Testing you opponents, the power of keen observation, project a strong table image--these areas have been discussed in other books, but rarely with such keen examples, in short powerful bursts of advice.
Fortunately, if you are playing online, you can usually find all of the information above with a click of your mouse. If you're playing live, most casinos will keep a running count of the blinds, time left, next level and remaining players. The number of remaining players is often behind, though, so beware. In addition, the prizes will typically be announced about an hour after the registration period closes.
Why is all of this information important? Poker requires constant adjustments and this is only magnified in tournament play. For example, if your goal is to win the entire thing, you may get aggressive as you approach the bubble if you sense your table mates' goal is to limp into the money. If your stack is dwindling and the blinds are coming your way and there are only a couple of minutes left in the current level, it may be time to make a move while you still have some fold equity.
I recently played in the Poker Author Challenge at the Taj in Atlantic City. We started with over 200 players and the top 18 would get paid. The structure was fast and there was an eclectic mix of good and no so good players. We were down to the last 15 players when one of the players decided to ask questions. Here is the situation. The blinds are $5000-$10,000 with $1000 antes. Average stack is about $70,000. Mr. Curious is in middle position sitting on about $50,000 in cash. There is a call and a raise to $20,000 before the action gets to Mr. Curious. Mr. Curious goes into serious think mode for about five minutes. The entire table is getting annoyed but no one is saying anything. Finally, Mr. Curious asks how much time left until the next level. About ten minutes. What will the blinds be then? $8000-$16,000. What's the next jump in prize money. Not until 9th place. How many players still left? 15. All excellent questions. I was glad to see someone thinking in these terms. I was dumfounded, however, that Mr. Curious didn't already know this information as it was all available on a television screen not more than ten feet away. Even if he could not see that far, the information had been posted for a long time. He could have known all of this information with just the slightest bit of effort. More importantly, poker is a game of imperfect information. The more information that you possess and your opponents don't is to your advantage.
Now I don't doubt for a second that many of the remaining players already knew this information. However, I know for certain that many did not. So by asking these questions, Mr. Curious gained some information but so did everyone at the table who did not already know. Even if some of them did know, Mr. Curious' questions may have spurred their interest in why this information is so important. Take every edge you can gain at the poker table. If you need information, by all means ask. However, if you can find out easily enough without sharing with the table, then do so.
In every tournament I play, no matter what the level, these questions always get asked. The questioner doesn’t realize two things. First, he would be better off keeping the information to himself. Next, often the manner in which the questions are asked reveals the intentions of the person asking. For instance, if we’re approaching the bubble, someone is asking questions for one of two reasons. Either they want to survive into the money or they want to exploit those who are trying to survive into the money. If you are paying attention, it should not be hard to figure out which camp the questioner resides in.
Tells aren’t just given away during the course of play. In fact, I often find out a lot more information from casual conversation when players let their guard down. Keep this in mind when your curiosity gets the best of you. You are absolutely in the right to gather as much information as possible. Just be careful how you do it.
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