Posted by Johnnymac 7:41 AM
To briefly answer Junell's question, whenever I sit down in a poker game with people I don't know I am very keen to observe them and make a judgment of their play and their likely ability. This is what I pay attention to:
1.) I listen to what they have to say. If someone says, "I played 20-40 at the Top Hat last night," I will be much more respectful of him, at first, compared to someone who says, "Ooh! Texas Holdem! I love watching the World Poker Tour!" or "I don't normally play Deuce-Nine but deuces are hot tonight!".
That said, just because someone talks a good game doesn't necessarily mean that he plays a great game, either, and sometimes silence is the best indicator of all. If someone sits down in a game and appears comfortable and experienced but doesn't say a word and intensely pays attention to the game, I'm going to respect that guy the most.
2.) How does someone look "comfortable" and "experienced" in a game? A few ways come to mind: he removes his chips and doesn't try to play from a rack; He buys in with old $100 bills and not stiff new $20's from the ATM; The dealer doesn't have to ask his name and he knows where the drinks and snacks are and that he's welcome to get up at any time; he's comfortable handling chips (chips tricks come to mind here) and usually bets confidently with stacks of chips without counting chips one by one.
(The last one is kind of hard to verbalize, but if you have ever played with the River Chief, the way he nervously kind of picks up his chips one by one is the image I am driving at)
3.) One of the biggest physical traits I pay attention to is that most poker types like to wear jewelry, especially big watches (see A. Alvarez) and rings on fingers other than wedding rings (especially pinky rings). This doesn't necessarily mean that they are good players, but it does at least usually mean that they play a lot and spend a lot of time in a casino and thus warrant a little more respect until I can watch and get a better feel for their play. Certain types of shirts and buttoned/unbuttoned styles also make a difference here, as does the presence of all 10 fingers and tatoos.
4.) In general, Mike Caro's book is quite correct in the ways it stereotypes players versus their appearance (clothing, race, sex, hair, cigarettes). As I have stated before, and as Caro emphasizes, it's OK to stereotype in poker because it's all you've got until you watch someone play. Even better, somewhat unlike normal society, poker inherently punishes you for sticking to stereotypes once you know they have been disproven. Most Asian women are wild gamblers and poor poker players but you will eventually lose your money if you don't adjust against an Asian woman who only plays the nuts.
4.) I am a little bit ambivalent about guys who sit down with their freeby jackets and hats from Louisiana. On one hand, this signifies that they have played a lot of poker and somewhat fit into the "comfortable" definition above. But on the other hand, the boats usually only give those prizes away for making straight flushes or royal flushes and typically the cards needed to make those types of hands are not great starting hands (go ahead, flame me and I'll explain) and thus the hat might be an indicator of poor play. Ambivalent.
5.) But I agree with Fro as to what I think the most significant indicator is, and that's seeing someone's cards at the showdown, as this is probably the best and most accurate indicator of someone's skill level and style of play. It's important, though, to recreate the action on a particular hand because there are circumstances when what appears to be bad cards or a weak hand can be easily explained (ie starting in the blinds), and even more importantly, you can sometimes recognize that the cards may have been bad but the play was good and therefore significant of a skilled player.
Here are some of the things I look for to make a judgment of a players skill after I have seen his cards:
- Calling raises and not reraising or folding, regardless of the cards held.
- Calling raises cold with weak hands like AQ or AJ or medium or small pocket pairs and then playing all the way to the end against an aggressive opponent and with no significant help from the board.
- Playing sucker hands like AT, KJ, J9, or any Ace, especially from early position.
- Calling with bottom pair and going all the way to the end with it.
- Overvaluing AK from early position and overplaying it when no help comes from the board or when it's apparent that it's been outdrawn by the flush or the player holding a Q or J. Similarly, putting in the 3rd bet with AK any time before the flop is also a good indicator of poor play.
- The obvious situations like playing any two suited cards or drawing with unsuited medium connectors, from any position.