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Protecting your hand

Article By: RuffPoker.com

When you play ‘live’ poker, i.e. not the online variety, it is vitally important to protect your hand. In many ways protecting your hand is more important than reading your opponents signals, assessing pot odds and making correct decisions. After all, if your opponents know what you have you are playing ‘dead’ before you even begin the betting.

Protecting your hands is a must. On receiving you dealt cards you MUST look at them discretely, if your opponents get to see them you have no chance, even if they peak at the number, suite or even colour of the card you are giving them information about your hand that you do not have about theirs. As such you are at a disadvantage. It cannot be emphasized enough, protect your hand from prying eyes. Discretely cover them with one hand and turn them up slightly with the other. Memorize them and leave them faced down on the table so you don’t need to look at them again. This goes without saying but every time you do fiddle and twitch with your cards and look at them over and over again there is a greater risk that someone else will sneak a peak or recognize something from your facial expressions or actions. Don’t give people this edge. Of course many players forget the exact makeup of their pocket cards or get anxious at what they think they have ‘hit’, so you may need to confirm your hand once in a while, but do so sparingly and with the some body motions as you would when protecting your hand pre flop. Make protecting your hand an action you do as emotionless as any other.

The ‘look once’ approach to memorizing your cards is a hugely beneficial manoeuvre because it allows all your actions to appear to be the same. The most important point here though is this - your cards aren’t going to change. There is no point looking at them over and over again, longing for a certain ‘hit’, or wishing ‘that’ heart was a spade. By protecting your hand and memorizing your cards you are also better placed to concentrate on the business of the game, focusing your attention on others mannerisms, ‘projected’ hands and betting style. If you know what you're holding and don’t need to keep going back to check, you are free from the multi-task of having to work out your own hand before you can assess those of your opponents.

Some players use a chip (stack) or marker to protect their hands. This is also an effective way of keeping your cards safe in case of an accident, i.e. somebody folding their cards only for them to fall at your door, a rogue gust of wind or over excitable sneeze! turning your cards face up (although lets be honest, such things wouldn’t be tolerated at many tables).

Another key aspect of understanding the psychology and importance of protecting your hand is to protect your hand in the same way every time. Good poker players prey on the body language of weaker unassuming opponents and as many poker players have a tendency to protect better cards more noticeably than they do with poor cards this opens up an angle of ‘reading opponents’ that has not been commonly discussed. It is a standard reaction that on seeing good cards novice players have a tendency to huddle round their cards and look at what they have more to make sure they have hit. You will often see people shield cards much more tightly when they are onto something big. Of course your weaker opponents will do this more than the pro’s but it does occur at all levels of poker because most people are unaware they are doing anything untoward or different. They are merely acting on instinct, and that instinct is heightened when there are potential winnings to be had.

That said, as you do get to higher stakes poker and come across a better level of poker player your opponents will use different styles of protecting their hand to ‘throw you off the scent’. They will offer you deceptive clues as to the makeup of their hand. For example they may openly act with less care when taking a further look at their cards, they may even throw them back down on the table (all the while though they still don’t let you see them). They may do this to make you think they have nothing and are exasperated to still be pot committed. Here you are up against a clever player who is trying to make you believe they have a weak hand when they do not. Oppositely they could protect there hand in a very over the top manner, hence giving you the impression that they have something big, when in reality they have hit nothing.

However, this is not normally the case, certainly not at the level of poker most people play. In the main, novice players don’t bother to protect poor hands simply because they do not deem it to be worth the hassle. Generally speaking you can read a lot from the way people protect their hands. Unless you are up against a very good standard of player any flippant exposure of cards or negligent behaviour is a sign that your opponent has a poor hand and is frustrated at the likelihood of not being able to play. The closer people protect their hands the more likely it is that they have something decent.