WEEKLY COLUMN: Wild BIll on Tells

Yesterday, I had a pretty good run. At critical time I utilized some tells and though I didn't turn a profit on those hands, in fact my tournament strategy told me to go against my reads, it did get me thinking about tells, when you should listen to them, and the perils of internet strategy in live play because they don't listen to them.

Rewind to yesterday. I got that warm and fuzzy feeling as my stroked ego told myself, "You are the best poker in the world" as I luckboxed into these 3 hands:

1. Middle set over bottom set. I'll double up thank you. Yes, I'm a genuis not just lucky. It was amazing how I extracted every possible dollar out of that hand (sarcasm alert for those who can't read it).

2. Short stacked and bubble time with two short handed tables left, I got 6-4 in the big blind. SB limps. Flop is A57. I bet out with my draw. He calls. For some reason I'm fairly confident he doesn't have an Ace. Actually I'm sure, he's raised every top pair so maybe he has two high cards or the 7 which I might be able to get him off. Turn is an Ace. I bet again. He calls again. River is 2. He checks, again, I study him and he starts making funny faces. I get almost 2/3rds of my chips together. I ask him how much will he call (egad, strong is weak, weak is strong I might induce a call rather than counter one I subconsciously curse myself). Thankfully, he looks sheepish. I push my tourney life into the pot. He folds, saying, "I was just on a draw." "6-4?" I ask. "Yep." To quote Borat, Niiii-ice, thank god I didn't check the river.

3. A player is all in, I got AK and a medium-stack. Big stack calls. I call. If I push preflop big stack has to call me and has shown a willingness to do so. Flop brings an Ace. He checks. I push. He says quite dismissively, "I was going to just check it down but you did it to yourself." He turns over AJ. My K kicker holds. Suddenly, I'm the tourney chip leader.

Also, though I took some licks early, I didn't get down. I won most of my races and tossed a lot of good hands rightfully into the muck. Yet, even though I got my share of lucky hands I think at pivotol times, tells got me to the final table. Oddly, I'm going to focus on me avoiding hand despite the tells telling me otherwise.

Twice people exhibited the same tell on me as they pushed my tight-aggressive ass around. I knew they were bluffing. First time I had pocket nines but the board was all high cards. I get the "get out of my pot stare" as my opponent puts all my chips at risk. It was a draw heavy board with two diamonds and three overcards to my hand kq10. I laugh at the guy and said I was going to insta-fold until I got the stare then I didn't know what to do. You got 8s or something? Angry glare continued. I folded choosing to wait until another time... even if I was ahead, he probably had a better redraw then me and why put my tournament at risk. All he needed was a 10 and I was behind. He was weak but how weak? Then I go mad at myself that I outed his tell a little bit. He didn't glare at anybody again so I gave out helpful information rahter than harmful.

The next guy used the death stare on me at the critical bubble stage. This time I had pocket 7s in the small blind. He's been card dead and in late middle position and I'm thinking it's about time for him to either make a steal attempt or finally get a hand. He makes an overbet when it's folded to him. Hmmm. It gets to me. I'm pulling a GeneD and working it a little bit, as now there are some shorter stacks at the table, and the blinds are about to go up, so I got some time to deliberate (in fact 1 minute and 30 seconds according to the clock). I'm confident I have the best hand because as I stew, he locks in harder with that glare. Damn, he's definitely weak. Maybe I should go all-in. Then I think about it, maybe he thinks 99s are a vulnerable hand, and he doesn't want to get into a race but he's committed to it. He also might have to make a crying call and I did not know if I had any fold equity at all. As I stew, the more confident I am that he has trash but I can't pull the trigger on the move

Finally, I lay them down. He turns over Q,9. We would have been in a race. I guess he did that to tilt me a little bit, but instead it told me my reads were still good and actually put me at ease. I wasn't at the point where I needed to win races to stay alive or to win the tournament. So making a move with 7s and maybe inducing a dumb call (or a smart one) on his part could have knocked me out of the tournament.

