Winning Poker Is In the Details

As in life, first impressions are vital when you arrive at a poker table. You are being sized up before you even play a hand, so how you handle yourself is important.

A lot of players like to make a statement when they first show up at a table. Some like to warmly greet the table with a hello; others prefer a smart aleck remark. What they don’t realize is what they say and do in that encounter is all the statement a good player needs to get a read on someone.

When I am at a table and someone is coming to claim the seat, I look at them immediately, even before they sit down. I look to see how they approach the table — is it confidently, sheepishly or hesitantly? It can be something as small as where they are sitting. If they come to the table, and they don’t ask the dealer what seat is theirs, then I know they have been there before and play frequently. If they ask the dealer where to sit, or if they say, “Is this seat mine?” I know they are relative novices.

Clothes are another tell. If they show up in a grungy polo or T-shirt and a hat with a sweat stain on it, I know they are lifers, usually losers, and they spend more time at a table than they should.

If you are young, you don’t want to come with the Ray-Bans and backward hat look. That tells me you are inexperienced and immature, and I will start needling you to throw you off your game.

The best outfit for a man is jeans or slacks, nice shirt (but not too nice) and no headwear. You want to try and stay as anonymous as possible. Blend in, don’t stand out.

If you are a woman, dress sexy. I am not a misogynist, just a realist. If you are showing cleavage, men aren’t focusing on their cards. Look at actress Jennifer Tilly. She wears low-cut dresses or tight shirts, and don’t think that isn’t by design. She knows that if guys are staring at her chest, they aren’t thinking about what’s in her hand.

When a player sits down at a table, everyone is assessing your demeanor. Do you fidget with your chips? Do you start trying to make pleasant conversation? If you are nice at the table, I am going to assume you are nice as a player, and I will try and bully you out of hands. You will not raise on someone’s blind unless you have a pair of aces or kings, because you believe it’s not nice to raise when someone has to put in the big blind.

When I get to a table I do two things. First, I stare at everyone like I am a mental patient and could go postal at any minute. Second, I don’t play a hand until the blind has gone past me at least once. I want to spend that initial time reading players, getting a feel for the table.

I made the mistake recently of playing an early hand and got crucified. I was playing a 4-8 table, and about the third hand I had a king high flush after the flop. I bet it hard, raised, bullied and stared down at people who even thought of playing with me.

One guy re-raised me on the turn, but I didn’t have him holding the ace. By that time, I was pot committed and upset and called the raise. I checked on the river, and he bet. I called, and he didn’t have the ace. He had a straight flush.

You could call it a bad beat, but it was definitely avoidable. If I had been paying attention to him, instead of wrapped up in my own cards, I might have been able to get a read on what he was holding. Instead, I lost half of my buy-in money.

Use your brain and common sense when you are at a table. The smallest detail can be utilized to your advantage.