Other Skills


What we mean by the psychology of poker getting into your opponents’ heads, analyzing how they think, figuring our what they think you think, and even determining what they think you think they think. In this sense, the pychology of poker is an extension of reading opponents’ hands, and it is also an extension of using deception in the way you play your won hand.

Here is an example. On third street, you have the highest upcard, and are in a late position, have little, and raise trying to steal in this position. Since you know that he knows you automatically would try to steal, his reraise does not necessarily mean that he has a very good hand. Consequently, since your opponent also may be semi-blffing, the correct play could be for you to raise back and then to bet again on fourth and fifth streets if necessary.

This brings up another point. The above play works because you are against a strong player whose thinking makes sense. A weak player is a different story. Just as you can’t put a weak player on a hand, you can’t put him on a thought either.

Very sophisticated sevens-card stud can go even beyond this third level. For example, an early-position player (who is also high) catches a suited card on fourth street, he bets, and a strong player calls him. On fifth street, this player catches is blank and bets again. His oppoment, who thinks this player is probably on a flush draw (perhaps because he just called with the high upcard on third street), may now raise with a medium pair on fifth street. His opponent may realize this and raise back, trying to represent a strong hand. The initial raiser may now comprehend this possibility and call his opponent down. When the hand is over, assuming that the flush card does not come, his calls will look fantastic to some opponents, if he actually is against a flush draw. Conversely, if it turns out that the first bettor really has a hand, the calls will look like a “sucker play.”

At the expert level of seven card stud, the “skill” of trying to outwit your opponent sometimes can extend to so many levels that your judgment may begin to fail. However, in ordinary play against good players, you should think at least up to the third level. First, think about what your opponent has. Second, think about what your opponent thinks you think he has. Only when you are playing against weak players, who might not bother to think about what you think they have, does it not necessarily pay to go through such thought processes. Against all others, it is crucial to successful play.

Several other important ideas play major roles in the psychology of poker. To begin with, when an opponent bets on the end in a situation where he is sure you are going to call, he is not bluffing. For example, suppose that you bet when all the cards are out and a player raises you. It is rare to find an opponent who is capable of raising on the end as a bluff. This is particularly true in seven crd stud if your opponent is aware that you know you should just about always call when the pots get so big. Similarly, if you raise when all the cards are out and your opponent reraises, you usually should flod, unless your hand can beat some of the legitimate hands with which he might be raising. (But beware of the player who knows you are capable of these folds.) However, this is not true of fifth or sixth poker street.

Tough players will raise on these streets if they hold a mediocre hand that has some potential to become a very strong hand. An example is a medium pair that has now picked up a fuslh draw. Those of you who automatically fold when raised in these situations are giving up too much. This is especially true at the larger limits, where the games are usually tougher.

A corollary to the principle we are discussing is that if your opponent bets when thee appears to be a good chance that you will fold, he may very well be blluffing. What this means in practice is that if your opponent bets in a situation where he thinks he might be able to get away with a bluff, you have to give move consideration to calling him, even with a mediocre hand.

An example is when no one bets on the fourth card and no one catches a scare card strategy on fifth street. If one of your opponents now bets, and he is the type of player who would try to pick up the pot with nothing, it may be correct to call (or raise) with a relatively weak hand.

In deciding whether to bet, it is equally important to consider what your opponent thinks you have. If your opponent suspects a strong hand, you should bluff more. However, you should not bet a fair hand for value in this situation.

An example would be when you raise on fourth street with two suited cards and now catch a blank on fifth street. If you check (on fifth street) but bet again on sixth street when you catch a third suited card, it is very hard for many of your opponents to call with only a pair. So bet your small pairs in this spot.

Conversely, if you know your opponent suspect that you are weak, you should not try to bluff, as you will get caught. But you should bet your fair hands for value. For example, if both you and your opponent checked on sixth street, you frequently can bet one big pair on the end for value. (Or in the previous example if you did not catch a suited card on sixth street after checking on fifth street you can again bet mediocre hands for value from that point on.)

Varying your play and making an “incorrect” play intentionally are also part of the psychology of seven card stud, because you are trying to affect the thinking of your opponents for future hands. For example, you occasionally can reraese on third street a late-position player with a high card up, who may be on a steal, when you hold something like a small playing three-flush (especially if your hand is live). Assuming that your opponents see your hand in a shodown, they should be less inclined to steal against you in a similar situation. Also, you are taking advantage of the impression you created to get pair off later in the game when you have a legitimate reraising hand.

Another example of this type of play is to throw in an extra raise early with cards that don’t really warrant it, in order to give the illusion of action. For instance, on third street, you can occasionally reraise a high card smaller than an ace with a hand like


especially if you are going to play this holding anyway. This play costs only a fraction of a bet in mathematical expectation, but gains you a tremendous amount in future action on subsequent hands. However, this play should probably not be made in loose games where you are against people who play too many hands and go too far with their hands, because you get excess action anyway.

There are also other ways you can affect your opponents’ play on future hands in seven-cards stud. For example, you may want to make what you think is a bad call if you believe this play will keep other players from “running over you.” If you find that you have been forced to throw away your hand on the end two or three times in a row, you must be prepared to call the next time with a hand that you normally wouldn’t call with. This is because you can assume that your opponents have noticed your folding and are apt to try to bluff you.

A less obvious situation where you should think of the future is to sometimes limp in early position on third street with a strong hand (such as a pair of kings with a king up) and then check it again on fourth (and perhaps fifth) street, even if there was no raise on third street. Not only may you catch someone stealing, but this check also might allow you to steal the pot in a future hand (when you limp in with a high card or a draw) when there has been no betting up to that point (especially when you catch an irrelevant card).

In general, you should evaluate any play you make on its merits alone, that is, on its expectation in a given situation. However, you occasionally might want to do something that is theoretically incorrect to create an impression for the future. Once you have opponents thinking one way, you can take advantage of that thinking later.

Finally, keep in mind that these types of plays will work against players who are good enough to try to take advantage of their new-found knowledge, but who are not good enough to realize that you know this, and that they should therefore ignore it. In seven card stud, as in all poker games, there seems to be a large group of players who like to “realize things.” You must know how these people think and whether they are thinking only on the level that you are giving them credit for. If they think on a still higher level, you have to step up to that next level. (Against really top players who often switch levels you must resort to game theory.