Stereotypes can be effective for guessing a player’s tendencies, but keywords are far more accurate.
One thing all players should try to do at the table is listen for “trigger” words that reveal how someone approaches the game.
The type of trigger I’ll focus on in this article is absolute statements. Then, I’ll go over a couple other examples of leak-revealing statements.
What Are Absolutes?
Absolutes are statements that assume a fact (or emotion, or desire, etc.) about a person, animal, group of people, inanimate object, or another subject.
Here are a couple quick examples of absolute statements that an imaginary player named Bill says at the poker table:
- “Sarah is never bluffing there.”
- “Tom’s always got AA.”
- “Ed never has a hand. He just bets a lot.”
Absolutes are largely driven by our short term memory, which is very susceptible to bias. Thinking in absolutes can lead players like Bill to draw extreme conclusions based on a very small sample of hands.
Let’s go through that first example in greater detail.
“Sarah is never bluffing there.”
Sarah is a young woman who Bill has seen play exactly three hands over the past two hours.
Suddenly, she raises from the cutoff and fires three mid-sized bets on K♦ T♦ 4♣, turn 8♣, river T♥ versus Bill, who is seated in the big blind.
As Sarah slides her river bet into the pot, Bill immediately flashes K♥ 6♥ and folds. Bill’s friend leans over to him to ask why he didn’t even consider calling with a king, to which Bill replies, “Sarah is never bluffing there. She hasn’t played a hand all night.”
With loads of missed draws potentially in Sarah’s range (AQ, AJ, QJ, J9s, 97s, 76s, diamonds, clubs), Bill should at least consider calling on the river with his hand, especially given that he blocks only one combination of a missed draw (7♥ 6♥). Additionally, Sarah may be hesitant to value bet with a hand like AK, KQ, or even AA given that the river paired a card that Bill can certainly have.
That’s not to say Bill should definitely call — over-folding versus river aggression is oftentimes a reasonable adjustment. But with such a prime hero calling hand, a snap-fold and an absolute statement reveals a heck of a lot about his game.
Now, let’s consider the validity of the absolute statement.
Over the past two hours, Bill has seen approximately 60 hands at the table, minus the five he missed when he went on a bathroom break. That means he’s seen Sarah get dealt 55 hands, of which she’s played a total of four.
Meanwhile, Bill has been quite the card rack, picking up AA, KK, and AK a total of five times. He’s also looked down at a few medium pocket pairs and suited connectors. As a result, Bill has played around 12 of the 55 hands he’s been dealt.
In this sample, Sarah has a much lower VPIP than Bill. But here’s the problem: this sample is so small, it’s almost completely meaningless.
If you’ve played live poker, you know that it’s very easy to catch nothing but trash hands for a couple of hours. For all Bill knows, Sarah may actually be a fairly aggressive player who has simply been card dead this session.
How to Exploit Bill
We now know that Bill draws big conclusions based on unreliably small samples. Here are a few example scenarios that demonstrate how to use that information against him:
Scenario #1: You’ve been dealt a lot of great hands in your short session with Bill, but few of them have gone to showdown.
In this scenario, Bill likely thinks you are a loose player since you’ve played so many hands. Expect him to play looser versus your opens and adjust accordingly.
Scenario #2: You just bluffed all-in on the river and your opponent called.
Bill will most certainly be more likely to call down versus your bets after seeing you bluff off your stack, regardless of how standard/good the bluff was.
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