Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.
What can you say about the flop in hold ’em? There are few things in poker as suspenseful. The whole fate of your hand usually hinges on what those three cards will look like when the dealer turns them face up.
It’s fun watching flops. Indeed.
That’s why I’m asking you not to get mad at me when I tell you not to do it. You see, looking at the flop at the moment it hits the felt is the last thing you want to do if you expect to maximize your hold ’em profit. I’m going explain this concept the same way I did years ago in a lecture. Here it is…
Watch anything but the flop
Part of the fun of playing hold ’em or Omaha is anticipating the flop. In seven stud, you look at your starting hand and after that you only add one new card at a time. There’s some suspense, but it isn’t anything like the big suspense in hold ’em, where after you bet on your starting hand, you’ll see three cards all at once, and those cards can completely decide your fate.
With an event as important as the flop, no wonder almost everyone is eager to see it. But you shouldn’t be that eager. Here’s why…
Those three flop cards will still be there when you’re ready to look at them. But if you look at them as they’re turned up – which is what almost all of your opponents will be doing – you’re missing one of the golden opportunities for tells in poker.
My advice. Don’t watch the flop. Watch your opponents watch the flop. The key is that they don’t expect you to be watching them, so most of their reactions will be genuine, not acted. Remember, there are two main types of poker tells, those from actors and those that are involuntary.
It’s mostly the involuntary variety that we’re looking for when we watch our opponents watch the flop. The main tip is to watch as opponents briefly recognize that the flop helped them. They’ll often quickly glace at their chips in mental preparation to bet. This is instinctive.
However, when the flop doesn’t help them, your opponents are very likely to stare at it longer, usually at least a second or two longer. This, too, is instinctive. If it lasts more than two seconds, it crosses from being just instinctive hopefulness, as they try to find something that fits their hand, and becomes an act. At that point, they’re continuing to stare at the flop to try to convince you that it’s interesting to them.
In either case, whether they continue to stare hoping they’ll see something or they continue to stare as an act to make you think they’re interested in the flop, this is a tell. The long stare usually means that they didn’t make even a pair. Sure, once in a while, it means they flopped a straight and are trying to put the pieces together mentally – so beware of that rare happening. But, even then, they’ll often have to look back at the two cards in their hand to make sure the pieces of the straight fit, so if they don’t do that, the long stare probably means they missed.
To make it simple: Beware of a quick glance at the flop, then another quick glance at their chips. Often, this is followed by the player who just connected on the flop looking away as if uninterested – in an attempt to fool you. If they look long, don’t worry – your opponent probably missed everything. Again: quick glance, beware; long look, don’t worry.
Now, I’ve just told you that players don’t usually act to deceive you when they first look at the flop. That’s because they don’t think you’re watching them. They think you’re watching the flop, too, so immediate actions meant to deceive you aren’t necessary. But they do think you’ll hear them, so sometimes you can get vocal tells from actors. Listen for sighs or other utterances of sadness. These are meant to confuse you, but they really mean the opponent likes the flop and will probably bet or raise. Sad sounds are always dangerous.
Keep it secret
One addition tip. Don’t stare conspicuously at your opponents. Sooner or later, they’ll look up and realize you’re studying them on the flop. Keep your surveillance secret. I often point my head down and look up with my eyes, partially shielded by my fingers. This way, I seem to be looking toward the flop while I’m watching my opponents without them knowing.
Once again. Don’t watch the flop. Watch your opponents watch the flop. If they quickly glance away from the flop, briefly to their chips, then stare away from the approaching action, beware. That flop connected. If they continue to stare at the flop a little longer, you’re usually safe.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC