The Internet generation of poker players has mixed feelings about live tells. Nobody would claim that they don’t exist or that it isn’t worth looking for them, but most online players are predominately concerned with ranges, math and betting patterns instead of blinks, twitches and hand movement.
There are a few specific tells I search for when I’m scanning an opponent. But really, I’m looking for and asking myself one thing: Does my opponent seem comfortable? And every now and then, the question becomes: Does my opponent seem way too comfortable?
Like no other big-money poker tournaments, the World Series of Poker attracts a huge swarm of recreational and inexperienced players. Many of these players aren’t especially conscious about disguising their body language, and sometimes they give away enough that you can confidently alter your usual plan.
There are a few specific clues you can scan for: glancing quickly at chips when the flop is fanned, an adjustment or rigidness in posture, pulling closer to the table after looking at cards, or even reaching for chips before the action gets to them. It’s remarkable how unaware people often are about what they communicate nonverbally. Some are so obvious, they might as well text us professionals their hole cards and save everyone’s time.
I was playing a $1,500 no-limit event at the WSOP this summer, and with 8,000 in chips and 100-200 blinds, a tight opponent made a raise to 450 from middle position. I called with Ac Jd on the cutoff, and the button and big blind both called behind me.
The flop came Ks 10h 8c, and all four of us checked.
When the turn brought the Qd, I made the nut straight. After the big-blind checked, the initial raiser bet 600. I raised to 1,800 behind him, and after the button and big blind folded, the raiser called.
The river brought an unfortunate Qs, and my opponent nearly jumped out of his chair when it landed. Within seconds he announced that he was all in and slid his chips into the middle. As I looked him over, he was basically dancing in his chair, and he made some speech suggesting that, “maybe I acted too fast.” He didn’t look comfortable so much as ecstatic, and my ace-high straight started shriveling up.
Even without my opponent’s physical cues, this was probably a spot where I should release my hand, since most players don’t jam the river with trips or J-9, but I still wanted to take a moment to think things over. And with my opponent practically celebrating a pot he hadn’t even won yet, I decided that my hand couldn’t be good and threw my cards toward the muck.
My opponent was giddy as he stacked up the chips from the pot. I knew he probably wouldn’t be able to contain himself for long, so I pretended to stare into my phone while I listened to the conversation on the other side of the table. Eventually, another player asked him if he “had it.”
“Only if having it is flopping top set!” he replied excitedly, and in a tone that was much too loud for an eavesdropping professional to miss.
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of “Raw Deal” on World Poker Tour telecasts.