Conversations At The Felt

19 June 2008, Created By:
When you play poker are you listening? Sure you hear all sorts of noises, but are you really listening to them? I'm not talking about the snippets of banter you might overhear at the table. Often these are enlightening or amusing entities in themselves and the great conversations you hear round the felt definitely merit an article all of their own.

"Ah wuz plehyin with that thur Barry Negragnoo guy last year an ah MAADE him laaay down! he jest cerdn't fand tha cojones ta cowl!"

"Cool, what did you have! A draw, a semi bluff?"

"nooooo, ah had meself tha nuts...quaaad Aces!"

"very well played"

No, instead I'm bringing the focus round to how people communicate in poker through the way they play their cards.

Not the pulsing of the vein in the neck to indicate they have aces, the twitching of their leg giving themselves away as bluffing, or the aggressive way they slammed a raise down suggesting they don't want action.

Rather, I want to suggest the way in which people bet, the amounts they use and the overall effect of the action is actually a latent conversation in progress.

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Take a very plain and simple example.


It's $50 $100 blinds early in an online NLHE MTT. We're at a full handed table, everyone has over $4,000 chips.


A middle position player opens for $300. The cut-off smooth calls.

The small blind re-raises to $1,100. Folded to the initial raiser, he now shoves for $4,000.

The cut-off folds. The small blind tanks...


This is a plausible scenario, probably recognizable to any players who have been playing poker for a while.

But what are these players really saying? Let's break it down.

When the middle position player raises to $300, they are actually telling you something.

They are saying something like:

"I have a good hand, I am winning, you should all go away!"

The cut-off doesn't take this advice however opting to call the $300. This piece of conversation can be interpreted in different ways, but the most likely meaning behind it is...

"I hear what you're saying, but you know what, I'm not sure you do have the best hand! My hand's ok too. I think I might be ahead. Let's see a flop first though."

Now the small blind has watched this conversation play out. Unfazed by the clatter of the chips, he elects to pop it up to $1100, despite being out of position.

His hidden addition to the conversation no doubt runs something like this.

"Listen up guys, I hate to break into your little discussion, but I've got something to say myself! My hand is almost certainly better than ours. How about you do yourselves a favour and skedaddle before you get ourselves in trouble. Vamoose, you hear vamoose!!"

Back to the initial raiser who now shoves all-in.

"Now I don't know if you guys were listening but I do have a damn hand! I told you, you muppets but you didn't listen and now you're paying the penalty. I wasn't lying, my hand's damn good and I'm willing to go the felt with it so you can kiss my **** and pay up if you want to carry on, you screaming bunch of mofos!"

The cut-off folds.

"Er, well, you see I thought maybe you were er lying and er stuff but I guess that maybe my hand isn't quite as good as I thought. Er, like fair enough dude. I'm out of here!"

The small blind tanks.

"Wow, I like my hand. Fair play I didn't believe you at first but now I do. I don't like my hand as much now but I don't know if I can get away from it. I mean it's a toughie. Argh! You s-o-b! Why couldn't you just have folded. You suck! I want to cry!"


When you look at the betting patterns this is feasibly the thought processes and communications each player is making. Once you have an idea as to the thought processes, putting them on a range should be made a little easier.

What does the initial raiser have?

In this situation, I would suggest the intial raiser has QQ+, AK. It is a tight range but he has put in 40 big blinds after multiple action and that will normally be the case.

The betting he has gone through, opening from middle position and 3 bet shoving after being flatted and re-raised would suggest a monster in the hands of a normal player, thus QQ+, AK seems reasonable. Looser players will have a wider range here but as a default it is likely.

The cut-off?

Well, he's flat called a 3xBB raise in position. I think we can say his hand isn't great but may be ok. Something like a set-mining pocket pair, most likely 22-99 or a reasonable Ace or King: A-T, A-J, K-Q, K-J are quite likely hands. Again the looser the player the looser this range and of course very tight players might have even tighter ranges than this but again it seems a fair assumption.

The small blind?

He's re-raised out of position indicating strength although not unfeasibly he could be squeezing with a weaker hand. Assuming he isn't squeezing, and obviously you should give more credibility to this, depending on how active he is, the re-raise and then tank when he is shoved on, would suggest a hand like TT-QQ is likely.

There are more hands possible but I would feel his range is very likely geared toward this fairly narrow band of strong hands based on the action.

In the next installment of this, I want to show how making sure your conversations are logical and coherent is a key ingredient when bluffing.

People often see Matusow or the latest superstar pull off some big bluff on ESPN shoving their chips into the middle but I think sometimes it goes unappreciated the factors involved in how they pulled off this bluff and made it work.

The best players have set up the groundwork for bluffs like this over many hands, and especially by weaving a beleivable tale in the hand they are playing, and by listening to the conversations going on at the table.

The next time you play, try and tap into these conversations and see if it can help you put people on hands and make the right folds, calls and raises. You might be surprised at the results!



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