One of the most common human mistakes is projecting one’s own thoughts, beliefs and behaviors onto other people. We assume that what we know is common knowledge and that our peers always behave rationally. However, this is often not the case.
At the poker table, most of our opponents either do not know or do not agree with what we take to be strategic gospel, and even those who do frequently make mistakes due to nothing more than a lack of discipline or a poor psychological state.
This phenomenon is sometimes amplified by a subconscious assumption that our opponent knows what we hold.
I was recently in Nevada playing a $3-$6 no-limit hold ’em game on the World Series of Poker online site when I was reminded of this.
I open-raised to $18 from the button with Jd 10d. Only the big blind called, and we saw a flop of Jh 4h 4c heads-up with $39 in the pot.
He checked, and I made a continuation bet of $32 with my top pair and a medium kicker. My opponent called, and we saw the turn bring the Kh with the pot now up to $103.
Again he checked, and I felt that this turn card would almost certainly scare my opponent into folding most hands that I could currently beat, such as pocket eights, but would definitely leave me as a severe underdog against hands that hit big, such as K-J and two hearts for a flush, so I elected to check behind.
On a 9d river, he checked quickly.
At this point I felt confident that he had a small or medium pocket pair, a busted flush draw or something like A-9, hitting a losing pair on the river.
In this situation, I have seen countless people make a habit of checking behind, assuming that betting would make our hand strength “obvious” as a medium pair, and that therefore nobody would call a bet with a weak pair on this board.
However, this reasoning assumes that our opponent is borderline psychic and that he is sufficiently disciplined to lay down a reasonably good starting hand, like 7-7.
Because at least one of these assumptions is typically false, I elected to bet $19, giving my opponent over 6-to-1 odds on a call, banking on him to make a call that a part of him knew was incorrect. He would simply not be able to bring himself to fold with such attractive odds.
He thought for nearly a full minute before calling with 2-2, and I raked in an extra $19 where many players, even some successful professionals, tend to simply check and get $0. These little ways of squeezing extra money out of a pot can really boost your poker earnings, because such opportunities arise frequently.
Remember that your opponents know less, think differently and behave with less discipline than you expect.
You should count on them to make mistakes, some of them incomprehensible, because that is the reason why you are playing with them in the first place. If they are never making mistakes, then you cannot win.
Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.