Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
Did you know that you can win many extra chips, just by identifying the direction an opponent is looking? Are they staring at you? Are they looking away from you – in accordance with today’s word, “away”? Are they staring at the flop? At their cards?
It greatly matters. And that’s the subject of this self-interview…
Question 1: Okay. It always unnerves me when an opponent is looking at me. Should I be concerned?
Usually not. Any opponent who is conspicuously looking at you wants you to know it. Why? It’s just plain weakness. Usually, they’re hoping to make it uncomfortable for you to bet or call.
Sure there are exceptions. Rarely, an opponent might use a penetrating stare with a huge hand to lure a call. But that’s not typical. And when you spot such an opponent, you know he’ll do that again in the future. So you mentally list him in a special category and punish him with this secret knowledge.
But that’s not the norm. When players are staring at you, you should figure they have medium hands, at best. They don’t want you to bet, so they’re pretending to be confident. Thus, the stare down. When you see this, it’s usually safe to bet medium-strong hands for value – hands you would have otherwise checked.
Question 2: What about opponents who refuse to look at you?
Probably, they’re afraid of being read or simply uncomfortable. Seldom do they hold strong hands. They’re worried, just like the players who are staring at you are. Often, they’ll make eye contact, but only briefly.
When you observe unwillingness to interact normally, eye-to-eye, your opponent is probably vulnerable. You should bet borderline hands or, if that player has bet, you often should raise with medium-strong hands.
Question 3: So players looking away are uncomfortable. Does that mean they’re not a threat and can be bet into?
Wait! I didn’t say that. I said that players who refuse to look at you, as stated in your previous question, are uncomfortable. That means usually they don’t hold particularly strong hands.
But that’s different from players who are deliberately looking away from you. In the first case, they’re afraid to make eye contact, because they hold vulnerable hands. In the second case, they’re not confused about what to do and aren’t avoiding you through weakness. They’re doing something much more profound.
They’re putting on an act for your benefit. They’re looking away from you and away from the action. This is almost always done when you’re expected to act on your hand before they act on theirs.
Making it safe
In typically means one thing: They’re trying to appear uninterested in the pot, making it easier for you to bet. And there’s only one reason they’re doing this – to make your bet seem safe. Now you need to ask yourself: “How come?” I mean, how come your opponent wants to make your bet safe?
Is it because he doesn’t care if you bet or not? That would be the case if the opponent had meaningless cards, right? Yes, right, but in that case, he wouldn’t go to the trouble of putting on an elaborate act designed to show lack of interest.
Here’s what’s really strange. Many opponents who are about to fold a hopeless hand do put on an act. But it isn’t the act you expect. They look toward you, often half-menacingly. They’re feigning interest. That’s designed to indicate the opposite of the true weakness of their cards.
So why bother? I think it’s an extension of the role they’re forced to play at the poker table. Poker requires concealing the strength of hands, whether weak or strong. And opponents aren’t accustomed to having to deceive, so they act weak when strong and strong when weak. In doing this, they go overboard and continue this acting, even if it doesn’t matter.
Anyway, back to the players who are staring away from you. They’re most often trying to make your bet seem safe, so they can pounce. Don’t bet medium hands. You’ll probably get raised.
Question 4: What if your opponent is looking at something specific?
Here are a few tips about that.
If opponents stare at their cards or chips for an unnecessarily long time, it’s likely their hand is weak or is complete garbage. This is an act designed to make you think that they find their hands interesting. Don’t buy it.
This trait is particularly important before the flop in hold ’em, on the final card in seven-stud, and in draw poker. If you see players conspicuously looking at their cards, don’t worry.
If the cards are actually meaningful, they tend to quickly recognize that fact, stop looking at them, and stare away as if uninterested. That’s one of the most powerful tells in poker. Beware when you see it, because their hands are very strong.
In seven-stud, watch the final card. If an opponent stares at it for two or more seconds, it probably didn’t help. If he instantly flips it back down and looks away, you’ll need an extra strong hand to bet or call.
You can also extend this family of tells to where people look when they see the flop in hold ’em. If they continue to stare at it, that means weakness. If they look at it very briefly, glance instinctively at their chips, then turn away from the action, that means strength.
Question 5: Could you summarize the tips you’ve given us today?
Always pay attention to where your opponents are looking. If they’re staring at you, they’re usually not dangerous. If they look away, they are.
And the longer they stare at cards, the weaker their hands tend to be. Those are the main things to remember. — MC