Stereotypes are great for guessing personalities but keywords are far more accurate. One thing I try to do at the table is listen for a set of “trigger” words to help me guess how someone is going to play against me. There are several categories of keywords to look into and the one I’ll cover now is Absolutes.
Here are some quick examples of absolutes an imaginary player named Bill made at the table:
- “Sarah’s never bluffing there.”,
- “Tom’s always got AA”
- “Ed never has a hand, he just bets a lot.”.
Absolutes are largely driven by our biased short term memory that can lead players like Bill to extreme conclusions over a very small sample of hands. Let’s go through each example above in greater detail.
- Sarah is a middle age woman who has played exactly three hands over the past two hours. Suddenly, she makes a raise from the cut off and fires three bets on KT4dd Turn 8c River Th into Bill in the big blind. Bill thinks for a long time on the river card then shows Sarah a K and folds. Bill’s friend leans over to him and asks Bill why he folded a K to which Bill replies, “Sarah’s never bluffing there, she hasn’t played a hand all night.”
Analysis: Bill is probably a little bored and playing live poker can make time go by super slow. Over the past two hours, Bill has seen approximately 70 hands at the table minus the 10 he missed when he went on a bathroom break. During the course of the 60 hands Bill played, he got AA twice, AK three times, several pocket pairs and several suited connectors. In total, Bill played almost twenty hands while he was sitting with Sarah at the table. That’s six times the number of hands Sarah played. In Bill’s mind, he really believes Sarah couldn’t possible have a hand worse than AK because it feels like Bill and Sarah have played many more hands together than they actually have.
Once you hear someone make an absolute assumption based on a small sample of hands, you can exploit them by figuring out how they perceive you. How many hands have you played over the course of two hours compared to Bill? Does Bill think that you also only play hands as strong as AK? If so, be prepared to increase your bluffs against a player like Bill who will incorrectly fold too often.
- 2. “Tom’s always got AA.”: Tom is a relatively passive player who frequently limps his hands preflop. Tom limps under the gun, middle position raises, cutoff calls, button calls, and now Tom re raises huge. Everyone folds and while Bill is folding the button he makes another absolute assumption, shows his neighbor JJ, and folds.
Bill is on a roll with the absolute keywords he is dropping at the table. This sounds like a great time for Tom to start limp re-raising some bluffs knowing that Bill will fold a hand as strong as JJ everytime he does.
Bill also reveals in his statement that he likes to put his opponents on exactly one hand instead of a range of hands. This means when Bill is playing a hand he is unlikely to consider the total combinations of bluffs or value bets an opponent can have and instead draw conclusions on a very narrow view of all the available information.
- 3. “ Ed never has a hand, he just bets a lot.” Bill and his friend have continued to talk very loudly about what they think of everyone’s play at the table. Ed, a very smart professional player has been making good value bets and good bluffs at the table. He raises AK in middle position, and little Timmy calls the button. The flop comes K74r and Ed bets half pot. Timmy folds. Bill guffaws at Timmy’s play and implies that Timmy got bluffed.
Bill thinks Ed is a loose player. Ed should adjust his play verse Bill by betting mostly his value hands and greatly reducing his bluffs. This will give Ed the greatest monetary result in all hands against Bill. Bill also seems to believe that he knows how to play against Ed better than Timmy, so Timmy can exploit Bill by checking a few strong hands to Bill and giving Bill an opportunity to “bluff” him.
Absolutes are a great source of information at the poker table because they leave a very accurate road map on how a player like Bill will play against you at the table. Remember to identify the players using absolute keywords as early as possible and pay close attention to the comments they make of the game and their opponents
I’m Matt “Checkmate” Colletta. I’ve been playing poker professionally since about 2004.
As one of the poker pros on UpswingPoker.com, my goal here is to help transform at least one hobbyist poker player into a self made millionaire.