How to use 'tells' to steal the flop in poker

Jul 28, 2009 5:07 PM
by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

Watch your opponent, win the pot!

Last week, we identified the "ultimate tell," that is, when a tight, non-deceptive player bets from an early position on the flop, which typically signals that he has a powerful hand.

That’s a "strategic" tell, which, of course, is just one type of tell.

Many poker players, even experienced and skilled players, display mannerisms … depending on their cards. And, as noted in Mike Caro’s Book of Poker Tells, "any mannerism which helps you determine the secrets of an opponent’s hand is called a tell."

In poker, as well as other aspects of life, actions sometimes speak louder than words! Look for tells!

Observe your opponents as they examine the cards dealt to them. They may inadvertently clue you about the strength of their hands. Likewise, an astute poker player will observe his opponents as the flop comes down.

You may be able to use this information – tells – to steal the pot.

"Stealing" a pot is a form of bluffing; it’s perfectly legal and acceptable in poker games.

There are players who love stealing the blinds. Especially in a late position, with no one having called the big blind, "blind stealers" raise to force out the players behind them. Then, when the blinds also fold, the "stealer" has a small profit and increased his chip stack.

More significant is stealing the pot on the flop.

Stealing-on-the-flop usually has more value. It’s worth considering if two or three opponents stayed to see the flop. Now there are enough chips in the pot to realize a modest profit, making it more attractive – and more lucrative – than stealing the blinds.

 This strategy works best when you are in a late position and if there were no raises pre-flop – indicating no made hands or premium drawing hands.

 Assuming you called the blind with a decent starting hand in case you are called, stealing-on-the-flop makes sense when it’s a "ragged" flop that doesn’t seem to have helped anyone – including yourself.

Don’t try stealing if the flop includes an honor card, especially an ace or a king. There’s a good chance that one of those helped at least one opponent.

Observe your opponents as the flop comes down. Does each seem disappointed in the flop? More important: Are they studying the board for an extended period of time? Those are tells indicating the flop didn’t help their hands.

Conversely, if an opponent glances at the board, then examines his hole cards, the flop may have connected. And, if he then looks at his chips or at the other players at the table, or his hand goes to his chips, those are further tells that the flop helped him.

Ideally, you have assessed your opponents. Hesitate to steal against a deceptive player who would check a flopped set. A move to steal in this instance could be costly.

Stealing-on-the-flop works best if all your opponents check to you. Sure, the flop didn’t help you, but your opponents don’t know that. Then, in a late position, you bet.

Since their hands weren’t worth raising pre-flop and have not improved with that "ragged" flop, they all fold. You take the pot. Sure it’s not a big pot, but it will pay for a few blinds.

Winning is great fun!

Comments? George "The Engineer" can be reached at [email protected].