I recently had a student over for a weekend long personal poker bootcamp. We did a check-in every hour where I would give my notes on his play and the table dynamics that I had witnessed. Here are some things I saw, but the student did not see.
A player calls a mid position pre-flop raise from the Big Blind. The two players are heads up in a pot when the board comes down:
The Big Blind donk bets into the original raiser. His bet is a weak weak half pot bet. This is a move worthy of note since it is somewhat unusual, and it can mean different things. Lots of strong players will make this kind of move with a set because they are trying to get three streets of value. On the other side of this, we find weak players that will make the move with weak top pairs.
The thought process of the weaker players is often along the lines: “I am probably ahead, but I am not sure. I will bet to find out where I am at,” or “I am probably ahead, I am going to protect against over cards coming, because that is likely.”
When the original raiser folded to this bet and then Big Blind proudly showed 95o I was delighted.
What conclusions did I make?
The Big Blind is likely a very weak player. He defended the big blind with absolute garbage, then he played it according to stereotype. What is more, he showed his hand. This is often a recreational player that wants people to know he is playing honestly. He feels bad about stealing, so he is unlikely to be bluffing. This hand tells me a lot about this player. I am going with the following general assumptions:
- He is going to call very widely pre-flop
- He is highly unlikely to bluff
- If he three-bets pre-flop he has a very strong hand. It is going to be as narrow as QQ+, and I am not sure there is even AK in there.
What do I think of the pre-flop raiser? Well, from what we saw there is not a lot to say. However, in his spot I would have very seriously considered raising with any two cards. I would specifically be watching the pre-flop raiser to see if there are other obvious bluffing spots that he misses. If I keep seeing them, then I will mark him as a less sophisticated opponent and also give more credence to his bets since he is passing up on obvious bluffing spots.
I will, of course, refine these reads with time. It is worth note that my student did not even notice the hand.
Another hand of note was a verbal tell. I am a big fan of Zachary Elwood’s Verbal Poker Tells book. One of the easiest and most powerful tells in there is about verbal disclaimers. Basically, if a guy says something to justify his action, he is doing it to distract from the real reason for the action: his hand strength.
A board comes out after a four way limp pre-flop. The talker is on the button.
The button then says, “There are four of us? I bet.” Considering this was a $1-$2 table and he was limping pre-flop, my guess is this is a verbal disclaimer from a weak player. I would assume a decent Ace is in his hand. The hand did not go to showdown, so I was not able to confirm the read, but I was building up an inventory.
Verbal tells require a baseline to be effective. I am not able to get the baseline from this one hand, but it seems very reasonable that he had an Ace and this was a tell of strength.
An orbit later, the same player had limped in again on the button on a board of
A while later a big hand is going down. The talkative player has check called two streets, and then on the river a front door flush comes in. The talkative player leads out for pot. The lone opponent on the button laments and asks him, “Did you get there?” Without a second thought the talkative player answers, “Yes I did, I got there, sorry buddy.” The questioning player thinks for a while and calls with top pair middle kicker. As expected the talkative player shows the nut flush.
This cements in my mind that the talkative player is very reliably giving off the classic verbal tells. When he answered a direct question with a long answer, given confidently, I was pretty sure he was being truthful. People are amazingly truthful at the poker table. With a history of this player giving reliable verbal tells, I would alter my play based on them.
These kinds of dynamics are available for you to notice at the tables if you pay attention. Some of them are bet sizes, some of them are what lines players take, some of them are verbal and physical tells. With so much information out there, what can you do at your next session about it?
Pick one player, study them and only them. I recommend the player to your immediate right since you should be making more money from them than anyone else at the table. Try to get a sense of how often they are in the pot and how often they come in for a raise. Try to remember every line they play until the end of the hand then replay the action in your head from their perspective. Imagine the commentary that would be going on if they were on a poker TV show. Actively thinking about what they have done after you see their cards will help you make conclusions about them.
Start making predictions about what they will do when they are in a hand. Spend your time for just this one session trying to understand what they are thinking and doing. You do not have to do anything with this information this session. It should become second nature to start thinking about that player’s action. Just one player for one session. See if you can understand what they are thinking, it will be very valuable against them and eventually against lots of other players that act like them.