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The Truth About Reading Opponents | How to Play Poker

You never want to play poker the same way against every opponent, especially in poker tournaments. If you do this, you’re going to become readable. When you’re readable, it means your opponents know when to attack and when to slow down against you. This is tricky because, at the same time, you want to stick to a specific game plan. There is a fine line. Look at it this way…

Professional Sports

Bill Belichick has a specific style of coaching. At the same time, he’s never going to prepare the same way against his divisional rivals. If the Bills have a young and inexperienced scrambling QB, he’s going to focus on keeping that QB in the pocket while bringing pressure from the outside at the right times.

He can’t bring pressure all the time because his opponent will adjust. The key is bringing pressure at the most opportune time. And, yes, this is about poker strategy and pertains to our poker rules for winning.

If Belichick is playing against a team with a strong running game, he’s going to load up the box and bring his cornerbacks up into press coverage. Running will be extremely difficult.

Those are two simple examples. They seem like they have nothing to do with Texas Hold’em Poker, but it’s not about the National Football League vs. Poker. It’s any game. The key to winning is planning ahead, often many steps ahead. If you’re really good, you can anticipate what your opponent is going to do based on them thinking 3-4 steps ahead, but you have already anticipated it and planned accordingly because you’re 4-5 steps ahead.

Mr. Anonymous

There will be times when you will not know a player well enough to play against them correctly. For example, I have played against Mr. Anonymous three times in poker tournaments.

The first time was deep in a ring event for a lot of money. He was in a good mood and had a lot of chips. When I was moved to that table, my game plan was to gather information, look meek, and wait him out. That worked (I didn’t bust him).

The second time, I jammed with As Ks on my third hand at the table and got called by a lady holding AA. In both those games, I didn’t have enough time to gather much intel.

In the most recent event, I should have jammed pre with a strong hand when short-stacked, but I didn’t. We both hit the flop, but he hit it harder (two pair). I was gone. But we played together for hours, and this was a small event. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a session to learn player tendencies.

I didn’t learn a ton, but I picked up some things. Those few things could mean the difference of tens of thousands of dollars down the road.

An Incorrect Read

What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you make an incorrect read against someone you have never played against before AND they’re a good player. If they’re a soft player, you should probably know what to do within 30 minutes.

A good player will deceive you and change gears so you can never peg them for following specific patterns. A soft players (TAG, LAG, Maniac, etc.) will always have the same patterns. This is regardless of the style of play. This also pertains to poker tournaments as well as traditional poker games.

The next time I play against Mr. Anonymous, I will be armed with much more information. This is going to make it much more difficult for him to pick spots against me. The same should apply to you after you play against a good player for several hours in one session. Recall is very important in regards to poker strategy for tournaments.

I’m going to simplify this entire situation for you. Let’s take a look at seven different types of poker players. Don’t get married to them. NEVER DO THAT! But these are definitely player tendency rules to remember.


If you can’t spot a NIT, you shouldn’t be playing poker. They are the easiest players to spot. They will only play premium hands, they will only bet when they think they’re ahead, and they will always fold when they think they’re behind.

poker player Nit

I would estimate that approximately 90% of NITs are real NITs. I played like a NIT in Tunica (not in the last event/I applied pressure the whole time). But notice I wrote that I ‘played like a NIT.’ I didn’t write, ‘I was a NIT.’ It’s imperative that you understand the difference because it relates to poker strategy for tournaments and our poker rules for winning.

For example, there is a successful Circuit player that sat to my right in one event. We had never played together before. Knowing this, I played like a NIT for a little less than two hours. He had recently lost a decent pot and was down to 21 BBs on Level 7. That’s plenty of BBs for me, but not for someone like him.

When I was UTG and picked up AA, I limped. Based on the way the table was playing, I knew there would be a lot of limps, and I knew once that happened, he would jam. That’s exactly what happened and I snap-called. He said, “You trapped me.”

I tabled AA.
He tabled KSo.
My hand held.

Of course, it’s easier to win when you’re dealt AA. And there was nothing special about that move. If roles were reversed, I would have busted the same exact way. The point is that I set that up for almost two hours. And if it didn’t happen in that event, it would happen in the next one.

This wasn’t a matter of reading my opponents as in: What do they have? It’s about reading people. They are NOT just poker players. They play poker, but they are human beings with tendencies based on human behavior.

My read on this person told me that I needed to be the NIT in order to get paid. So, it was a matter of reading my opponent as a human being, pretending to be a NIT, and getting paid. You must realize that to really give yourself a chance to succeed in this game, you must think of how you are perceived and then play off that.

This is why I will never be a technical player. For me, it’s about reading people as human beings, not as poker players, then using deception at the right times based on how they perceive me.

The Tourist

To that point, at one event in Tunica, I min-bet dark on the turn after flopping a queen-high flush with the ace on the board. I was betting less than 10% of the pot. He was a tourist/home-gamer, and I know how those players think.

poker player tourist

He saw me as a ‘pro’ and wanted to move me off the hand because he perceived that I thought I was slick by min-betting in the dark. I also knew that he would perceive it to be a flush draw. If he had any kind of hand, he would jam. And he did. He tabled two pair, which made it a little bit of a sweat, but I held.

You might have picked up on the fact that this article isn’t what you think. If the average person were to read the title, they would think it’s about reading your opponents in a traditional manner, but it’s also about reading how your opponents view you and using that to your advantage.

As usual, these aren’t your traditional poker tips. I’m not saying these are better poker tips at all. Sometimes I think I’m insane. But if you’re looking for different kinds of poker tips, you will always find them on this site.

The Big Talker

This is the dude that always corrects your mistakes and gets mad when you made the wrong play. He’s an easy player to play against. I’ll keep this one very simple.

Whenever you think you’re way ahead, go out of character and slam your chips on the table, shout, “All In!” or stare him down. This is an Ego guy. He’s going to think you’re fed up with hearing him talk and that’s the reason for making your move. He will also think he will know better than you because those are usually signs of weakness. Little does he know that you knew he would think they were signs of weakness.

One step ahead at all times. Whatever happens happens. If you run good, you have a good shot at making the final table. If not, well … that could mean a lot of cashes and bubble-area finishes without any major cashes for a while. But I’m not going to reveal why I wrote that. Most of you already know.

The Maniac

Maniacs have gotten better. They don’t just barrel every street anymore. They usually slow down once you call on the flop. Fortunately, there is an easy solution. Make yourself look weak on the turn and river. Let them come to you. I know checking the turn and river will lead to you losing some value, but you’re going to more than make up for that value on the massive bets this type of player will make, especially on the river.

poker player maniac

I DO NOT recommend putting him all-in on the river on a raise. He will sniff that out based on how you have been playing. This is assuming you’re a good player. I would recommend putting in the ideal raise. You need that perfect amount where it’s small enough for him to call yet you also want it to be big enough so you will get paid. The best raises in these situations is often around 2.5x his raise. This is based on my experiences with Maniacs.

The Calling Station

This is different because The Calling Station isn’t reading you at all. These kinds of human beings need action. No matter what they do, they want more and more immediately. I’m happy these people play poker. If they did heroin, they would be in trouble.

There is one way to play against The Calling Station: Get it in good and hope for the best. Then again, there is another way. It’s something I prefer, which is pot control until the river so you can evaluate the situation without any variance.

poker player calling station

Most poker pros will disagree because they’re playing a more technical game. If they have a 60% spot to get all their chips in the middle, they’re always going to take it, but how the hell do you know you’re 60%?

