Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2007) in Casino Player.
First I’ll tell you a true story. It’s about how I got a $150 call on the river from a man holding an eight-high. We’re talking about a man with no hope. A man with no pair. No straight. No flush. A man without anything resembling a high card. And he called me and lost.
Today, I’ll show you how you can sometimes win extra calls without any risk whatsoever. It’s a free roll.
This happened about eight years ago at Hollywood Park Casino. The exact dynamics of the hold ’em hand have faded in my memory, but there was a modest amount of betting before this final, river card.
I had a pair and bet the $150 limit. My opponent, disgusted, threw his cards face-up on the table – just an eight and a smaller card. His intention was to prove that if I were trying to bluff it was with the best hand, so I shouldn’t feel proud about winning.
Quickly, I babbled. “That was good, I had six-five.” If that were true, his eight would win, since there were only four higher cards on the board. He hesitated. Immediately, I knew I had a bite. I didn’t expect to land this trout with such light tackle, but it was worth a try.
What did I have to lose? He was already in the process of folding.
Now, the trick here is to seem like you’re not conning an opponent into calling. Players are too smart to fall for that. The trick is to sound as if you’re trying to talk your opponent out of calling. Then, perhaps, he’ll become suspicious and you’ll win a free $150.
But, winning a call from a meager eight on the showdown — no pair, nothing — requires a lot of psychological mastery. But, a trophy like this would be worth mounting, no matter how unlikely success seemed.
When the man hesitated, I said, “You already folded, right?” knowing that he hadn’t. Actually, his cards were still face-up in front of him and live.
He didn’t fold, but instead stared at me playfully.
So, I said, “You don’t really think I have six-five, do you?” I made my voice slightly nervous. “Obviously, I probably would never have played a hand like that.” See? My words, on the surface, seemed to be talking him out of a call, but actually I was manufacturing doubt. Saying things like “I probably would never” makes opponents suspicious.
Remember, opponents come to the card table with a bias toward calling. They didn’t drive all this way to avoid action. When they decided to make the trip, they weren’t thinking, “Hey, I guess I’ll go to the casino and practice a little poker. Hopefully, I won’t have to play any hands.” Nobody ever does that. Instead, players hope to get in action, to win pots, to call bluffs successfully.
By now my opponent truly wanted to call, but – loose as he was – he just couldn’t bring himself to do it with an eight high. So, he reached for his cards and began to turn them over, starting to fold. I interrupted his thought process by knocking over some chips noisily and chortling, “Good choice.”
But this only served to rekindle his suspicion and he hesitated. I said, “Oh, come on. All you have is an eight! Even if it’s good, you can’t call.”
Our dance continued – the whole process only taking, perhaps, half a minute. Again he started to fold, more decisively this time. But I pretended not to notice.
“Just because you saw me playing all those garbage hands earlier doesn’t mean I don’t have a monster hand right now.”
Again he hesitated. Actually, I hadn’t played any garbage hands earlier, but in the heat of this psychological warfare, I knew he wouldn’t evaluate my words. I kept at it and he finally made a resolute call, probably thinking it was the cleverest thing he’d ever done.
He figured he was going to gloat, because I’d talked myself out of the pot. But, of course, I simply showed my pair and took the money.
Where’s the lesson in this? Well, I’m not telling you that you need to put yourself onstage the way I often do. I enjoy that, but most players don’t feel comfortable doing it. I always keep it friendly. If my opponents aren’t laughing and having fun, I don’t risk annoying them with my antics.
And I try never to slow down the game unreasonably. These interactions happen rarely and go quickly. To me, this part of poker is like an art form. It’s what I enjoy most. But, repeating, I don’t expect you to play the way I do.
Most of your opponents have a “calling reflex” — which is an unconscious urge to call anything that moves or speaks. You should know, also, that there’s a way to take advantage of any opponent’s calling reflex – to exploit their bias toward calling. And that way is simple. All you have to do is anything! That’s because, when you have the better hand and they’ve already decided to fold, whatever you do might make them become suspicious and reconsider. So, clear your throat, knock over a stack of chips, jiggle about in your chair. Anything.
It won’t always work, but sometimes it will. And when it does, that’s 100 percent free money. And you earned it. — MC