Location Reads

In the final 100 of EPT-San Remo a couple seasons back I sat with a mixed bag of players, mostly European. A pot came up where a young pale white guy shoved 10 big blinds from the button. The small blind folded, and I looked down at Q-J suited.

Damnit. I looked back at the guy. If I thought he was a Scandinavian or German tourney push bot, then I would have reason to believe he was shoving close to any two here, and this would be a call. He really can shove pretty wide here, and those two parts of the European continent can take push/fold a little too far. If he was a typical player from Ireland, Scotland, England, America, or any other place pale white boys come from then he was still probably into that “tournament life” thing the WPT used to always talk about, and his shoving range here was too tight to call. If he’s American and he’s made it all the way here there’s a better chance he’s an MTT reg, and I should be shooting myself for not asking more of my friends if they knew anyone at my table.

I looked at his shirt. Pretty standard graphic tee. Could be from anywhere. “Could you tell me exactly how much you have please?” I asked, even though his chips were easy to see. I wanted to hear his voice.

He said his chip count while looking down, in a slightly burly voice, guttural, under his breath. I couldn’t figure out where it was from.

I smiled, what the hell? “Where are you from please?”

He looked up, still holding his cards, looking intense, squeamish. “Engluuund,” he barked, in a low baritone. I snap folded.

“Hahahahahaha!” he screamed in a shrieking high voice, the second my cards hit the muck. He greedily stacked his new found chips. “I’m actually vrom sveeeden!”

The whole table, including me, crumbled laughing. Later I felt pretty stupid, though. His answer sounded so authentic. He didn’t have a second of hesitation. He made a really great play on me.

The same applies online. It almost seems like a joke when you first hear about it. “Wait a minute, you were on the brink of a different decision, but the guy’s city being ‘Stockholm’ made you decide differently?” Indeed, when I’ve taught poker camps and personal lessons with people watching me play, this is always an area of fascination for newer players. “Why are you always checking location? What does it say about a player when he’s in Michigan as opposed to Spain?”

The truth is about location searching is it’s just a small part of the greater puzzle. It’s a piece I think would be a shame to not incorporate but it rarely is going to really swing any big decision. You could rely on sites like PokerDB or Hold’em Manager stats, but it can still be helpful to know where they’re from.

Let’s say a guy opens from 35 big blinds in middle position, and over a small sample of hands you can see he opens way too much. Nobody has really tested him with a 3 bet yet. You think it might be a great time to try because if we 3 bet his open to 7x, it’s hard for him from his stack size to call and his stack is a little big to just move all-in with impunity. So we figure our opponent is going to be folding a little too often if he was just opening willy-nilly with no regard as to what a precarious position his stack will be put in when we 3bet.

Well, now we check his location. “Alicante.” Does that change anything for you?

To me, it doesn’t change the fact I’m 3betting, but it might change what I 3bet with. Why? Spain is a newer poker market. Think of your first home games when you were starting out, when you and all your buddies were first learning. Did you give a crap about stack sizes? No. What was everybody’s biggest mistake? They called too much, right? So what do you think this person from a newer poker market’s more likely leak is going to be? If he calls too much, maybe we don’t want to 3bet lighter with a weak ace, since he will be flatting more dominating aces out of position than a player who is very mindful of their stack. We should be 3betting a hand like 9-6 suited, which isn’t good enough to flat, but will have some back-up plans if our opponent flats us out of position.

The big thing to pay attention to first is how long poker has been introduced to their market and how intensely it’s been introduced. In general, the longer poker’s been running in that country, the more likely you are to run into a good player. Not because anyone’s smarter, but if you spend 10 years hearing about piano technique you’re more likely to be a better player than someone who spent two years.

The next thing to look at is how they learned about poker. Germany and Scandinavian countries in particular have a very academic approach to the game, with a large number of online discussion groups. Therefore, they’ve learned at a very fast rate in the way young American kids once learned from Two Plus Two. You can expect their game to be a little more mathematical and calibrated in nature. The countries were also some of the first to pick up poker when the WPT took off, so you can add that into the equation.

Newer markets such as Italy, France, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, etc. may not have had an online network of people discussing poker for as long. That’s not to say there are not some bad-ass players from those countries, but they’re going to be more along the lines of Kenny Tran if they’re good — self-taught sharks. You can expect to see some more unbridled aggression and creativity, but also an array of mathematically dubious decisions. I know a number of great players from Panama, for example, butt heir form of learning was talking amongst a small network of friends and they’ve never once discussed plunging into hands online.Online discussion is where inevitably a math orientated guy or gal will come off as the most well-spoken. The street-smart kids will have trouble since describing their game will beak in to explaining why exactly an abstract painter moves his brush a certain way.

In addition, just because a country didn’t have as much online discussion in the past doesn’t mean they won’t have it now. Italy, for example, used to have a collection of run-and gun self-taught players, some of whom have absolutely disgusting results. However, more of them are now discussing hands in online discussion groups so perhaps their game will change in the future.

But wait, now with their new country restrictions, they’re all fighting with each other every day on their country-specific site. The same goes for France. Will there be as much incentive for them to share their ideas with people they fight with every single day on an online forum? I think not. Maybe they won’t delve further into an academic math-orientated game that online discussion creates.

Another area to examine is how, culturally, a group of people is different, and how that will affect their game. You have to use your skills of reasoning and observation. When I was in South Korea, I noticed their learning style in schools was weighted toward pounding in as much information as possible, with not as much time for reflection. I discovered they had one of the highest numbers of PhDs per capita yet not nearly as many Nobel prizes as one would expect given their high education levels. This led me to believe the Korean players I’d play with in home games would get many of the academic facets of the game down very quickly, at a rate so fast they didn’t know how to put it all together at first.

In Asia there has been a gambling culture for a long time. Put your money down and see what happens, it’s all part of the game. These same players when they came into poker created the “sick Asian gambler” stereotype. There was no personal embarrassment in their culture attached to peeling off a card.In America, poker is somehow attached to our sense of individualism. For a long time in our cowboy stories we’ve discussed the sharp gunman who can also clean up a poker table picking up on the tiniest tell. Men in my country and other macho cultures attach card playing with how they drive, dance, or have sex. It’s something you’re either born good at it or you’re not. Therefore, men in my country, Costa Rica, consider it more of a shot at their ego when they play bad, gamble a little too much, or when they lose. So, put them in a spot where they’ll look bad.

Consequently, in some socialist countries where individualism has been subdued by a common ethos for centuries, No Limit Hold’em might provide a more enjoyable outlet for people than in America, where capitalism has beaten the idea of individualism into submission.I find these players to have more creative expression within the game, more willing to 3bet, 4bet, triple barrel bluff, and whatnot than an American, who will take a poorly timed bluff as a shot against their masculinity. They’re not afraid to look stupid because to them it’s not stupid, it’s them just playing a game that gives them free reign.

Again, there are exceptions to every rule and there’s a ton of guesswork involved in location reading. However, for someone looking to collect every edge they can get, it’s a fun avenue to begin exploring. Think logically, without prejudice, and remember a great player can come from anywhere. Use it as a starting point, the final picture of your adversary may be a little clearer.

To learn more from Alex Fitzgerald visit www.PokerPwnage.com.

January 2011