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Mind Games in Poker

Mind Games in Poker
By Loki Luchs of

The first 10 minutes at a table can always set the tone for a session; am I going to be a patient player and grind it out for eight hours? Will I be loose and reckless to shake up the table? Should I be talkative and chatty, so I can extract information? Is it a table I can beat or should I request a table change for a better game?

These were all of the questions I was asking as I sat down last week at the new Aria poker room. My first move is to request a seat change, as I'm sitting in seat #1. I don't like being not able to see players 9 and 10, so I avoid being next to the dealer when I can. I came in on the blinds so I was able to watch two hands of very tight action before I was able to come into my first hand. Two limpers, blinds check, ragged flop, small bet, everyone folds. Three limpers, blinds check, checked around on the flop, checked around on the turn, small showdown, two pair wins.

This is a good start to my information. This tells me that the table is tight and slow. The kid (in seat three) to my left seems competent and disciplined judging by how his eyes follow the players and not the cards. He doesn't check his cards more than once, and only when the action reached the blinds. Still, he strikes me as overly-cautious, and that's the kind of player I like to mess with. Normally, it's against my better judgment to upset the players to the left, but I've already got a seat change button, so he won't be to my left for much longer.

First hand, in the cut off, three limpers come along for a ride. I decide to limp before I look at my cards. Buttons call/check. The flop comes Kc 9s 4c. Small blind bets two big blinds. Two of the limpers reluctantly call, one folds. I'm in last position, so I figure I would announce my presence by popping it up eight big blinds more. Small blind takes a long pause and calls cautiously. The other two fold.

The turn is the Ace of diamonds. Small blind checks, eyeing me. I'm not sure if he's reluctant of my raise, worried about the ace, or slow-playing a good turn card. I smile stupidly and check behind.

The river is the Ah. Small blind checks again. I put in a bet of about 15 big blinds. He stares me down for a while, and then asks: "Just tell me: do you have an ace?" I sit passively. "Just tell me. You got one." I continue to stare down. After about thirty seconds, he flashes me K/Q of diamonds. "You're not going to give me anything, are you? Well, I'll get you next time."

I nodded and indifferently rake in the pot, tossing my 2/3 of clubs face up. "Gotta bet when you play the board." Now, before you judge my play, it should be said that I had position, a draw, and aggression against weak opponents. I received two draws for my raise, and eliminated two opponents that might have had aces. My check-bet can easily be seen as a hit turn/river. I would expect most players to call a KQ here, but a nine or weak king probably wouldn't. Also, if I get called, I get free advertising for being a bad player for the rest of the night.

I've seen some strange things in my years at the table, but this kid's reaction to this is one to remember. A couple players snickered, one might have actually laughed, but this kid was humiliated beyond anything he'd yet experienced on the felt. For the next forty minutes, he talked to himself like a motivational speaker. "You're playing fine. That guy's a moron. Probably has never played the game before. He'll be broke in an hourů" As you can imagine, he utterly melted down and went through four buy-ins by the time I had finally changed seats. While I only got a small percentage of his unhinged frenzy, a good deal of his winnings went to a few other players that I would break later in the day. The ramifications of a single hand changed the entire dynamic of the game. The table started making bad bets and worse calls. Just remember at your next table: Mind games can make people go mental.

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