When All Else Fails

Poker Stereotypes

Poker Stereotypes"He who limps is still walking." -- Stanislaw Lec

Poker has all kinds of variables to it, moving pieces. Different players move in and out of games, cards run hot or cold, personalities change due to winning or losing or drinking or time constraints, bankrolls can go up or down... an endless number of things can impact on something so small as a single poker hand.

But even though that is true, oftentimes there is just nothing we can do about some situations. If you make a royal flush on seventh street in Stud HiLo, there is nothing you can do about your single opponent catching a card that makes him a raggedy low hand to split the pot. Sometimes the river card comes a flush card to kill your straight and there is no way you could have gotten that opponent who made the flush to fold his hand before the river. Sometimes when you make the flush on the river your opponent will be all-in with his straight and not have the chips to pay you off. You can’t turn back the clock and force him to buy more chips so you can extract a river bet out of him.

Of course, much more often we will face situations where we can do a lot to make significant changes in what occurs in a hand. We make decisions all the time that are not totally obvious. Some of these decisions are easy, some are hard, sometimes we will be right, sometimes we will be wrong, but in all cases we have an opportunity to effect the situation we are in.

Included among this huge group of decisions that is the “stuff” of what poker is resides a relatively small percentage of situations where we are totally at a loss for what to do. We know that the decision we face is not a no-brainer decision, but we really have no clue what to do. The amount of decisions like this a person faces will vary depending on skill level, but no matter how great you are, sometimes you will genuinely not know what to do.

In these cases, when all your neato poker skills can’t figure out the best action, it is good to be able to fall back on some pre-determined rules and ideas. One important “when all else fails” tool are stereotypes.

Rigidly believing and depending on stereotypes is stupid. The world is made up of all different kinds of folks who behave in all different kinds of ways. Daniel Negreanu wrote a nice column about how he completely misread Jennifer Harman the first time he played with her. He stereotyped her, and she is very much not the type of player the stereotype would say that she is. However, if you have absolutely no other information to go on (for example, you are moved to a tournament table and are faced with a person you have never laid eyes on before), following stereotypes will usually be the best choice to make. Even if "usually" means just slightly more than 50%, then following the stereotype was better than mentally flipping a coin.

The "just moved to a tournament table" example happens to me fairly often. I often am forced to depend on stereotypes to some degree -- before I learn better. For instance, if I move to a new tournament table and immediately find myself in a hand with a player I have never laid eyes on before, the first stereotype that does come into my head is a very valuable one. I’ve played poker, and specifically tournament poker, in a lot of places for more than a few years. If I have never so much as laid eyes on a particular player before, I know who they aren’t and what they likely aren’t. This is not some huge piece of massively profitable information, but it is something.

Whether a person is a male, a female, a smoker, a fan-toting nonsmoker, white, black, Texan, well-dressed, a slob, reading a sports ticker, wearing headphones, overweight, anorexic, friend of a known awful player, friend of a known excellent player, wearing lots of jewelry, not wearing a wedding ring, drinking booze, eating salad, shooing away people wanting to borrow money, shooing away people trying to collect money owed, wearing casino-labeled clothes, wearing a nametag from a convention in town, stone silent, jabbering like a looney, buying chips with cash that looks like it was glued in a wallet, buying chips on credit by raising a finger, friendly, obnoxious, calm, high-as-a-kite, rifling chips, counting his bets out tediously every single time, older, younger, whatever... if you have nothing else to go on, lean towards the other stereotype characteristics that go with the one you observe.

If eighty-five year-old Myrtle bets when the board pairs on the river when there was a flush draw possible... chances are, she ain’t bluffing. If a drunk, twenty-five year-old man who has a cuter-than-him girlfriend (not wife) sitting behind him bets in that same situation while taunting you “thanks for the money”... chances are, your pair of deuces are good.

The rest of the civilized world realizes stereotypes are no match for actually thinking about things. But in poker, where tiny edges applied many times over many years can add up to serious money, don’t just flip a coin. If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, more than 51% of the time it will in fact actually be a duck!

See also Reading Players, Poker Talent, and Using Your Head