Going back to Firday at the turbo I took down at the IP, there was a very solid player, decked in Crimson Tide apparell (actually you would have though half the players there were on the coaching staffs of Auburn, Alabama, and Ole Miss) who I played with all the way to the final table. He made an interesting comment and his read of a tell was different than mine. He got into a hand with a board that had a lot of danger elements with a weaker player. The flop hit and the weaker player fondled his chips and then hesistantly put them back on his stack and checked. Bama guy eyed him strangely and checked too. The turn hit and the weaker player picked up his min bet started to put it out, pulled it back and then threw it in.

Normally, weak is strong, strong is weak, so this guy must have hit that board right on the nose BUT I didn't give him credit enough to be an actor. My read of that tell was real hesistation and weakness, and I would laid into him with a raise and felt I could have scooped the pot right then and there if I were Bama guy. Sometimes people really throw their chips into the pot like they are fishing or genuinely asking a question. Let's see maybe I'm good? And that's what the guy did in my opinion. At first I thought the Alabama guy was bone dry and giving a speech for nothing or to get a reaction when he said, "You really, REALLY want me to call, huh? All that..." and he motioned toward his chips mimic-ing the weak player's movement postflop. I put that in the bin to think about later.

Is that really such an overt and obvious tell of strength and transparent attempt at weakness? From good players, I've certainly seen them feign their true holding by appearing indecisive, and I did the very same thing yesterday and I'd rate me as an average player, but is that a standard part of a lesser player's reportoire? I thought not. So why would Bama boy think it was definitive and the opposite conclusion of mine?

Later, me and Alabama boy get into a hand, and he was either brilliant or forgetful of the information he had leaked to the table. I had a strong preflop holding (can't remember what), he called my raise (strange because in general we hadn't really crossed swords... I thought it was because there was easier money at the table but maybe it was just timing) the board came out and helped me giving me a straight draw too. He then pulled the exact same chip juggle the novice did to him and pulled it back to check. Sometimes people make that play when they are weak, want to get to the end of the hand as cheaply as possible and want you to think they were almost strong enough to bet. Yet with him, that didn't feel right, so I checked as I'm apt to do when confused.

I went back to the storage bin and stewed on the earilier exhange as the turn card was tabled. Reviewing that, he had made a jibe to the novice when the novice had done the same thing as though it was obvious to him the novice was strong. My logic was this: if that is such an obvious tell to him, even though it can mean different things for different skill levels or actors-vs-nonactors, it must be something that is a part of his arsenal and only signifies one thing. He must use that with a monster. Yet oddly, the only monster I could see was a set, but even that was vulnerable. As the exchange had taken place an hour earlier him banking on me picking up on that and remembering it was kind of slim so I didn't think it was a ruse for me (if it was it was absolutely brilliant on his part). But, then again, the board didn't have any kind of made hands. With so many draws and the relative strength that move seemed to signify with him why wouldn't he protect his holding?

The third heart hit and I said, well if he's got a set let's see how he feels about me representing a flush. I bet and he reraised. Either he had the flush, saw through my steal attempt and sniffed some sort of weakness on my part, or he was playing his set/two pair to showdown. I read him as still strong and I laid down. I also decided I'd try pull the same chip indecision move on him later just to f' with him. I never got the chance.

That's the interesting thing about tells, as a rule there are no rules. A tell on one person can mean a completely different thing on another person, just as one person's read of a tell can be completely different than another's.In all three of those situations, I laid down even though twice I might have had the better hand. In a cash game I probably would have pushed on both the first two guys and taken the pot, yet in a tournament I didn't want to get into that situation with no rebuy. In the third, my gut told me he was strong, so the donkfish that I can be I bet into him with the scare card and he smacked my hand like I was a schoolboy.

Dolye Brunson, is getting some internet juice (and I use the term juice like people use the term heat or abuse), because in a game of high stakes poker he laid down a higher flush to Jaime Gold. Internet players think it's a shining example of the passivity and unsound thinking of the old school. Long run, they argue he wins more money by playing that hand out, BUT what they fail to take into account is Doyle had a read on Jaime, the right read in fact, that Gold thought his hand was not only good but best. Here Jaime didn't know any better and Doyle has to give the guy credit for King or Ace high flush (0r whatever the two higher flushes out there were as I think the A or K were on the board) because he got such a read of strength. Plus, Jaime just won a main event a year ago, why would he think a mid flush is the nuts? Can't fault Doyle for giving the guy too much credit.

