Tuesday Sessions 32: “Talking tells” destroy foes

Index to Tuesday Sessions

This lecture took place on May 11, 1999 and was the 32nd in the series. The columns based on these lectures first appeared in Card Player Magazine. In Poker, What You Hear Matters

Before we get to today’s lesson, I want to say a couple things.

Note: The first two sections announce events that have already happened. They remain for historical purposes. You can skip directly to the talking-tells heading below.

MCU At Sea

First, I’m going on the Card Player cruise to Alaska in June with my wife Phyllis. When you book your cruise, you can add just $195 ($295 for a couple) and get five hourly presentations on skills I believe will add thousands of dollars to your poker income every year. I’m carefully crafting these five hour-long presentations to cover only the most valuable aspects of winning poker.

We’re scheduling these sessions so they won’t interfere with your meals, entertainment, poker play, or in-port excursions. And, if you’ve never cruised to Alaska before, this is one of the greatest adventures you’ll experience. You’ll walk on glaciers, land on lakes, tour towns you never imagined, and even eat at remote hunting lodges. Exactly what you choose to do is up to you, but Phyllis and I rate this cruise as one of our best vacations ever – and that’s why we’re repeating it.

We’re calling my sessions MCU At Sea. That’s because they’re a function of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. MCU At Sea was Card Player owner Barry Shulman’s idea. And it was also Shulman who talked me down from my suggested $1,495 price for the five sessions. He pointed out the PR value of being with the very finest of poker people who take the CP cruises – people who might deal with me in other ways in the future. So, you can thank Barry Shulman for the low prices. I’d be honored if you’d join me on this cruise. We’ll giggle, have fun, and inbetween we’ll learn a lot about poker. Details are on page ??.

David James’ Big Blind

Second, David James showed a rough cut of his new movie, the Big Blind on February 11th. James – a long-time poker player — wrote, directed, and produced the film himself. The screening was hosted by MCU at Hollywood Park Casino. Are you wondering what I thought of it? Fine, I’ll tell you.

It was significantly better than I expected for a rough cut. James explained that when the final cut is presented – with the inserted clips, enhanced sound, and reselected scenes – even the storyline itself could be different. "You won’t recognize it," he speculated before an audience almost exclusively populated by members of the online newsgroup rec.gambling.poker. The screening was an event within ESCARGOT, organized and promoted by none other than Card Player columnist and renowned poker expert Lou Krieger. You probably wonder what ESCARGOT stands for, but you’ll have to keep wondering, because I forgot and I’m really late with this column.

Anyway, back to David James’ Big Blind. The whole room echoed with laughter during many parts, because the poker actions were true to life – and James’ fictional characters were ones we all seemed to know. I’m hoping that James sells this movie to someone who will distribute it with the same care with which it was written and produced. The Big Blind is potentially a big winner.

When you play poker, you’ve got to listen – really listen. I don’t mean to your poker teachers or to those little voices inside you. I don’t mean listen to your Walkman or to the cocktail waitress. I mean, you’ve got to listen to your opponents. The things they say and the sounds they make translate into tons of profit. And that’s our topic for today. The following is taken from the 32nd in my series of Tuesday Session classroom lectures at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. The lecture was held on May 11, 1999.

Using "Talking Tells" to Destroy Opponents

1. You need to grasp solid strategic concepts to win at poker. But, after that, it’s tells and psychology – not statistics and complex tactics – that account for most of your profit. If you don’t truly understand the basics of poker, you aren’t ready to use tells or to apply psychological concepts.

Most of the things I teach about poker are advanced. They can account for the majority of your profit. But, if you don’t first understand the fundamental concepts of winning poker, you won’t win. You’ve got to master the basics first. So, with that in mind – let’s move on.

2. Not all profitable tells are visual. Some of the most important ones you can’t see at all. They’re audible. You simply have to listen for them. And if you listen well enough, you can almost beat poker with your eyes closed!

3. Four keys to spoken tells: (1) What the player says; (2) when the player says it; (3) how the player says it; (4) what the player doesn’t say.

It’s important to pay attention to what your opponents say. Hostile or goading speech generally means a strong hand. Most players fear that their combative words will irritate you into calling, so this verbal behavior is seldom a bluff (though sometimes it is – so know you opponents!). Natural, non-poker conversation is an indication of a player at ease. That player is seldom worried about his hand and isn’t likely to be bluffing. He is also – at that moment – a poor target for a value bet. If a player suddenly starts talking as you’re betting or calling, that’s almost always a last-second desperation effort to make you reconsider. If a player speaks in negative tones about his hand, he is usually strong. If he’s excessively cheerful or friendly in his voice, he’s usually weak. If a player tries to avoid engaging in conversation after betting, that’s a clue that he is more likely than usual to be bluffing.

4. Listen for talk that sounds natural. The more naturally an opponent engages in conversation, the less likely he is to be bluffing. And the more casual an opponent’s conversation seems when it’s your turn to act, the less willing you should be to bet. (This is just another way of acting uninterested, similar to looking away. When a player is looking away, he is trying to make your bet seem safe by giving you nothing to worry about. When a player keeps talking casually, he is also trying to avoid giving you clues that he may be interested in the hand.)

I have used this audible tell to great profit. If someone is talking about how to fix his washing machine as you start to bet, and if he continues to talk about his washing machine, you should be careful. Don’t make any weak wagers or value bets. True, sometimes this player is so weak that he just doesn’t care. He’s simply waiting to throw his hand away. But, more often he’s not worried. He has a significant hand. It’s when a player stops talking or has trouble sounding rational while talking that you should suspect weakness. When that happens, the opponent is worried – and probably weak.

5. Humming and soft whistling. This often ceases either (1) immediately when an opponent bluffs, or (2) later when you look as if you’re beginning to call. Those rare opponents who whistle under their breath are goldmines. They will almost always stop whistling when they bluff. Same for humming.

6. Believe them! Players who tell you they have a big hand are usually telling you the truth! Not always, of course, but usually. They are waiting to take pride in showing down their hands and saying, "I told you so," in words or gestures of their chosing.

7. Listening to the word. Listen carefully for an opponent to say the word "bet." If there is anything sad or reluctant about it, this usually means a strong hand, so seldom call.

8. Breathing. Players who pause to catch their breath quietly, as if they don’t want you to know they’re struggling to breathe normally, are usually bluffing. Remember, bluffers have trouble breathing naturally and sometimes choose not to breathe at all. Players who hold big hands also often have trouble breathing naturally, but their breathing tends to be quite audible, and you should seldom call their bets with medium-strong hands.

9. Forced conversation. Whenever an opponent has bet and his conversation seems unnatural, unfocused, or forced, there’s a very great chance that he is bluffing. That’s because it’s hard to concentrate on casual conversation when you’re in immediate danger.

10. Major tip. When considering a borderline bet for value, first look away. Just listen. Even close your eyes if you choose. You can often "hear" the silence and sense the stillness. After an opponent has bluffed, he will usually be silent, too. But the action I’m talking about is before your opponent has acted. It’s your turn to act. Ominously silent players are often trying not to do anything to discourage your bet. That usually means your opponent is ready to pounce. So, don’t bet! – MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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