Wiesenberg (s091 poker): Sophie gets more personal

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card Player. This entry in the "Aunt Sophie" series covers poker.

Michael Wiesenberg index.

Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie gets more personal

“Hokay, Dollink,” Aunt Sophie opened, “more about personal tells you said you would tell.”

“Yes,” I said, “I have another example for you.

By now desserts had arrived at our table in the Anaheim Club’s coffee shop. The one-way mirror afforded a panoramic view of the cardroom floor, with the 20-40 lowball game closest to us.

“Personal tells differ from universal tells, as you know,” I explained. “Personal tells are unique to a particular player. That is, a particular player may do something in a particular situation that no one else does, and you can use your knowledge of that tell to figure out what the player has, and act on that information.”

The waitress deposited my second quadruple latte, along with a piece of cake yclept on the menu as Chocolate Suicide. For Aunt Sophie she produced another glass of boiling water and a teabag, plus a dish of tiramisu, made of course with Mascarpone triple-creme cheese.

“Observe,” I motioned, “if you will, Sylvia as she plays this pot.”


While we watched, Susie, the resident rock, opened for the minimum and Corky called, undoubtedly with a weak hand, because Corky always raised with almost any pat hand and any decent draw. Sylvia, in a late position, raised. She put the bet in with her right hand, while holding her cards tightly in her left hand. Susie and Corky both called the raise. On the draw, Susie took one card, Corky two, and Sylvia one. After the draw, Susie and Corky both checked, and Sylvia bet. While she threw the chips in with her right hand, she held the cards in her left in a peculiar manner. The cards, squared so as to reveal only the door card (a three, which gave nothing away about the hand) pointed aggressively forward. Susie thought for a moment, pulled a nine face up up out of her hand, and folded. Corky called. Sylvia seemed reluctant to show her cards, the while muttering something we couldn’t hear, but, based on the action, likely was words to the effect of “I paired.” Corky triumphantly spread his hand, king-queen-ace-deuce-three as the dealer pushed him the pot.

“Now how,” demanded Aunt Sophie, “did Corky know to call that bluff?”

“Well,” I temporized, “he may just have been lucky, but I suspect he knows what Sylvia’s tell is. Let’s wait for another hand she plays to see if you can figure it out. This is what you need to be able to do, observe players and try to determine what their individual tells are. And, by the way, Corky just executed one of the most pleasing coups of poker, calling and winning with the second-best hand in a situation in which the winning hand was folded.”

This hand Sylvia was on the button. The player under the gun opened for a raise, Susie called, Corky raised, and Sylvia called. The opener and Susie called the raise. The opener and Susie drew one card each, Corky stood pat, and Sylvia drew a card. After the draw, the opener checked and Susie bet. Corky looked unhappy as he called.

“I’ll bet Corky has a rough seven,” Aunt Sophie whispered.

“I agree,” I agreed in a normal voice, knowing those on the floor could not hear us. “If he had an eight he probably wouldn’t call, because he knows that Susie always checks eights after the draw when other players are behind her, and she hardly ever bluffs.”


When the action got to Sylvia, she raised. This time she held her cards tightly in her left hand, not pointing up and away as before. Susie called the raise, and Corky folded. Sylvia happily spread her cards, a six-four. Susie showed a straight six before dumping the hand. Sylvia toked the dealer a $5 chip.

“Is that it?” Aunt Sophie asked. “That simple?”

“Uh huh,” I responded. “That simple.”

“Her cards she holds different,” Sophie ventured, “when a good hand she’s got.”

“Yes,” I expanded, “one way indicates a good hand and another indicates either that she’s weak or that she’s flat out bluffing. You can use this information to win pots and make extra bets against her. After the draw, if you miss yoiur hand and pass, and she acts after you and bets, call with almost anything if she’s holding her cards in that way that you’ve noticed indicates a bluff or weak hand. Now most of the players have observed that she bluffs far too often, and they call her with anything in such a situation. Sometimes she makes a hand and wins the pot, but she’s bluffing often enough that these players call her every time she bets. They win enough pots that way to be able to say to themselves, ‘Well, she wasn’t bluffing this time, but most of the time she is.’ You, on the other hand, can save a bet on those occasions that you see the tell that indicates that she has a good hand. Game theory says that if you don’t know how often a player is bluffing, you must call the inverse of the odds offered your opponent by that bet. That is, if the pot offers her 9-to-1 odds, and she can get away with a bluff more than one in 10 times, she profits, so you must counter by calling nine times out of 10. If a player bluffs more than the optimal amount, however, you profit by always calling; if a player bluffs less than the optimal amount, you proffer by never calling. But you can improve on that strategy against Sylvia by never calling when you know she has a hand, and calling all the time that her tell indicates she is weak or bluffing. This includes calling with small pairs. Of course, since she bets almost every time she misses, you will find sometimes that you call with a king and she has bet a queen, but don’t worry about that. When she bets first, you can also profit by raising more liberally when she makes a bet while indicating that she is weak or bluffing. Sometimes circumstances will tell you that she cannot be bluffing; nevertheless, you know she is weak and can raise with hands you would only call with if she indicated strength. For example, she has the big blind, and two players have come in. She raises and stands pat. If both players drew, she often bets a weak hand like a nine or even a 10 after the draw. If the first player folds, you can safely raise with an eight, which you wouldn’t do if she had been showing her tell of strength. And before the draw, if she will be first to act after the draw, you can sometimes get her to break a rough hand by reraising when she raises. For example, you have a wheel to draw to. You open, probably for a raise, in mid position. She raises from the middle or big blind. Many players just call in this situation, but if you see her holding her cards in that manner that indicates a weak hand, reraise. She may get stubborn and just call and then stand pat, but that hasn’t really done any harm. First, if she does break, she may even draw two cards, but even if she draws one, you are drawing better. She might have stood pat on a nine-four, for example, but she now breaks it because of your reraise; you have just changed a situation in which you had the worst of it to one in which you now have the best. But let’s say she has a nine-eight or a 10; you are getting at least 2-to-1 on that extra bet you put in. If she checks after the draw, you bet with a nine or better, and she will always call. If she bets, you can raise with an eight or better. Even if others are in the pot, you can still play your drawing hands with positive expectation by reraising her raises when she indicates weakness, and you can save bets when she indicates strength.”

“I see,” Aunt Sophie offered.

“You can see,” I concluded, “that your knowledge of a player’s individual tell has increased your win rate.”

The waitress reappeared with a final submission, the bill, which Aunt Sophie grabbed out of my


Next: 092 Aunt Sophie doesn’t go for a ride


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