Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was published (2006) in Casino Player.
Do you want to know how to catch somebody bluffing? Listen closely. I’m going to tell you one powerful way to know for sure.
Imagine this. You’re in your usual hold ’em game, playing against your usual opponents. You hold K♣ J♦ in the big blind. Two players call your forced $200 blind bet, but nobody raises, so you get to see the flop for free. Here it comes… 10♣ A♣ 7♣.
Suddenly, you have hope. If another club lands on the next two cards, you’ll be able to use your king to form the very best flush possible. Hold ’em players call it the “nut flush” – meaning it can’t be beat by any other flush. Also, you could catch a queen of another suit and make a compelling ace-high straight. And, of course, if nobody holds an ace or makes two pair or better, then you might catch a king or a jack and win with just that lone pair. So, your prospects are meaningful, as long as no one makes a bet so large that it chases you out of the pot.
Got the picture? If not, it doesn’t matter. Even if you’re not acquainted with hold ’em well enough to follow this example, today’s lesson will still earn you a lot of money in whatever poker games you sit. This discussion isn’t really about this particular hand or about hold ’em. It’s about something much more profound. So, let’s continue…
Gary, a usually animated opponent who called before the flop from a middle position, bets $400 into the $700 that pre-existed (three $200 bets, plus the surrendered $100 small blind). He throws his chips into the pot with great fanfare, making you somewhat suspicious. Susan folds, leaving just two of you to compete for this pot.
You decide merely to call, although it crosses your mind to raise and, hopefully, take down the money without a struggle. You reason that, by just calling, you’ll have excellent odds of making something and, if you’re wrong about Gary’s flamboyant bet indicating weakness, it might cost you a lot more money by raising. So, you decide to see the next card cheaply. You call. On the fourth community card, called the “turn,” up pops 2♦.
That wasn’t a card you were hoping to see, and you aren’t feeling warm and fuzzy about it. But it almost certainly didn’t help Gary, either. He checks. You welcome the opportunity to see the final “river” card at no cost and check, also. That last card is 2♥.
Okay, so now your flush visions vanish, your straight got stranded, and your thoughts of escaping with a pair of kings or jacks prove hapless. You must now hope that Gary checks with nothing and your king is high enough to win. But he doesn’t check. Instead, he hurls $3,000 at the $1,500 pot. Now what?
Well, quite clearly, you’re usually going to fold. You look over at Gary and see no obvious clues. He’s melted into “poker face” mode. He’s like a statue, almost not breathing.
Listen closely. I want you to call. What? Call $3,000, twice the size of the pot, with not even a pair? What if Gary has three deuces, or simply an ace, giving him a pair of aces? Or what if he had two clubs all along and was just checking to me, hoping I’d hang myself with a bet? Or maybe he has some other pair – or even king-queen, which – after all – is better than my king-jack. Don’t I have to fold?
No, you have to call, if you like money. And I’ll tell you why. When players bet big hands, then tend to be relaxed. They breathe normally, or even more noticeably than usual. When players are bluffing in big pots, they’re like scared children hiding in the dark. They’re afraid to move, so they’re like statues – just what you’re seeing in Gary right now.
And one other important thing: They don’t breathe much. Sometimes they don’t breathe at all. Honest! And this is what you see Gary do at this moment. He seems to have stopped breathing, fearful of betraying his hand. It’s as if the suspense is killing him and he’s frozen, awaiting the outcome. Awaiting his fate. Please call. For me.
There! Good job! You called and Gary threw his hand away without even showing it. You win! And all you need to remember in the future is that when your opponents bet big and stop breathing, you should often call. — MC