When you’re at the poker table, what do you do when you’re not in the hand? Do you often check your phone? Read a book? How about listen to music?
We often see people partake in these distractions during the game’s extensive ‘downtime.’ After all, if you’re playing a reasonable range of hands, then you’ll be involved in less than half of all the pots played.
But you came to play, right? Who wants to just sit around and watch the action? Maybe, you think, to prevent yourself from becoming a maniac, you’ll fill all that downtime with something else. Maybe you’ll even read poker books or a strategy blog like this one.
Well, the truth is that you’re still throwing away valuable equity when you tune out the game.
Keep Your Eyes on the Ball
This iconic baseball saying comes down to the same thing: pay attention! Don’t get distracted by your teammate standing on first, don’t try psyching out the pitcher by staring them down, and definitely don’t wave to your fans in the bleachers. Keep your eye on the ball!
The same is true in poker, though it may be less obvious. Paying attention in baseball is all about athleticism, which is at the heart of that sport, but in poker it’s about gathering information.
Poker is a game of information. The more information that we can gather, the better we can play. Knowledge is power.
Tells, Profiles, and Showdowns
Now that you’re looking around the table instead of down at your phone, you’ll start picking up a lot of things that you didn’t notice. Does Jimmy always look down at his chips right before he bets? Does Nancy scratch her nose whenever she bluffs?
These physical cues are called tells, and to pick up on them you need to be perceptive and to recognize patterns. The only way that you’ll ever discover them, though, is if you pay attention to them in the first place!
Once you’ve picked up on some tells, you can use them to exploit your opponents. After all, if you know someone is bluffing, you can punish them big time by calling with even a marginal hand.
Another downtime activity involves fitting your opponents into psychological profiles. Pay attention to their frequencies. Someone who often folds to continuation bets on the river is pretty nitty, whereas the lady who bombs just about every river is on the loose side.
Finally, paying attention while you’re not playing has one other major benefit. Sometimes, you get to see other players cards. We can observe frequencies all we want, but cards are another matter. It’s a rare treat.
If you’re not in the pot, stay on top of the action so that, when and if the cards come up at showdown, you can see how your opponents played those cards. This information then helps you to further understand their tells, their profile, and, ultimately, how to exploit them.