Five Good Habits


August 31, 2007

In amongst the grand strategic concerns of poker, there are some small things you can do that will improve your game and keep you out of trouble. Little “good habits” that usually don’t make a difference, but every once in a while save your butt. These things take almost no effort once you form the habit, so adopting them is essentially a freeroll. No cost and potentially substantial gain.

Here are five of those good habits:

Count The Pot

It’s often necessary to know the number of chips in the pot, and can be cumbersome to estimate or calculate on the spot. Hence, it’s a good idea to count the chips as they go in the pot, adding up each round’s called bets and dead money (if any) so you have an accurate number. You can start by practicing this when you’re not in a hand, and before long you’ll find you always know how big the pot is, to the chip. It’s good mental arithmetic practice too. You should also count the pot as your stack chips when you win a hand, so that if it’s short you know someone is shorting the pot or palming chips.

Wait To Check Your Cards

On the first betting round, wait to check your cards until the action gets to you. That way, you can’t possibly give off any tells that might influence action in front of you in a negative way.

Memorize & Protect Your Hand

When you get your hole cards, memorize them and protect them by placing a chip or card protector on them. Then don’t look at them again (unless you really forget what you had, which shouldn’t happen). People re-checking their cards (especially in flop games when the board is very coordinated) tends to be a huge tell, and you should avoid it. Memorizing the rank and suit of your hole cards just isn’t that hard.

Watch The Players, Not the Cards

When new cards come out, watch you opponents, not your new card. It’ll still be there when it’s your turn to act, but your opponent’s genuine reaction to their new card lasts only a second. You want to be watching them when it happens. There will be plenty of time to look at the cards when it’s your turn to act. Watching the players without knowing what the new card(s) were also makes it easier to interpret their actions and expressions without bias.

Keep Tabs on Your Opponent’s Chip Stacks

This is especially important for NL, but makes a difference in limit games too. You need to know about how many chips all of your opponents have. Many NL decisions are made based on the smaller of your and your opponent’s stacks, so you have to keep a constant eye out. Otherwise you might make an implied odds play against someone without the stack depth to pay you off.

In limit, it’s often important to know when someone is almost all-in, because people will often play differently in those situations – they won’t fold when they should, and will often bet or raise when their cards don’t merit it since they figure you’ll just put them in on a subsequent street anyways. Keep this phenomena in mind so you never try to bluff a guy with one bet (or worse, half a bet) left.

So watch your opponents’ stacks, and keep an approximate count of how many chips they have at all times.

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