Thursday, November 28, 2013

Inside the Villain's Head, Part 1: Initial Stereotyping

In poker, the ability to read what cards your opponent holds--and what he thinks about the strength of those cards--is so fundamental to winning that I've included it in two separate building blocks in my (ever evolving) poker skills pyramid:

The upper yellow skill block, Reading, is the actual ability to 1) put our opponent on a specific hand range; 2) determine what, if anything, they think our hand range and line is; and 3) figure out what their ultimate line, or course of action is (i.e., what they're trying to achieve in this hand, such as bluff us, get value from us, try to get to a showdown cheaply, etc.).

The lower skill block, Basic Villain Types and Tendencies, can best be thought of as a preamble, or foundational skill, to the upper Reading block. It's also a key component necessary to mastering other beginning/intermediate skills such as blind stealing and continuation betting. This identification of villain type and tendencies is what I want to talk about here, and that process begins with stereotyping.

When we first sit down at a table against new, unknown opponents that we've never before played against, we have little knowledge of what type of players they are, and, more importantly, what types of hands they play in different situations. We're dealt Jacks in middle position and see them open in early position. What the heck do we do? We don't know how tricky they are, what level of thought they're capable of, whether they understand basic concepts such as position and c-betting, if they play fit-or-fold poker, if they're calling stations, and so on. In other words, we know essentially nothing. But to beat them, we need to start accumulating information, and to do this, we have to begin somewhere really basic. Enter stereotyping.

Stereotyping, while being a (correctly) frowned upon practice in everyday life, is actually an accepted and beneficial skill to employ at the poker table. I've posted about this before (e.g., here). Stereotyping is the first step to figuring out what is going on inside the mind of a villain. It's far from being the full story about our opponent, and it's not necessarily even very accurate, but it is better than nothing. We begin with a basic stereotype and then work from there to narrow and refine our thoughts about said villain as we observe more of his or her play.

For instance, a new player joins our game. Are they an older conservative curmudgeon or a young flashy hot-shot? Are they female or male? Both age and sex are (very) rough indicators of how aggressive an average player is going to be. Same with how they dress, what jewelry if any they're wearing, and even how they stack their chips. Hell, even their posture matters.

Similarly, we can guess how loose or tight a player is going to be by things like their nationality. European players are generally looser than Americans, for instance. Asians are said to be more "gambly" than others. Rich amateur businessmen tend to be calling stations and surburban housewives tend to be nittier. And so on. No, this is not racist, or sexist, or whatever-else-ist. This is just the reality of poker, folks. We're in a battle when we sit down at the felt, and it's foolish to ignore any information because it's not politically correct in everyday life.

Other initial factors can affect our stereotyping. Is the player loud and talkative, or quiet and reserved? How much did they buy in for? How do they handle their chips? Are they drinking? Smoking? Checking out the drink girl? Playing keno? Etcetera, etcetera. Without seeing a villain play a single hand of poker, we are already beginning the process of figuring out what kind of player they are. And without anything else to go on, this means we can only start with what we see.

We're all taught that you can't accurately judge the content of a book by looking solely at its cover, but you can get a rough indication of what's inside by reading its title. This is what poker stereotyping is about-- creating an initial idea of the probable type of player the villain is, and then refining that type as we observe them actually play.

Again, our initial impressions could be far from the actual mark, but at a minimum this process of stereotyping gets us thinking about our opponents. Categorizing our opponents starts the process of getting inside their head, and that is truly what poker is all about: playing the player.

I'm out of time for today, but in the next installment I'll delve a little more deeply about the process of refining our initial stereotype of the villains we meet at the poker table.

Now it's off to the dinner table for me. Turkey and stuffing, oh boy! Happy Thanksgiving to all, regardless of your nationality, sex, age, or stereotype!

All-in for now...

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