Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2004) in Poker Player newspaper.
Today, I’m going to present two tells that I’ve selected for this column. Notice that I said tells that I’ve “selected.” First I want to teach you a real-life concept, and then you’ll understand why I chose that word.
I was doing a TV taping last week and was asked, “On your video, there are a whole lot of tells. Which are your favorites?”
My take on the truth
I stammered – maybe not very noticeably, because I know how to bluff my way through things, but it was still a stammer. You see, I’m prepared to answer all kinds of questions. I’ll analyze plays and expound on poker theory. I’ll talk convincingly about poker and about life, and I can go on for hours philosophizing. Truth is flitting about everywhere, and I like to communicate my take on it. Fine. But when you ask me about “favorites,” my mind melts. I’m sometimes incoherent. It’s been a problem all my life.
How come? It’s because, I don’t really keep favorite or best lists in my head. Who are your favorite actors? What are your favorite books? What’s the best advice you can give to beginners? Ask me stuff like that and I’ll get confused.
Here’s the thing: I don’t take sides very easily. I don’t have a favorite color. Ask me sometime and I’m apt to say powder blue. But ask me an hour later and I might say gold. It just depends on what washed across my mind at the moment. I think most folks are like that – except they make the mistake early on of taking a stand. Then, for the rest of their lives, they’ve got to swear that pizza is their favorite food, even though it may only have been at the exact moment they first blurted out that opinion. But, what happens is, they get married to that opinion. They’re locked in.
What is the best way to play aces in hold ’em? Don’t be trapped into answering that question, because once you say, “raise,” if you’re like most people, you’re going to have to take that side of it forever. Now you’re in uniform, having joined the team of the “raise” believers, and you’ll look for evidence to support that argument, often ignoring or finding ways to diminish evidence to the contrary
So, my advice to you is simple – don’t have favorites, or least favorites, or best lists, or worst lists. Sure, if you do a lot of research and think things through with an open mind, then you can sometimes be sure enough to say something is best – or at least very good. Otherwise, leave yourself open and uncommitted.
Yeah, I’ve fallen into the trap. I’ve written best lists and most powerful tips, but my heart wasn’t really in it. So, today, I’m giving you a few select tells that strike my fancy at this moment as being imported. They’re the ones I selected for this column. And here they are…
I spend a lot of time teaching that position matters. The more players remain to act behind you, the more likely it is that one or more of them will have you beat, so you need much stronger hands to enter pots from early position.
But, when people who have learned my strategies play against me, they’re often bewildered. They see me playing hands “out of position.” Out of position is a term we use in poker to mean your hand isn’t strong enough to open that early. It might have been strong enough to compete with later on, after more players had folded, but it isn’t with so many opponents waiting to act.
So, why do I do this? Why do I enter pots out of position? The answer is pretty profound: I don’t! It’s an illusion. I’m actually entering hands in position, and I’m using tells to make that happen.
One of the tells I use most often is to look at the players waiting to act and determine if there are one or more of them who are looking uninterested. Often, players who seem uninterested are acting. They’re trying to make it safe for you to bet by pretending they’re not going to participate in the pot. One familiar way they do this is to look away. Instead of looking your way as the action approaches, they stare in the other direction, as if watching imaginary butterflies. When you see this, you can be pretty sure they have strong hands.
But, once you recognize that opponents have this tendency – to look away when their hands are strong – you know something else. You know that when they’re not looking away, they’re likely to really have weak hands and won’t play.
You see it already, right? So, assume that I see one or more players who habitually look away when they have playable hands, and they’re not doing it now. Well, I can just eliminate them as competitors. Effectively, my position is later than it seems to be. And I can now barge into the pot with weaker hands. It may seem out of position to my opponents, but it isn’t.
By using this tell, I accomplish two things: (1) I get to make money by playing hands that wouldn’t be profitable if I hadn’t spotted the tells; and (2) I dramatically enhance my image as a carefree, action player, because I’m willing to risk money on hands that don’t seem profitable.
A dangerous bet
Sometimes, I need to decide whether to bet a marginal hand. Marginal bets have a name. We call them “value bets,” because you’re making a daring wager with a slight advantage, with the intent of extracting every last penny’s worth of value. Good players do this routinely.
But value betting can backfire when you’re up against a tricky opponent, especially one who might raise you. So, I look for clues to tell me whether a value bet is likely to be safe. One tell that rewards me in this way happens when an opponent makes a subtle move toward his chips as I begin to bet.
A player who does that is invariably trying to prevent my bet. Usually, the opponent holds a hand he will reluctantly call with, but is hoping I won’t bet. That’s exactly the type of hand I want him to have if I make a daring wager with medium strength.
So, when I see a person subtly trying to prevent my bet, especially by reach slightly toward his chips, I go ahead and wager. It’s a profitable choice. But, if the opponent doesn’t do anything to prevent my bet, I usually check. It’s often not a safe bet, and I’m saving money in the long run by passing on these opportunities.
In closing, those are the two tells I’ve chosen to pass along today. I have no idea where they’d fit on a list of “favorite” tells. But I hope you found value because I “selected” them. — MC