Poker Table Analysis

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Initial Table Analysis

As soon as you sit down at the poker table, you should be immediately evaluating how each of your opponents play. The more information you have on your opponents, the better the plays you can make against them. You can obtain information about how your opponents play by watching the hands you are not involved in.

(See the article on putting poker players on a hand for more information.)

But what are you looking for when you sit down at a table?

Table Dynamics

After playing a few hands you should be able to get a feel for the dynamics at the table. This general table dynamic is based on two things:

  1. Player Types
  2. Stack Sizes

The interplay of these two variables influences all of the action at the table. How you play each hand is depends on your position within this dynamic.

Poker Table Dynamics Diagram - Players and Stack Sizes
How I see the poker table. The dynamics are different for every table, but they're all based on player types and stack sizes.

Ideally you're looking for fish with big stacks — these are your targets. You should aim play in a way that allows you to get involved in hands with fishy players, whilst simultaneously avoiding dangerous situations with the aggressive players.

In general you don't want to be sitting down at a table full of aggressive players. You want to be able see spots where you can easily find yourself winning money.

Basically, you never play a table where everyone is aggressive.

Patrik Antonius

If you can't see opportunities for making money at the table, find another one to sit at.

Every table is different, and that's why poker is interesting. You'll get better at feeling out the dynamics with the more hands you play and the more tables you play at. Poker tables are like books... after the first few pages you should know whether or not you want to keep on reading.

General tips.

Here are few extra things you can look for whilst you're waiting for the big blind:

  1. Take a look at each player's stack size.
  2. Look out for players calling the big blind and then calling a raise from another player (this is a good one).
  3. Read their player username (not so great, but always an option!).
  4. Watch for players who do not wait for the big blind (again, not a great indicator).

1. Stack size.

Stack Size Colour Awareness
Get a feel for the numbers on the table with a quick scan of the stack sizes (including their positions).

In cash games, you can quickly spot who the potential solid players and potential weak players are by looking at the size of their stack. Each cash game has a maximum buy-in that is typically 100 times the big blind. Good players will either be at this maximum buy in or above it.

I'm more aware of the players with 100bb+ stacks, but it's only a starting point.

Why? Because if know you have an edge over other players, you can maximise this edge by ensuring that you are always in a position to get as many chips in to the middle in proftiable situations. If I've only got 80bb in my stack and I see an awful player with 100bb, all I can see is 20bb of their money waiting to be missed out on.

Conversely, the likely weak/poor players will have a stack size significantly below the maximum buy in. This is because the recreational players are comfortable with letting their stack diminish as play progresses, whereas a winning player will want to reload to the maximum to give themselves the best opportunities to make maximum profit on each hand.

Note: Big stack = strong does not always work. A bad player may have some short-term luck and push their stack above the maximum buy-in. Small stack = weak however is more reliable.

2. Players calling the blind, then calling a raise.

If you see a player calling the initial big blind, and then calling again after a player behind them has raised, you can assume that they are not an experienced player. This is for the reason that if you have a hand that is worth calling a raise with, it is far better to be the raiser rather than calling another player's raise.

In addition, if a player limps in, you can assume that they have a marginal hand or they are slowplaying a monster. Therefore as someone raises behind them, if they call you can assume that they are calling a raise with a marginal hand because a player with a monster starting hand will usually re-raise. This fact that they are calling to see flops with marginal hands is enough information to assume that the player is weak and inexperienced in playing winning poker.

On the other hand, they may still have a strong starting hand even if they do call both the big blind and then the raise, but are just passive players. However, a solid player will not be this passive so you can safely assume again that they are not that great to be simply calling with strong starting hands.

Unless a player holds a small pocket pair and is set mining, calling the blind then calling a raise is a poor play that you would not expect an experienced player to make.

3. Player name/alias (unreliable).

Don't make emotional judegments base on other players' usernames. Players often pick username that tilt amateur players. Playing with emotion loses you money, playing with logic wins you money.

The alias or name of your online opponents can also be an indication of their personality and intentions from playing the game. Many of the "sensible" players will simply use their real name or possibly a poker related name as their alias. On the other hand, the "less sensible" and recreational players may opt for the rude and almost offensive names.

Although this is far from being a solid indication of our opponents’ styles of play, it can be helpful when we have little to go on in regards to what our opponents are like. We can infer that the players with ‘sensible’ names are more likely to be solid players whereas the players with ‘less sensible’ names may be playing for fun as recreational players.

4. Players not waiting for the big blind. (unreliable)

As soon as you sit down at a cash table, you are not dealt a hand until you have posted a big blind. The big blind can be posted at any time of the rotation but it is advised that you wait for the actual big blind to come to you before playing a hand.

This is to save yourself from seeing flops in a bad position with a hand that could potentially lose you a lot of money. Therefore if you notice that other new players at the table are posting the big blind before the actual big blind gets too them, you can assume that they are anxious to get into the game and play, and may not be a solid player.

Poker table analysis evaluation.

It should be stressed that the above advice on analyzing your opponents style is not always going to be concrete evidence about how your opponents play. You may come across a player with an extremely childish name and not waiting for the big blind as he sits down, but at the same time is a very strong player.

You should not rely solely on these reads to gauge the strength of your opponents, but to simply help influence your decision on how they play when you have little else to go by.

Go back to the awesome Texas Hold'em Strategy.

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