When we think about
information as it pertains to poker, it is helpful to think about it as everywhere and infinite. Of course, we are human, and
so we are limited in our ability to perceive, collect and process this information. Since we are only able to process a fraction
of the information available to us, we would be well served to develop information processing systems that help us to identify
valuable information, and deal with it in a more efficient, productive manner.
While information by its nature is infinite, useful, exploitable information is very much limited. Of this limited amount of useful
information that is flying around the poker table, each player gives away, collects, and processes a different, but finite amount, based
upon their ability to do so. The best players in the world have highly refined methods of dealing with poker information, and they use their
superior methodology to dominate in the game. And so our ability to succeed in a poker game is determined, in large part, by how well we
deal with information relative to our opponents.
Information Processing Strategies the Pros use
Professional players understand how critical it is to have an informational advantage over their opponents. They have developed widely
used techniques that increase the amount of poker information acquired, and reduce the amount of information given away. We will discuss
several of these techniques briefly, so that you may incorporate them into your game.
Information acquisition begins when you enter the poker room. The first thing to do is size up the games. Decide which game you would
most like to play in, based upon the action and the players. If you have a choice between open seats, choose based upon who would be to
your left or right. Generally, you want the loose, aggressive players on your right, so that you can see what they are going to do
before you get involved, and so that you can punish them when they get out of line. If there are no loose cannons in the game, find a
nice rock to lean on (keep the tight, predictable player on your left).
Once you sit down in the game it is time to pay attention. Incidentally, this is not a passive endeavor. Professionals are always in
pursuit of any tidbit of poker information that they can use to their advantage, because gaining small bits of information can often make the
difference between winning and losing huge pots. Poker information will come in both verbal and non-verbal forms. Be aware of and prepared for
both. Pay attention to the conversation between hands.
As the cards are being dealt, pay particular attention to the action behind you. Players will often give away if they intend to raise,
call or fold. Many players will look at their cards one at a time, as they arrive. This is a terrible idea, especially for tournament
play. Wait until it is your turn to act to look at your cards. This will leave you undistracted and free to gather information during a
critical time, when others are reacting to looking at their cards. It also prevents you from giving away information about your hand
before you act.
When it is your turn to act, do not act too quickly. Good players slow the game down, just a little bit. This gives you time to act in a
calm, composed manner. Do not vary the manner in which you put the chips in the pot. There are numerous poker tells associated with this
variance. Try to breath in an even, rhythmic manner, as holding your breath is also a tell. Try not to talk too much, especially when
you have a big hand. In a poker game, private information tends to be more valuable than public information. What this means is, if you
know something that no one else in the game knows, keep it to yourself! Sharing the information will make it less valuable to you.
Poker Information as a commodity
Because valuable information is scarce, and its distribution is unequal, it operates very much like a commodity. While it is typically
not bought and sold, it is often traded. The principle here is straightforward: If you can engage trading information with other
players, and the value of the information you gain is greater than the value you give to your opponents, you have helped yourself.
Because poker is a game of leverage and dominance, information transactions are rarely mutually beneficial. One party is almost always
giving up value to another, and both parties are giving up value to those players at the table watching the transactions. In other
words, players who engage in information trading pay a dividend to other players who are paying attention.
Most players are vaguely aware that these information transactions are occurring, and because they are self interested, they do not wish
to give up more value than they receive. Many professionals recognize this, and so they are forced to obfuscate their intentions through
various means. Many will set “information traps,” where they appear to give up information for free, but usually, by the time the
transaction is over, they have usurped value. Daniel Negreanu is a master at this. He is constantly talking to the other players,
attempting to initiate information transactions. He often gives away huge chunks of poker information when it does not seem logical to do so.
But remember that a small piece of information may be more valuable to a professional than a large piece is to an amateur. And so his
“gift” of free information often ends up being a trap, he gets the crucial information he needs, and the chips go his way.
If you are a new player, it is good idea to avoid information trading, especially with players who are more sophisticated than you are.
Trading poker information with someone who is at a higher level than you will almost always turn out badly for you. However, in the long run,
it will improve your game if you can master the technique. A good way to start is by practicing in low limit games where the primary
objective of most players is to have fun. Try initiating information transactions by talking a lot to the other players, and watching
how they react. This way, the information that you give will be mostly verbal, but what you receive will be both verbal and non-verbal.
See how much of “the best of it” you can get.