Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tells - some thoughts

My post from this morning, I think I missed playing poker...a lot. Actually, I still miss it. But right now, I've got something I want to talk about and it's all about poker.


I've been working on the Zero Inbox concept, an attempt at being more productive and more effecient. I miss poker that much. My inbox had over 300 emails in it. One of them caught my attention, an email from Daniel Negreanu you get for being a member of the Poker Players Alliance. The title of the email was "A Powerful Tell."

Most of your day spent at a poker table will be spent learning about your opponents. I like learn about what type of player are they. Are they a Harrington Bot? Do they think they are Gus Hanson? Are they paying attention to the others and me? You'd be surprised as to just how many players are playing their cards.

In the email, he discusses tells and one tell in particular that is fairly reliable. Eye tells. In particular looking or not looking at your chips.

I'm a big believer that we can learn a lot from tells but I, like Daniel, understand that tells exist somewhere between fact and fiction. On the top right of this post is a picture linked to Amazon.com for a book called "Read'm and Reap." I've read this book and highly recommend it. Unlike Caro's Book of Tells, which reads like a catalog of movements and gestures, Navarro tells you WHY we have tells and WHEN they can be most reliable.

The eye tell that Daniel talks about is extremely reliable in undisciplined people that don't know about it. It's the main reason that people wear sunglasses at the table. The tell works like this, when you see something that makes you think "I should bet", you look at your chips. When something happen that causes you to think, "hmm...that sucks," you don't look at your chips. What Daniel didn't mention is the third piece of this, if the dealer turns something over that gives you a draw, you literaly study the board up and down figuring out what cards you need. I can't tell you how many times I've seen this.

The part that makes tells like these reliable is WHEN they happen. In Navarro's book, he makes special note of this. The closer to the time of the trigger, the more likely it's accurate. Any delay, and it just might be fake.

The key to using tells is to make sure your eyes are in the right place at the right time. I've heard that players like Barry Greenstein don't follow the practice of waiting to look at your cards until it's your turn. Why don't they? Because when everyone else studying the guy who's got the action, they can sneak a peek at theirs. I sometimes do it when really bad players are looking at their cards. Their eye tells are worthless because Q3o to them is a monster. Sure they think their strong, but their idea of strong and my idea are completely different. Besides, everyone else at the table is looking at the guy giving off bad information.

Paying attention to context and timing makes tells powerful. I once played a player that continuation bet everytime she raised preflop. In one hand in particular, she had turned away from the table chatting with someone when the dealer called out it was her turn. She turned back, grabbed a CB size stack of chips and raised. SHE NEVER LOOKED AT THE BOARD. When her eyes finally did look at the community cards, you should have seen the disappointment. I did, and when it was my turn to act, I raised and took down the pot.

The key was knowing the context.

Her immediate reaction to seeing the cards was, "Crap, I got nothing."

There are times when a tell will be really accurate, but you still can't do anything about it. In a hand I played with a loose/agressive I knew for sure, his all-in on the river was a bluff. Unfortunately I was on a 9 high straight and flush draw...and missed. He was first to act and shoved, but really, what am I gonna do? Call and hope that 9 high was good? That's just stupid.

Tells are just one piece of the puzzle. They can mean the diffence between a good session and a bad session, but you need to keep them in context.

Ah...I feel better now. Before I go, I really screwed up and never followed up on my post from last Sunday. You know, the one where I completely screwed up playing AA. You guys were right. My weak play left the door open for this to happen. I tried to be tricky and it royally backfired. If I had played it strong early and he stays in the with 7's, sure, I go broke, but at least I die with my boots on. Shrike was right though, the 3rd min-raise on the river should have been a gigantic red flag.

8 comments:

nonnasnonsense said...

ok. so i guess you've suckered me into reading this one too. damn twitter. this is the main reason i have no dreams of becoming a poker champion. i lOVE playing cards but, i can't read people. at. all. not to mention i'm totally readable. lol it's pathetic. i'm sure the guys i used to play poker with loved me.

Mitchell said...

It's how you eat those Oreo Cookies.

Actually, I just linked your post on my blog and you inspired me to add 8 more tells I think work (usually).

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

Eyes do tell alot about people....in general. I loved this post especially the "Crap, I've got nothing!" part.
I feel that way some days :)

Steady On
Reggie Girl

cmh76 said...

Interesting read. Myself, I play a lot more online than I do live so my reads are based more on players betting and calling patterns. When I do play live, I try not to put too much emphasis on making great reads based on personal tells. It's never been something I've felt I've been that precise at. My main source of information used to determine if I should call, raise or fold is mainly by what type of player I'm up against (aggressive or passive?), my position, and of course my chip stack size.

Mitchell said...

I just noticed you posted my book on your site-thanks.

By theway, I see you also recommended Bill Chen's book. What did you take away from that book? I played against Bill in many tournaments when he lived in the Bay Area. He's a very nice guy.

He used to hang out with a group of friends, which were shown on ESPN helping Varkonyi when he won the main event. I guess they all told him that Q-10 was the nuts:) As he went heads-up as the dog with that hand, and won!

Baywolfe said...

Terrific stuff! Unfortunately, living in Texas, gambling isn't legal here except for no rake home games.

It sounds like a great book. You're right about Caro's book, it reads like a Human Psychology dissertation. Guess I'll need to study up before traveling to Shreveport for a live tourney.

OhCaptain said...

Nonna - I used to be just like you. Now I've played so many hands of poker it's more interesting to pay attention to everyone else.

Mitchell - Glad to inspire! As for Bill Chen and his book, the most famous people I've met in poker were at the December blogger gathering in Las Vegas. That being said, I'd love to meet Mr. Chen. I liked his book although there were parts I had to read very slowly and carefully. It's a great book but not for the faint of heart.

Reggie - glad you loved this post. I play a guy in a regular home game every month. He wears sunglasses when he plays me now. Unfortunately, his eyebrows are still showing.

cmh76 - I'm similar to you in that I play a lot of online poker too. That's a great place to learn about betting patterns. In a lot of ways I like playing live better, people will tell you their cards :-)

Baywolfe - The Navarro book is a must read. I found it a lot better then Caro or even the other big tells book I can't remember then name. These tells work in home games too...unless it's total donkey drinking poker, they your better off just shoving a horseshoe up your...

TripJax said...

Damn good post.