Accidents happen. Betting slipups, overturned cards, out-of-position plays - all are inherent to a group activity that involves thousands of decisions in a given session. These procedural "oops" moments become even more likely when the table is populated with less experienced players.
Whether you're a resident of Las Vegas - or another poker-friendly city - who frequently plays against out-of-town folk or a home-game player who gets around, you'll probably witness a number of poker gaffes if you're regularly sharing felts with fresh faces. Broad ranges of styles, practices and rhythms increase the likelihood of procedural errors.
This is a part of the game people rarely talk about. Even the very best poker books fail to cover situations where an opponent throws in too many chips and raises when he meant to call. How we can take advantage of errors - and avoid falling into an accidental trap - is worthy of discussion.
As these types of mistakes pile up, some will expose angles, others will expose players. Most directly affect the hand in some shape or form. It's critical to overcome the emotion typically triggered by the transgression. Keep your cool. While getting your underwear in a bunch over an out-of-turn play, you might miss the reaction of the third opponent in the hand, who inadvertently tipped off hand strength in his or her reaction.
I found myself at the peak of my confidence in a daily event of 1,500 players at this year's World Series of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas. My table was soft and tells were rampant. In one hand, I raised with As Qh from late position, the blinds called, and the flop came out Ad 8h 3c.
The blinds checked, and I opted to check behind them, looking for a mispriced bluff to come from either opponent. If not a bluff, a worse ace would certainly lead as well.
A 2s hit the turn. The player in the small blind took a top and bottom chip from his 15,000 stack, and rather than bet 600, he bet 5,100 ... into a pot of 900. What he had believed to be a 500 chip was actually a 5,000 chip.
Not surprisingly, the player in the small blind freaked out. After the dealer told him it was what it was - the mistake could not be undone - the player settled down and resumed normal breathing, but he continued to shake his head in a "no" motion. How might he have behaved if he had a weak, average or bluffy hand? His breathing would be elevated and the obvious dissatisfaction tells would be muted.
I had to abandon my earlier plan and read my opponent. I had laid a trap for a likely range of hands, but his post-"oops" behavior indicated that his hand most likely exceeded that range. And this was no mere angle - his immediate "oh no" reaction was genuine. His subsequent behavior told the full story.
I folded A-Q face-up, expecting him to show his hand, as he appeared to be legitimately embarrassed by his mistake. He did indeed show his cards, revealing A-K with full apologies, and I thanked him with a sly grin for saving me money.
The key here was that I felt as if I had an advantage at this table. Why risk a third of my stack after the read became clear? I kept my cool and made the right choice. It's important to have a strategy for such instances. Stay cool and see what your opponents expose when they fail to keep cool. It can help you save money or make accidental money.
Alex Outhred has been a professional poker player and coach since 2006.