Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.
The concept of “indication” is central to winning at poker. You can play your hands by rote, doing exactly what you’ve decided to do in advance for given situations. And against weak or intermediate players that might be enough to win, just by itself — assuming your preplanned choices are well-reasoned.
But you can make a lot more money by looking for indications that opponents might be holding weak or strong hands, bluffing or hoping you’ll call. It’s obvious that if you see four hearts on the board and an opponent bets, that’s an indication that your opponent might hold a flush. The indications I like most, though, come from tells.
Today’s interview, continuing the series in which I get to ask my own questions and answer them, is about tells as indicators. Ready, set, giddyap.
Question 35: How do tells indicate things about opposing poker hands?
Tells are human behavioral indicators that opponents provide you free of charge. Sometimes they’re involuntary, but usually they’re a result of an opponent putting on an act (often subtly) to convince you to do something.
If you think an opponent is acting, then the trick is to figure out what he wants you to do and don’t do it. It’s really that simple.
Any tell suggesting that an opponent wants you to call is an indication that you should fold. If an opponent slightly shrugs while betting, that’s an “Oh, well, what can I do?” act meant to make you believe the wager was made uncertainly. Don’t be fooled; you’re facing a big hand.
Any tell suggesting that an opponent wants you to fold is an indication that you should call. If an opponent barely breaths, he’s trying not to do anything that will make you suspicious. That indicates a weak hand. Call.
I’ve written a whole book about what means what, but basically the sadder and more uncertain an opponent seems, the happier he or she actually is about the hand — and vice versa.
Question 36: How reliable are the indications from poker tells?
Some are extremely reliable. A suddenly shaking hand, which is involuntary and not an acted tell, is almost 100 percent reliable. It’s a release of tension that happens when an opponent connects for a big hand. It is not nervousness due to a bluff. Bluffers bolster themselves and often become rigid. They almost never start to suddenly tremble.
However, most tells are only indicators that give slight weight toward one decision over another. Those tells shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but should be weighed with all other factors in arriving at a decision.
Question 37: What would be an example of an indication that you shouldn’t act on?
Don’t use a weak tell to override an otherwise credible decision.
As an example, suppose your opponent almost never bluffs, but he seems to be betting with a little extra emphasis — sometimes an indication of a bluff. In that case, I would usually fold anyway, because the history of this player’s actions is more important than that only-somewhat reliable tell.
Question 38: What would be an example of an indication that you should act on?
Suppose your decision to call or fold is about fifty-fifty, with a very slight bias toward calling. Now you hear the bettor softly sigh. Fold. Sighing is a subtle, acted mannerism intended to convince you that you’re facing a weak hand. Since the decision was close previously, you should now change your mind about calling and fold instead.
Question 39: If you’re already a winning poker player, which will increase your profit more: Focusing on tells or learning more sophisticated strategy?
Here’s the deal: Fine-tuning a winning poker strategy by learning a little more math or adding finesses can result in only slight gains in profit. Focusing on tells can add enormously to your bankroll.
That’s why I say that using tells effectively can at least double the income for many winning players. It’s a controversial statement that annoys some players and even some experets, but I’m proud to make it. And it’s a statement that’s right on target.
You see, if you’re an inexperienced player, then the quickest way to improve is to learn more mechanical strategy. But if you’re already experienced and successful, tells are the quickest way to make significant gains in profit.
There! I said it again — and I still mean it. — MC