Think, for a moment, what separates predator
from prey. The predator is a veracious but patient hunter. The
cheetah may be the fastest animal in the world, but it is also the
most long-suffering. The cheetah moves with sloth-like intent, with
stealthful grace, until he’s close enough to strike off in a dead
run. When he does, he’s so aware of his prey that he’s able to use
speed and predictability to cut off any potential means of escape.
Likewise, it is the predatory nature of
professional poker players that gives them such a palpable edge
over inexperienced opponents. They are able to observe them for a
long period of time and predict their every move. The predatory
player knows when his prey is weak, when it’s bluffing, and most
importantly, when he himself is beaten.
Every online poker player has herd the
shark-versus-fish analogy that exists on the virtual realm. The best
online players are sharks, and the worst are the pools of fish they
prey upon. But the theory goes so much deeper than that.
Sharks weren’t chosen as the prime comparison
because of their size or insatiable hunger. They were chosen because
they are the apex predator of the ocean. They exist in supremacy at
the top of their food chain, unmatched in their dominance by any but
other sharks. And if you’ve noticed, sharks do not challenge one
another. They simply co-exist, sharing in the abundant food supply
that makes up 71% of the earth’s surface.
How to Become a Predatory Poker Player
So the cheetahs stalk the terrestrial tables
and the sharks haunt the online realm. That’s an easy enough concept
to grasp. What you really want to know now is how to become one,
right? It’s going to take time and patience. Even the best hunters
were trained by a role model – a parent, or tribal leader –
before they were allowed to hunt on their own. Experience is the key
to acquiring any skill.
To become a hunter, we must act like a hunter.
In time, the skills will develop. You’ll begin to see others as prey,
through a predator’s eyes. You’ll recognize things you never noticed
before. Your aim and accuracy will improve. Your intuition will home
to a fine-edged blade.
Here are some of the tools you can begin to
employ now on your journey into the wilderness.
Death by Self-Importance
Your hole cards are not important. Do not look
at them when they are dealt. No, you’re not trying to exude
indifference or an air of easy distraction. If you take even a moment
to examine your own cards, you could be missing out on a wealth of
information around you.
This is the perfect time to witness the
reaction of everyone else as they inspect their own hands. The
slightest facial twitch can mean everything. If an opponent loses
control of their concrete calm for even half a second, this is the
moment you’ll see it. Take that extra second to observe any shred of
evidence your opponents may offer.
The Tell Tale Stacks
Take note of everything your opponents do,
especially regarding their chip stack. What condition is it in? Is it
a large or low stack, and how well do they keep it organized?
A sloppy pile translates to a sloppy player –
one who’s there for fun more than winning. This type of player may
bluff often, so keep an eye on the flop to see if his bets are
A perfectly stacked tower points to taut
nerves. They know how to play and came here to win, but aren’t the
type to take risks. Don’t expect any bluffs from their position.
The Power of Observation Compels You
This is the hardest part, and will take the
longest amount of time to master, but without it, your predatory
nature can never fully develop. You need to begin memorizing the
betting style of every player at the table. Each one will display a
different style. Some bet faster, some slower; some will check, bet,
raise or fold in specific situations. Some players hesitate before a
bluff, or a big hand, while others snap-call these situations.
The idea is to understand which players do
what, and to develop a psychological profile of each one. Phil
Hellmuth’s Poker Animals characterization model is a perfect
example. By profiling everyone, you will begin categorizing your
opponents into smaller and exploitable groups, understanding how to
interpret their characteristics and learning to deal with them
individually. With enough practice, you will recognize each player
type quickly and with uncanny accuracy.
Be the Opposite of Everything You’ve Just Learned
Now that you know the basics of what to look
for – and you’ll discover many more subtleties yourself along the
way – make sure that you’re not making any of these categorical
mistakes. You can rest assured you’re not the only one at the table
looking for them.
As such, the best players will become easy to
identify as well. They are the ones who – like you – use this
knowledge to ensure they never expose a pattern in their own game
play. They will constantly change up their betting styles, their
organizational chip-stacking skills, and their attitudes at the
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