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October 07, 2005

What’s in a question?

I read an interview recently with a well respected and successful high stakes tournament player. He mentioned that he always likes to talk to his opponents during a game in order to gather information, which he can later use to support his decisions when playing against them. I thought about this myself and wondered for a while exactly what he meant by this statement and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that he was on to something here. At key stages in a game and in certain situations you can use the power of questioning to your advantage when trying to ascertain the strength of your opponent’s hand.

Now... I am not talking about pulling out your pocket hot lamp and interrogating a guy until he says something like “I’ve got aces, I’ve got aces now leave me alone” – because as we all know that aint gonna happen, we are playing poker not cops and robbers! What I am however trying to get across is that the best way to find out what somebody is holding in their starting hand is to process all the information you have available to you, for example what did he do pre-flop, how did he bet the flop, was he confident etc but also to generate some additional information that might not be immediately available through asking a question or two. The power of questioning and the subsequent responses you get will also add to this jigsaw of information that you are so desperately trying to piece together in a very short space of time. Obviously the guy you are facing doesn’t have to respond but what have you got to lose just by asking?!

Confused? Well… let me tell you about a hand I played very recently in the final of the £100 PLH event at Gala Notts that may help you understand exactly how asking pertinent questions at the right time will reveal much more information than you might think.

I am sat two from the button and haven’t yet looked at my cards. There are still nine players remaining and the chips are fairly evenly spread as we all have between 40,000 and 90,000 each. There is a mid-position raise by Greek Jack Dionysiou, who is a solid performer and capable of getting aggressive with a whole range of hands. We are playing pot limit with the blinds at 5-10K so he pumps it up to 35K. The action gets to me and I look at my cards. I have A-Qo and my immediate reaction is that this is marginal and I almost throw it away out of respect for the early raise. However, I am in an attention seeking mood so I place my ‘lucky’ medal on my cards and examine my stack. I have 75K and could throw this away easily and still be in the hunt but I decide that I haven’t seen many of Jack’s hands tonight and want some information on what he is up to, so I decide to throw him a question.

“How much more you playing there Jack?”

Now I know that he has another 50K because I already did a quick count when I glanced across at him but I need to ask him directly to see how he responds. Jack looks briefly down to his chips and says

“about another 80 thousand”.

Now let me tell you that jack is a canny character with plenty of savvy and I would bet that at all points in the game he knows to within one chip how many he has so his response seemed a little fishy to me as he has grossly overstated his remaining chip count. I decide it s time to get clarity on this and plump for another question. I pick up my remaining chips and hold them slightly off the table as if they are about to go in play and ask

“Looks more like fifty thousand to me Jack – are you sure”?

He immediately responds with

“well, I got more than you anyway”.

This comment seemed a little too defensive for Jack who normally likes to mix it up and happily calls re-raises at will. It seems to me like Jack is not fancying the prospect of a caller or a re-raise. I ask one more question just to get a reaction as I now think he could be on the steal with a weak ace and I say

“are you trying to talk me out of it”?

Jack didn’t respond as he now knows I got his number, he just shrugged and let out a little laugh at my comment. I don’t want to waste any more time as we are inevitably heading for a chip count and I decide it s time to make my choice. I put him on a weak ace or a small pair. If it is a weak ace then my A-Q is dominating and I want to get all my chips in against him. If he has a small pair then I am even money. Faced with the prospect of being at worst even money to take the pot and become chip leader I decide I am going to move all in for another 40K on top of his initial raise. There is a slight chance that Jack may pass his hand if I am dominating but I have now gained enough information to base my decision. I announce “all in”.

Jack called after a slight deliberation and flipped over his cards. Was I correct in my assessment of his hand? Well… he was stronger than I expected, he had 7-7. I went on to catch an Ace and take down the pot but that is irrelevant. What I did here and what the moral of the story is I took information from a person when it wasn’t necessarily or publicly available. I managed this through asking a pertinent question or two in order to try and assess the strength of his hand. This allowed me to make a decision on whether I wanted to risk my tournament on a move with a marginal hand or whether I should pass and fight it out later with a better opportunity.

Why not try this a time or two in your next game and see how your fair – don’t do it every hand and with the blinds at 25-50 though or you might just get yourself lynched by the ‘lets shovel em in and gamble’ brigade.


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