Last time we talked about how Dan Harrington made a play contrary to his image at the 2004 WSOP final table to win a big pot. Josh Arieh and Greg Raymer were playing very aggressively at the final table—but each folded when facing a reraise by “Action” Dan Harrington. With a very tight image, Harrington entered very few pots. But when he did, he came in raising, and he only showed down high-quality hands.
Although Arieh and Raymer had significant money in the pot, they folded when Harrington made a play at the pot. This was so totally out of character for Harrington’s image that Arieh and Raymer each bought the story, and never realized that “Action” Dan had stolen a big pot right out from under their noses until seeing it on TV months later.
Their reads were wrong. And they were wrong not because Arieh and Raymer did a bad job at sniffing out an opponent’s hands; they were wrong because their opponent worked his image to set them up, and when he did, they read him based on his pattern of play up until that point. They did not read him for a bluff, nor did they have any reason to think he chose that particular hand to bluff.
If we are all products of our behavioral patterns at the poker table, Harrington’s behavioral pattern had earned him at least one ticket to steal a big pot. Had the big raise come from either Raymer or Arieh, I’m sure the player stirring the pot would have been called by the other. Each realized the other played aggressively, and each would have made a stand if they had a real hand accompanying their bet.
But to call Harrington in that situation they needed a great hand, not a good one, and if “Action” Dan was able to read both of them for good-but-not-great hands—the kind most expert players will lay down to a tight, conservative player who comes in raising—he earned that pot.
The fact that Raymer and Arieh misread Harrington on that particular hand does not mean they needed to question their ability to discern what their opponents held based on any clues they could pick up at the table, combined with betting patterns and the cards that were exposed on the various betting rounds. That would have been the worst thing they could have done.
They each took the hit and continued on from there. Their ability to make good reads most of the time had gotten them to the final table and there was no need for radical surgery just because another expert players had set up a terrific bluffing situation and followed through with it.
On that hand, Harrington succeeded. He never showed his hole cards, so as far as his opponents knew—at least until they saw the results on TV later that summer—he did have a big hand, and they made good lay-downs.
Don’t distrust your reads when you’re playing poker as long as they’ve been correct more often than not. What might seem like a bad read may simply be a reaction to your opponent stepping out of character for a hand or two.
Trust your reads as long as they’re working for you the majority of the time. If they’re not working, it’s usually a case of interpreting betting patterns incorrectly, so watch your opponents, watch the hands they turn over at the showdown, and adjust accordingly. If you seem to go astray only every now and then, just keep on course. It’s usually the right one.