Oops… Did I do that…?

“And you have the option sir.”

“Hmm. I think I’m going to raise.”

The table goes completely silent. Everyone stares at the player in the big blind. Whispers from around the table begin.

“Who is this guy?”

“I’ve never seen him before.”

“He’s never raised before!”

“I don’t know what to do here.”

In order, the entire table folds their cards.

The amount of times I’ve seen this scenario unfold is countless. This is one of those moments that I live for. That moment when you’ve changed as a poker player. Over the course of my career as a poker dealer, I’ve been blessed to witness the evolution of many different players. New players always have that lost look on their face, but the moment when ‘lost’ becomes something different… yeah, I get goose-bumps every time.

The last few months have been awesome for the dealer in me. The mentor in me, on the other hand, has been working overtime. The number one question people keep asking is, “How do I know I’m getting better?” The truth is, that’s not a question easily answered. There are several different ways a player can improve many of which go unnoticed to most observers. It’s also possible you won’t notice it yourself. This is why I’m creating a list of levels to help you better understand who you are, and where you sit as a poker player.

The list starts a little differently that you may expect.

  • The Rail – ‘The Rail’ player isn’t ready to sit at the table. This player loves to hang out with his friends but would rather sit behind their buddy and watch the game. You will often hear them saying things like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Or “I would only slow the game down.” or “This game is too complicated for me.” These players will often ask questions like, “Why did you do that?” and “Why did you win the chips?”
  • Shots Please – The ‘Shots Please’ player finally sits for the first time but feels they need a little extra courage to stay there. This player is known for phrases like, “Please be patient with me,” and “Can I fold?” You also find these players staring at poker on TV in amazement trying to learn from it.
  • Check Fold – The ‘Check Fold’ player has overcome their fear of sitting at the table. They are finally used to the flow of the game. These players probably won’t play many hands, but when they do be careful…they most likely have AA – KK – QQ. I mention this because these are the only hands they aren’t afraid to play. Anything else will require too much thought, and if they take too long, the staring people will freak them out and they almost always fold in fear. The common statement here is, “Can I check? No? Then I fold.”
  • I Call – ‘I Call’ players are great. They are finally in that ‘you don’t scare me’ mode, and haven’t quite arrived to the ‘I want to win’ level. These players are starting to understand table dynamics and are eager to see the hand’s results. They know that three of a kind beats two pair, but often forget that a flush isn’t greater than a full house. These players are notorious for going out early…and not caring. They are just excited that they finally ‘get it.’ They will almost always check if they are first and will almost always call any bet. You can guess their signature quote: “Check! How much? I call!”
  • Can I Raise? – The ‘Can I Raise?’ players are where I get most of my entertainment. These players have learned a bit about what good starting hands are and finally understand ‘what beats what.’ They’re starting to talk more at the table and will show up to the game even when their friends can’t make it. They’re more cautious of their chip stack and eventually last longer in the game. You will often see them stare at their cards blankly, stare at the flop, then stare at their cards again. And then that priceless look of realization comes over them. The will almost always ask, “What are the blinds?” before they ask, “Can I raise?”
  • I Don’t Believe You – This is a very interesting level. The ‘I Don’t Believe You’ players are always fun to watch. You can see their thought processes. When a player bets out, they start staring at them. They will look at their cards over and over again. This is the level where these players don’t want to be bet out of the pot and they hate folding. They always want to know what the other player is holding. They almost never believe the person who bet. They will often lose a lot of their chips because they just want to prove themselves right. This is also the level where I see the raw emotions of poker kicking in. “Are you bluffing? I think you’re lying.” These are a few of the famous last words for this group.
  • Why Not – The ‘Why Not’ players can be the most frustrating players. This group has learned to bluff. They’re great at getting under your skin. The best part? They don’t even know it. They become aggressive in their actions and just like to bet. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason to their bets other than, “Maybe they will fold”.
  • Check Raise – The ‘Check Raise’ player gets it. This is the group that has finally figured things out. They are cognitive of table position. They are starting to understand the math in poker. They know what’s going on all the time. They set goals in poker; they’re actually trying to win. They get mad at themselves for making mistakes. They are often up late at night rethinking hands. You will often find them listening to poker podcasts, or reading poker books. They are always looking for the edge. These players often make themselves known at the table when they check raise. They will catch you when you’re not ready and somehow take all your chips and leave you wondering “Where did that come from?”

I know this list doesn’t officially answer the question I originally posed, but I hope you can find yourself in there. Somewhere. I’m not a fan of looking at somebody and saying, “This is where you are in the game.” I want a player to look at themselves and realize who they are. I’m not ever going to tell you I know how to make you a better poker player. I will help you find the tools that can help you better understand yourself.

I love watching the game blossom in players. That burning desire to get better drives my desire to help. I hope you find who you are in this game, and continue your growth. If you find me chuckling unprovoked at you during a game, know that I’m not laughing at you. I’m just entertained by the growth I’m witnessing!