Telling behavior

Apr 11, 2005 2:29 AM

(This is the second in a two-part article.)

Last week, we examined some of the ways your body language can give you away at the poker table.

This week, we continue to point out how you can best avoid revealing "tells," which are movements, habits or idiosyncrasies that can undermine your game.

When you fold your cards, keep them folded. If you had a good hand and lost, you are not obligated to show it and you certainly do not have to tell the truth about your hand when questioned. If you want to get calls, claim your hand was worse than it was and if you are trying to reduce the action, it is better to say nothing than inflate the value of your hand. Don’t get aggravated by bad cards and turn them up to complain. The less emotion you display, the more difficult it will be for opponents to read your poker face.

Chip stacking is another way that players can read your temperament. Loose piles mean an action player, neat orderly stacks show a tight and probably smart player, pyramids indicate a power player. A good way to disguise your play is to stack your chips leaving the size of the stacks and the number of stacks erratic. That makes your initial buy-in and subsequent status harder to read.

Why is that important? A player who just got even will probably play much tighter and a player who is ahead will likely loosen up. Also, players who enter a new table can estimate the size of opponents’ stacks if they are the standard 20 count, but if you have five stacks of differing sizes, you look like you have more than a player with three 20 chip stacks, even though this may not be true.

Drinking, eating and to a lesser extent smoking (because of the smokeless card rooms) are motions aside from betting that provide good indicators for other players. A person who bets and takes a relaxing (if killing yourself slowly can be described as relaxing) puff on a cigarette is not concerned about who calls his bet. Similarly, if you interrupt your betting to eat or drink, you feel pretty comfortable about your hand. A person who waits to inhale or eat may be worried about the outcome of the next card, so his hand is probably a marginal favorite. If you still have to drink or eat after reading this, get up from the table and take a break.

Listen to the chatter at the table. Are you aware when a person who is chirping suddenly stops after a glance at his cards? If you like to talk about hands and plays, you are probably sending out signals to the other players. The tone of your voice may be telling the players which types of hands you prefer by your criticism of plays. ("Can you believe he’d call a raise with an 8, 10?")

When you buy-in, try not to purchase the minimum. That signals a player who is tight or on short money and can be raised out of pots. If you are on tight money, go down to a better limit until your finances improve. In a spread of flexible limit game, always bet the maximum (but you can call any size bet without raising if you intend to draw or sandbag) so that you are not conveying the relative strength of your hand. A strong player can vary this rule for psychological effect, but if you’ve gotten this far and are still interested, you probably don’t fit that category yet.

Your ability to keep your thoughts and hand values to yourself is extremely important. If that were not the case, why would games have down cards? Organize your routines before you get to the table and keep checking on yourself to make sure that you are following your guidelines. If you are slipping, there is a good possibility that you are becoming tired or you are losing your focus. It might be better to cash out and try again another day. Focus taxes your endurance, but you can exercise that ability until it is stronger. When you have conquered your own faults, watch how much you can gather from your opponents.