Partial information can lead to victory especially when focusing on the left
June 06, 2017 3:00 AM
by George Epstein
Poker is a game of information – actually partial info. You will never have all you would like. Using tells is one way to gain that.
Thanks to poker celebrity Mike Caro we are all familiar with tells – inadvertent gestures, movements or facial expressions (most players try to keep a “poker face”) – even vocal utterances by players, that give a message that can help you make better decisions. (I recommend Caro’s “Book of Poker Tells: The Psychology and Body Language of Poker;” Cardoza Publishing; www.cardozapub.com.)
Going one step further while seeking opponents’ tells, I often strongly advise my poker students to look to their left during certain critical stages in a hand. The opponents to your left will be acting after you. Their inadvertent tells can be a good way to find out how they will act after you. Will they open bet, call a previous bet, raise, or fold – highly valuable information.
Of course, it will take you a few seconds to study your opponents to the left. The dealer, anxious to move the hand forward (more drops – profits – for the casino and more tips for him/her) may put some pressure on you to hurry up and act. Try not to pay too much attention to that, as long as you are not overly delaying the game.
Sometimes the opponent to your left will bet out of turn, before you have acted. That’s valuable information, too. Suppose he raises the previous bet; holding a marginal drawing hand that can help you quickly decide to muck your cards, saving a bet (or more).
Here are a few examples:
• As a player peeks at his holecards, sometimes he may give a strong hint about the quality of the hand dealt to him. For example, if a player to your left sits straight up in his chair, most likely he has a strong starting hand. Consider folding your marginal (borderline) starting hand. (The chips you save can help you go home a winner.)
• Before the flop, you are in the hi-jack position. Your opponent to the left, after peeking at his holecards, turns away from the table to look at the basketball game on the big-screen TV mounted on the wall: This is not a hand he cares about, and will likely fold when it’s his turn to act. Good information! It can be very useful. It could signal a good opportunity to try to steal the pot by raising to force out the other players.
• The flop comes down on the board; no honor cards, none suited or connectors. All your opponents before you check; looking to your left for tells, none of the others seem to be planning to bet: If you have a marginal drawing hand or better, this would be a good spot to make a bet, to force out all those opponents and steal whatever chips are in the pot. (It may not be a very big pot, but several of those steals during a session can make the difference between going home a winner or a loser.)
Even if an opponent after the Button decides to call your bet, you will still have gained position over your opponents who stay to see the turn. That gives you a significant edge.
• As the hand progresses, you have a medium pair in a middle position; but it’s not top pair on the board. One opponent who you know little about, has made the bet before you. There are two others behind you. Look to your left. Is one – a rather tight player – picking up a batch of chips, apparently intending to call or raise the bet.
Super tell! Great warning! Muck your hand and save some chips.