BECAUSE POKER is a game of people played with chips and cards, this column often stresses the way professionals play the player more than they play their hands.
"Playing the player" includes such insight as an opponent's betting pattern, a history with a particular opponent and tight or aggressive styles, among other things.
And sometimes it includes a player's wardrobe.
At the $10,000-buy-in 2007 World Series of Poker main event at Las Vegas' Rio Hotel, with blinds at $50-$100, aggressive pro Mark Seif drew pocket 4s in the big blind.
A player in middle position had limped for $100, then the player in the cutoff raised to $300. Seif called the raise, as did the limper.
"I didn't mind calling the raise because I had a pair, and should I get a decent flop, I'll be able to do something with it," said Seif, who won two no-limit hold 'em bracelets less than a week apart at the 2005 WSOP.
Instead, the flop came A-3-K, two spades. Stuck with a small pair and facing two overcards, Seif checked. The limper also checked. The pre-flop raiser bet $500. Seif check-raised to $1,200.
"The reason why I did that was it was a smallish raise, which actually looks like I want a call," said Seif, the resident pro at the Absolute Poker online site. "So, if he doesn't have an ace, I think he's laying down a K-Q right there rather than mix it up with me.
"See, I check-raised. I didn't lead out into him. I didn't just call his bet. I check-raised and I'm showing aggression - tremendous aggression. I'm hoping that he doesn't have an ace and that he's going to play good poker."
That was the key for Seif - that his opponent looked like a guy who would "play good poker."
"Absolutely," Seif said. "I saw the way he acted and what he was wearing. He's a European player, he has that Ladbrokes shirt on, he's got it buttoned all the way up, he's got his hair in place - he's got everything that says, 'I'm going to play really good poker today.'
"Those are the kind of players that I need to be up against - players that are ready to play really good poker. That means they're going to fold better hands than mine under the right circumstances, and I thought I could create the right circumstances with a little check-raise that looks like it's begging for a raise."
The limper folded, as did the original raiser, playing "good poker" just the way Seif had hoped. Then, carrying on the act as he dragged the pot, Seif remarked, "Sometimes you get a good flop for your hand."
Sometimes you get a good read on an opponent's clothes.
Check-raise: To pass on a betting opportunity as a way of showing weakness, only to raise an opponent's bet in the same round as a show of strength. *
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