Sometimes writers, in attempting to squeeze every nuance out of poker plays, fail to address the vast majority of players who need to fix simple mechanics of poker.
For example, if a player fails to protect his cards from another player, no amount of bluffing will convince his opponent to drop. If a player’s face lights up when he makes a draw, he loses any chance at a check raise or even a call. Low limit games are stocked with players who could have modeled for the Book of Tells. If you have progressed beyond this basic stage, congratulations. If not, read on.
The first thing a player must learn to do is memorize his cards so that he is not constantly reviewing his hole cards. Almost invariably, the cards you were dealt remain the same cards throughout the hand. Trust me. The easiest way to remember your cards is to say them to yourself mentally, i.e., "ace of hearts, six of diamonds."
And don’t move your lips when you do this or you are wasting your time. When you have a good card or a pair hit from your flush draw, you will not give out any clues. Also, players watching you will never know whether you liked a new card or not. So put a chip over your cards and watch the other players.
It is always better to look ahead of the betting to see how players are reacting to the bets, but don’t make the mistake of watching a player who you fear, or wincing when your flush or pair cards are dealt to someone else. Watching players when the turn card hits will give you much more information than looking at the card as it is turned. Stud players can see who the last round bettor is afraid of if he looks at another player’s hand before he checks. The poker face rule applies during the play of the hand.
Beginners try to manipulate the other players by acting sad or happy, but their acting is so patently obvious that they might just show their cards. Take a tip from the pros. Give your opponents nothing with which to work and you will be much tougher to read.
When you look at your hand, make sure you are the only person who knows what your down cards are.
Learn to look at your cards without flashing them to your neighbors. Do not rearrange your up cards in stud. After you have memorized your cards, do the same thing every time. Put a chip over them. Don’t fidget or make folding motions and don’t look down at your chips or reach for any chips. Keep your hands relaxed and your posture straight until it is your turn to act. If you missed your draw, don’t stare at your cards as if wishing for some other result. More information is leaked by players acting out of turn than any other method.
Place your chips out in a timed deliberate motion every time. You can practice this at home until you get it consistent.
Players who throw chips or slam chips down or rush to get their chips out or hesitate are just radiating to the other players. If you have a great hand and want a call on the end, do not bet before the last card. Surrender your hand at the same pace. Make it seem as if you are considering a call when you have no intention of calling and a raise when you are only going to call. Your opponents might give you some extra information by cringing or looking back out of the corner of their eye. If your hand is so strong you would raise automatically, slow your pace down to the same as when you call so only you know you can’t be beaten.
At the showdown, the etiquette is to let the last bettor or raiser show his hand first. So let him. The fewer cards you show your opponents, the harder you are to read. If you were last bettor and you think you are beaten, you can call out a general description of your hand. "Two pair," but don’t name them. Take a beat and see if your opponent is going to show you his cards first. You may be able to fold without showing your hand. I am not advocating delaying the game, just take a beat or two and then open your hand if you get no reaction.
When you fold down 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 put on tilt.
Chip stacking is another way that players 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.
Smoking and eating 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 is not concerned about who calls his bet. Similarly, if you interrupt your betting to eat, 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 smoke 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 in 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.