They don't think (or play) like you do

You are in a minority of poker players. I know this because you’re reading an article on my website. The majority of poker players don’t read poker website articles, study poker books, or subscribe to poker training sites. They just, well, play poker.

So the next step is pretty straightforward: if they’re not studying poker the way you do (even if that’s just skimming this article) then they won’t play poker the way you do. I bring this up because I often hear “thinking” poker players express surprise at how an opponent played a hand.

“I raised big when the third heart came. Didn’t he suspect I had the flush?”

“How could he possibly 3-bet KTo out-of-position against my under-the-gun raise?”

Well, maybe those people haven’t studied the game as much as you have. Or, they have studied as much as you have, but just choose to play differently. Or (wait for this) they understand the game better than you do and are playing above your head. In short, you’re not playing against you, you’re playing against a different human being. That person has different training, different experience, different motivations, and had something different for lunch. It’s silly to think that they’re going to play any specific hand (or the game in general) the way you do.

I suppose it’s natural for us to initially model other humans as being more or less like ourselves, and then adapt our understanding as new information comes in. But there are times when the context of the situation demands that you begin with different assumptions. Suppose you don’t particularly care for watching basketball, but agree to go to a basketball game with a friend. As you look around the crowd, you probably won’t be thinking, “Man, I bet these people dislike basketball as much as I do.”

When you sit down at a poker game, your first job is to understand what makes your opponents tick. Because it’s probably not what makes you tick, beyond the fact that all of you, on some level, enjoy playing poker. The older fellow over in the #6 seat looks like somebody the kids are calling “Old Man Coffee” these days. But what you don’t know is that he’s a retired futures trader; risk-reward calculations (with five or six more zeros attached to them) are mother’s milk to him. He’s got more gamble in him than the rest of the table combined, the Peet’s cup notwithstanding. Conversely, the kid in the hoodie who’s spouting about ranges is just dropping vocabulary words like a 4-year-old; he's still playing 70% of his hands preflop.

The point is that you can’t know how the people at your table play by glancing at them for ten seconds when you (or they) sit down. If you’re going to correctly interpret their actions, then you need to pay attention and develop your best possible understanding of their play during the session. If it’s a situation where you expect to be playing frequently against them (e.g. a regular home game), it’s all the more important that you take mental scouting notes about their inclinations, strengths, and weaknesses. 

Of course, if you’re watching Netflix on your iPad, only looking up to play your hand when it’s your turn, you probably won’t maximize the amount of information you get about your table mates. But that’s a discussion for another time. 

What I want to leave you with is the reminder that each of us a complex messy being; we bring all of that complexity and messiness to the poker table. When you’re working on understanding how and why somebody does a particular thing at the poker table, I encourage you to start with, “I like poker. That guy probably likes poker. Until I learn some more, that’s the only similarity I can be pretty sure of.”


No one loves poker more than Lee Jones,” says Jason Somerville, along with everyone who knows Lee. And now Lee Jones is sharing his accumulated wisdom and poker expertise by way of customized coaching. Schedule your free consultation here.