Well, they argue since Doyle was wrong what good did his read do if he laid down the better hand, in fact, he laid down an unbeatable hand versus Jaime's. How quickly they forget last year's horse championship. Doyle laid down pocket Kings (or Queens) preflop to Chip Reese. Andy Bloch (pseudo-voice of the new breed though you could argue he 's more old school then new except for his math foundation) was incredulous. No way Doyle laid down Kings he said. TJ Cloutier, another old-timer, rightfully said, "He did if he thought he was beat." Dolye had a tell on Reese, probably decades of playing with the guy and his betting patterns moreso than a physical one, and got rid of his inferior holding. To a guy like Bloch, who incidentally wrote a slim book Poker Tells for Dummies (which is for Dummies and vastly inferior to twenty other books out there on th same subject), folding that hand long run has such a negative expected value (or e.v.) that he can't comprehend Doyle laying it down.

Now, where were the internet players on this one? Doyle laid down the second best possible starting hand which is even better than the third nuts he had vs. Gold. Yet, instead of praising the old school this is overlooked. If you are results oriented like in the first hand the result was the right play, but since it doesn't fit into their pre-established conclusions about the old school it's not referenced.

I know I'm a little bit all over the place with this post, but these things somewhat tie together. I feel the new school gets into a brick and mortar casino and ignore short term information a little too much based on their internet schooling. On the internet, when you have six tables going at once and you can play 5 times faster at each table it should all be about e.v. I get that. If you bust out of one tournament, so what, you are also playing in 5 others at the same time. Making correct e.v. decisions wins you money long run and long run on the internet is a much shorter time period than long run live. So when an internet player watches a live game with somebody like Doyle laying down third nuts and cites e.v. dictates that's a bad play, their thinking is somewhat sound but they are also wrong.

You hear people tout how live poker is just one long game. And you should make as many positive e.v. moves as possible and long run you'll win more than you lose. That's true. And it's not. Poker is also a short run game, and you can only sit at one table at a time, and for the most part only play one tournament at a time. You may not have the bankroll to attack every tournament in a way that will give you deeper cashes more oftern and you may have to play just to survive every hand. Even some pros to a degree take this mindset. Take a guy, a nit like Chris Ferguson, who utilizes the math to make his decisions but incorporates all kinds of reads into a intangible decision making matrix.

I'm not claiming that Internet players don't use tells when they play live (though they certainly give away a lot of free information) or use them to help their games BUT when the groupthink is that Dolye made a bad laydown based on e.v. they clearly don't understand that experience factors into a live players e.v. a lot more than they realize. In fact, those haters are completely backasswards on this one. It's definitely positive e.v. for Dolye to make those kinds of laydowns even if in shortrun he lost with it, because long run when he gets that read of strength on someone he's beat more often then not. Even if the math says shove it in, it takes a special kind of player to go, you know what, I'm behind I have to lay down. And sometimes, like Doyle, and like I might have been in the third example, you are wrong or simply outplayed, but if more often than not (positive e.v. in a nutshell) you are profitable using this in your game you should do it.

What's the conclusion to this scrambled post. Tells are good but like poker itself are purely situational. Sometimes situations dictate you ignore them, sometimes situations dictate you oblige them even if everything else tells you to ingore them, and sometimes they can save you money when all other things are equal. Tells are a difficult to calculate part of a live player's e.v. and an overlooked part of a internet player's limited view of live strategy.

Wow, you read all that for that little nugget of genuis "Tells are good" (yeah, that's sarcasm too)? I guess my point is that players like myself that are struggling to go up to the next level have to be aware of the importance of utilizing every piece of information and false information, the pyschology and motivation behind them, and be on the look out for this at all times. To me, the internet game misses the complexity and deeper levelled thinking false tells, real tells, and silent information affords you in live play. In fact, as a live player I think your profit or long run e.v. is most influenced be your ability to read people. So read some books away from table, as long as they aren't written by Andy Bloch, and start paying attention at the table and stop the book reading at it.

Comments

Kevin G. said…
Good article Bill. And thanks for the compliment on the site.

You know as much as anyone how much time and energy goes into a website.

Keep up the good work!

Kevin

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