"I Read"

Improving Your Game

Poker Reading"Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider." -- Francis Bacon

Years ago when in a movie theater with a friend, we overheard a conversation between the only other two people there. One told the other some mundane background information about the movie. His friend asked, “How do you know that?” The first person replied, “I read.” For some reason my date thought that was the funniest thing she ever heard. Afterwards that line became her explanation for dozens of smart (“he must read”) or dumb (“he didn’t read”) things we observed.

I could write a column about how a single comment could lead to months of seriously twisted obsession on the part of one’s girlfriend, but that isn’t the point. What she ended up consistently pointing out was that in any situation where choice is possible, researching your options leads to greater success.

Obviously poker is a game of choices. Choices exist on the most micro levels (Should I bet with my left hand?) to macro-life ones (How should I build my life around the desire to make money at poker?). Studying, researching, gathering information, “reading” in all its forms is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the (poker) universe.

Don’t get the wrong message here. I’m not talking about learning. I’m talking about trying to learn. The fact that the fellow in the movies read something doesn’t mean he learned anything, let alone anything important. What is important is that reading is making the effort to learn things that many others don’t know. Effort doesn’t guarantee success in this world, but it is generally one heck of an edge.

A couple years ago I noticed a fellow when he entered one of the big LA cardrooms. He came in the front door and walked briskly directly to the sign-up board. He was like both a laser beam and a horse wearing blinds. WHOOSH, he made a hurried beeline for the board. If you are rushing to beat somebody else to sign up for a game, okay. But after I saw him do this once, I noticed it a few more times.

Each time he entered the cardroom, WHOOSH, he virtually sprinted to his doom. He never “read the room.” He never showed any concern for anything except his primary aim of getting on the board to play. He was always intent on “doing”, not on gathering information to try and “do” better. Honestly, he didn’t even seem to be paying enough attention to his surroundings to notice if there was a faster way to the board!

Playing poker reasonably well is not hard. Doing the bare bones tasks of picking up your cards, betting the right amount, playing in turn, playing decent starting hands and betting reasonably is not difficult. But bare bones poker won’t make you a winner. The rake and the better players will eat you up. To win you need to “read.”

An endless amount of “reading” opportunities exist. Poker magazines, Internet message boards, personal discussion groups, books and computer simulation software resources exist to be studied. Beyond that, every aspect of your poker playing experience can be analyzed and studied with the idea that you are “reading up on” each aspect. This may sound like an exaggeration, but I believe you can literally spend a lifetime reading up on small blind play.

Good poker players should be constantly studying and evaluating and critiquing every phase of their play. “Reading” does not only mean literally reading words on a page. Trying to learn is an attitude, a way to approach the game. Reading is the borrowing of publicly available information provided by those around us. Sometimes this information is deliberately provided, like in a book, sometimes we cleverly discover it, like picking up a tell on an opponent. In any case, a reader is a person who knows things because they have studied, and a person who wants to know more things.

Of course, people shouldn’t just blindly believe everything they read. And, some things we read will mislead us and send us on the wrong path. But a constant attitude of trying to improve our game is in itself a fundamental part of what it takes to actually succeed at improving our game.

See also Reading Poker Players and Poker Preparation and Planning