Texas Holdem Psychology

Description:  Some players describe the best style of Texas Holdem play in terms of mathematics and odds. But there is another element in the best style of play—psychology.

The Psychology of Texas Hold'em Poker

by William Sheehan

Many people think texas hold'em odds and mathematical probabilities define how best to play a hand in texas hold'em poker. It is true that they play a part in deciding how to play a hand, but a much more important factor in texas hold'em poker is the psychology of the game.

The psychology of texas hold'em poker is another way of saying the way people play is largely determined by the way that they feel. Because of this by knowing how a person is acting you can assume some things about what they are thinking and vice versa.

The more you understand about this aspect of texas hold'em poker the better you will do at reading your opponents and making the right calls in given situations. We all have seen someone lose a big hand and come out firing big the very next hand. This is usually an example of the player losing control of his emotions,being angry, and so betting in a "throw caution to the wind" manner. This a less subtle example of how understanding the player's reasons for making the plays he makes in given situations. Knowing the player is making a large bet out of anger, and not based on his starting hand, means if you have a good starting hand strength you can go ahead and move in to complete his misery.

There are so many different variations of the circumstances and interpretations that it is hard to lay down a strict code of conduct when interpreting human behavior. Also teaching someone to watch for specific actions would not be very effective either. One of the best ways to start to understand behavior in texas hold'em poker is watching how people play and put yourself in their shoes. When they make a play ask yourself what kind of hole cards would I have if I made that play. Over time you can get a pretty good idea of what actions people will take in given situations with certain hole cards.

What I want to focus on is after you have an understanding of why certain plays are made in given situations, with certain hole cards then you can move beyond that to how the emotional characteristics of a person determine how certain individuals will act in certain situations, given certain hole cards. This may seem repetitious, but the point is that different people act differently in the same situations. So one person may have a tendency to want to play aggressively with high hand strength pocket pairs; where another person with the same type of starting hand strength would rather make sure there are no aces on the flop before betting on their high pocket pair. After watching people play for enough poker hands you can get an idea of how they like to play certain starting hands.

The key is to watch very closely to each person as they make their play. If your playing online poker it is still the same just the things you watch for are different. Like in a live texas hold'em poker tournament you can physically watch your opponent to see if he looks calm or nervous, but you may think in an online texas hold'em poker tournament you can't pick up on tells and can't give tells yourself. This couldn't be farther from the truth.

The truth is that tells exist in the online poker world just as they exist in the live, or bricks and mortar, poker world. In fact the argument could be made that picking up and capitalizing on tells in online poker is easier than in live poker because of some of the built in tracking an note taking options available to the online poker player.

The key to picking up tells in online poker is knowing what your looking for. Understand what differences there can be in actions. Like the amount of time the player takes before making a call, the normal amount of time this player takes before taking prior actions, the amount bet or called by the player in relationship to his own stack and the pot, and many other factors like that. If a player make a very fast call after a low flop on the board and the turn card is also low and he takes a bit of time before making the call he may be on a draw and be showing some reluctance in calling after missing his draw on the flop and turn. Again though this is a general observation so this type of play can be made to try to slow play a poker hand of dominate hand strength.

If all of this seems a bit to convoluted and too hard to understand or pin down look at it this way. What reasons would there be for making the play that your opponent made given the current situation. Often times you will find there are two types of starting hands that could be on different draws and yet still make the same type of play. For example with the starting hand of a middle pocket pair and with the starting hand of high suited connectors. Two very different starting hands, but with a low flop they both may try to make a relatively large bet to represent a dominate hand strength when in fact there hand strength is mediocre at best in the case of the middle pocket pair, and in the case of the high connectors many starting hands would be ahead in the hand against this starting hand.

The main thing to understand with the aspect of psychology in texas hold'em poker is that it is not an all or nothing concept. Which is to say you don't have to fully understand this poker strategy to use it to some degree, and as I always say something is better than nothing. Having some understanding of how the players mind set will determine what plays they make will help your texas hold'em poker game tremendously. After all that is what it is all about. Knowing the right call really comes down to knowing if your pocket cards are ahead in the hand or not, and even what your opponents may have for there pocket cards. The more you understand the psychological aspects the better you will be at making an educated guess at what your opponents pocket cards are likely to be, or what is current hand strength is.

Making it to the final table in texas hold'em poker tournaments takes the understanding of what motivations your opponent is acting on; weather it be the starting hand strength of their pocket cards, or that they think that by playing aggressively the rest of the table will fold to them. Often times a player simply betting aggressively to steal the blinds when called will often try betting aggressively again to continue the bluff hoping they can still take the pot down.

In texas hold'em poker tournaments making the wrong call when the chips are down means you are shown the door, but making the right call and are that much closer to the final. The more you know about your opponents motivations for making the play can give you an advantage that, given the right starting hand strength, or pocket cards with the right flop, you can know how to correctly proceed to extract the most money out of the poker hand.

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