The recent decision of the Spanish government to take their entire poker playing population into a kind of protective custody by ring fencing them so they can't play on foreign sites and foreigners can't play on theirs means that poker trips to Spain for online poker aficionados are like pilgrimages to Mecca for porn addicted alcoholics. After a day of moping around feeling sorry for myself and my Spanish flu I arose from my sick bed to go play the 300 side event at EMOP Barcelona.
Despite continuing to feel rather poorly I was raring to play a bit of poker after 48 poker free hours. As someone who plays a lot more live than most online pros I sometimes get asked about the adjustment needed from online to live. Alongside the fact that live player ranges tend to be a lot different and you have to keep track of the betting pattern stuff yourselves with no live HUD the most important adjustment in my view is to be able to gather and assess the wealth of additional information available to you when you can actually look at your opponent. By observing how a player looks and acts physically when he's bluffing, when he has it and when he's not sure if his hand is good, you have additional information to consider when you're in a hand against him.
I think one problem online players have is a kind of sensory overload live, as they are overwhelmed by the wealth of additional information and either end up ignoring it all, or focusing on the wrong stuff. I personally believe that even live, betting patterns are more important than supposed "live tells". For one thing, live players tend to have more bet sizing tells than onliners.
So what do you do if you find yourself unable to keep track of everyone's betting tendencies, body language, physical tells and all the rest of it? Some suggest that you should concentrate mainly on the player to your immediate right and the one to your immediate left, presumably on the basis that you'll usually end up playing more pots against them. My advice, if you think you can only get a proper read on two players at the table at a time, is to forget about your neighbours and focus on the two loosest players on the table. These guys will play the most pots and therefore give away the most information about how they play. And because they're playing so many hands, chances are you'll play more pots against them. It's also true, in my experience, at least early in tournaments that the loosest player at the table is often also the worst. Bad and loose is a great combination when you're looking to target someone to build a stack, so once you find one of these, you want to play as many pots as you can against them while it's deep (and therefore not a major mistake to play dubious hands against them) and they still have chips.
In this particular side event, I quickly identified my neighbour two to my right as the weakest link. When he sat down first, I thought he might play tight as he was a grizzled veteran, but this particular stereotype doesn't seem to apply in countries with a Mediterranean coast. If anything, the OAPs seem to be the most maniacal. He was playing most hands, and he had some very identifiable bet sizing tells. Most of his strong hands he was opening for 3x. That went down to 2x for weak hands (unsuited ace rags, dubious one picture card holdings and gapped connectors), and went up to 4x or higher for hands that he clearly felt were very good hands, but tricky to play (nines through jacks, aq). The only one I couldn't quite work out what it meant was the limp reraise. A number of times he limped in early position, then reraised massive when someone raised. I thought this might be monsters until he did it a number of times, at which point I moved over to the view it was more likely AK.
Being able to put an opponent on a fairly tight range based on his open is a major plus. Additionally, I identified a number of post flop tendencies: he tended to call and hope to hit with his draws rather than play them aggressively, and he totally overplayed top pair and overpair hands (he lost one massive pot where he check raised all three streets with top pair). He liked to go for the check raise with hands he thought were strong (top pair or better) and bet with absolute spanners or underpairs.
So when my friend opened 3x in mid position, I elected to call on the button with 76s. Against some opponents I'd either threebet (for deception) or fold this hand early on, but against him I certainly didn't want to get fourbet massive, nor did I want to fold. The two blinds called, and the flop came J76 with two diamonds. Checked to me, I bet, and after the two blinds folded my friend check raised huge. Based on what I knew of how he played, I
(a) ruled out a set of jacks which he'd have 4xed pre and either check called or check raised smaller on the flop. The other sets were possible but unlikely given my blockers
(b) ruled out all two pair hands all of which he'd have 2xed pre
(c) ruled out draws. All the straight draws he would have opened for 2x, and the flush draws he'd have check called on the flop
That pretty much only leaves one pair hands like AJ or overpairs, or total air (he did seem capable of playing something like KQ like this), so after running through all the relevant betting pattern information and looking at him (he looked very confident that he had the best hand: he had a pretty outrageous physical tell when bluffing, namely he stared directly at the person he was trying to bluff) I decided he either had AJ/KJ or an overpair and shoved.
He called immediately, flipped over KK and looked astonished to find he was behind. Only temporarily though, as a jack on the turn made him the better hand, and as he scooped in the pot as I walked away from the table, I reflected how poker is probably the one game where you can read a situation perfectly, do everything right, and still lose. That's poker baby, and that's what makes it profitable in the long term, so there's no point feeling sorry for yourself or complaining when you get sucked out on. The possibility to suck out is what keeps the bad players playing the good ones for sums of money that, say, bad chess players would never play grandmasters.