Every time a player makes an action (betting pattern, physical action, comment), I gain more information. Therefore, the longer I go in the hand, the more information I have to work with. If I get to the river, I’m very likely to have a good idea if I’m a winner or a loser. There is limited risk here. It’s a more methodical approach, but it’s exactly how I play when I’m at the top of my game.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want to build monster pots in MTTs when playing street-by-street. It’s more like navigating a minefield. If you’re playing cash or a single-table tournament, that’s a whole different ballgame. In those situations, give me 60% all day. The best tournament players take it slow and easy while picking ideal spots to attack (whether they have a hand or not).

The Donkey

I have to admit, this player is extremely difficult to play against. This is even more so the case when there are a bunch of them at your table. If it’s just one Donkey, then you should be good to go. If it’s more than one, you are going to have a very difficult time.

Like The Calling Station, they are not reading you, so you can’t play off their perception of you. And they do really dumb shit. In both poker tournaments and traditional poker games. I’ll give you an example.

When I played the Mega Stack in Tunica the other day (WSOPC), I had 350k in chips and the average was 155k. However, the Big Bling was 16k (and 16k for BB Ante). It was a terrible structure. The player to my left was a Donkey. This is why I will admit I made the error here, not him.

Thinking I was doing the right thing based on the blinds, a seven-player game at the second final table, and him being short-stacked, I open-jammed from the SB without looking at my cards. I figured he would fold unless he had a monster, which wasn’t likely. Instead, he said, “I’m not even going to look. I call.”

He was sick of me applying pressure on him, so he called dark, then tabled T7o. I was shocked. I didn’t know what I had and tabled T2. Yikes! That didn’t work. But I will always admit when I’m wrong, and I’m the Donkey for making that move because there is a very accurate phrase in the game of poker: “Never bluff an idiot!” If you do bluff an idiot, then you’re the idiot, so I’m the idiot. I hope this information helps you at some point in your journey.

Here’s the twist. If you make that same play against a professional poker player, they’re folding almost every time with T7o.

The Quiet One

This player is highly focused and often the most dangerous player at the table. However, there are two different types of quiet. The first one is the shy and intimidated type (you will pick up on this with ease). The second one is the strong and highly focused player. There are two ways to defeat this player in Texas Hold’em Poker.

poker player quite one

The first poker strategy to be implemented here is a little evil. However, there is a way to use it so it comes off as friendly. Since he’s quiet and highly focused, strike up a conversation with him (or her). Ask standard questions, such as, “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “How long is that drive?” “Have you eaten at the Noodle Bar?”

The last one is a stretch, but it’s also not. It’s all about delivery. You can sell anything if you’re focused. Once you start a conversation with this guy, keep it going (on and off) for about 15 minutes. I guarantee that he will be less focused than prior to you starting that conversation. His only shot is to give you the cold shoulder and refocus, but now he’s going to feel awkward about it. If he doesn’t give you the cold shoulder, he’s going to be concerned that you will begin talking to him again. You win either way.

The other option is something I mentioned in my last article. It’s not a lock, though. It’s simply to wait him out. The majority of players who are highly focused will blow up if two things go wrong.

I know “if two things go wrong” sounds weird, but it’s a near certainty. If one thing goes wrong, he will regroup and attempt to chip-up OR he will remain patient. If something goes wrong during that process (either one), he’s going to blow up. It’s human nature.

There are a few players I know who will never blow up, but I can literally count them on two hands. And that’s everyone I have played against. If we’re talking about the WSOP Circuit, there are 4-5 who won’t don’t blow up. The others will blow up because they feel deserving and will get angry when bad luck hits them. Anger is a huge enemy in poker, but it’s your friend if you let it attack others while you remain immune.

Final Thoughts

This article isn’t about reading poker hands. It’s about reading people. Once you grasp that concept and understand that these are human beings playing a game, you’re going to be crawling into the minds of your opponents without them even knowing you’re there. What’s even better is that they’re going to think they have you pegged, but you’re really just selling an image so you can complete the ambush.

I might be right and I might be wrong, but I analyze human beings more than poker hands when playing poker. Win or lose, it makes the game a lot more fun. See you at the WSOP!

♠ pokerjournal.org / Tyler Nals