by Brunson, as he makes a theft bet of $25,000. Howard has hit his 3s, but what a terrible hand to go against the Texas Dolly with. Howard intelligently folds his mediocre 3s, displaying why he is a professional. What’s so special about this hand? Look at Doyle’s play; he checked his flush, and didn’t re-raise when Howard took a small shot at him. An amateur or less confident professional would have gone to town on the bait Howard left. Doyle knew that he didn’t have the cards to call a re-raise, so all he does is call it. Now, with Howard baited on the river, a 3 comes. Doyle can be reasonably sure this will not affect his status as the strongest hand at the table, so what does he do? He makes a bet that represents a theft, having not gone for Howard’s tell bait earlier, it appears as if he’s stealing the pot. Howard is too smart however, and folds it.

This was a great hand because it shows both players intelligence and incredible reads for the game; Doyle got about as much as he could have out of a weak-handed opponent, and Howard resisted Doyle’s beautiful trap. This is why both men are professional poker players.

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