Zach Elwood Takes on Verbal Tells in New Book

Guy Laliberte and Brandon Steven
The talkative Guy Laliberte is a frequent subject of Zach Elwood's new book.

Zach Elwood is writing a sequel to his critically acclaimed Reading Poker Tells and this time around it’s all about verbal tells.

Poker tells are considered one of the most misunderstood elements of live poker and Reading Poker Tells provided an in-depth and practical way to use them in real-life situations.

Mason Malmuth, Jon Aguiar and Amir Lehavot are amongst the many poker personalities who have heaped praise on Elwood’s debut book.

That’s why it’s exciting that Elwood will soon release another book on the topic, except with a focus on verbal tells.

We talked to Elwood about the response to Reading Poker Tells and what he wanted to accomplish with his next book.

PokerListings: Can you talk a bit about reaction to your first book and why you decided to write a book about verbal tells?

Verbal Poker Tells
Rough cover art for Verbal Poker Tells.

Zach Elwood: A lot of people really liked the book. I even got a lot of good quotes on it from experienced, professional players, which was great. I was confident in the book’s content but still wasn’t sure if anyone would care about it.

The positive reception to Reading Poker Tells definitely made me consider writing another book. But I knew I wasn’t going to write another book unless I had something really new and interesting to say. I got the idea for a book on verbal tells about a year ago.

It was something that I realized hadn’t been talked much about in detail; just a few people would occasionally mention some obvious pattern or another. But nobody had ever really focused on it.

PL: What can people expect from the new book?

The new book basically breaks down the major patterns of how people talk; what their motivations are, how they might try to deceive, why they might tell the truth, things like that.

In researching the book I studied and took notes on a lot of televised poker hands, hands I played, and hands some poker acquaintances would send me. So the book has a lot of hand histories featuring verbal behavior, which I think people will like reading, apart from my analysis.

PL: Do you have a favourite verbal tell?

I don’t know about favorite, but I do like when I can figure out the intent behind a purposefully deceptive statement and make a good call or fold. A lot of this has to do with determining what a player is saying about his own hand strength when he talks; this could be very subtle. A lot of it has to do with what direction they seem to be subtly leading you toward.

For example, in a $1-2 NLHE game recently I bet the turn and river with 7 5 on a board of 5 5 6 8 T. On the river, my opponent raised me. From how the hand went down, I couldn’t put him on a hand that made sense and I was leaning towards a call. Then I asked, “Do you have a five?” He said, “No.” The fact that he’s willing to remove a strong hand from his range makes it very unlikely he’s bluffing. If he were bluffing, or was vulnerable in any way, he’d want to avoid making what I call a weak-hand statement. I’m very confident in this pattern, so I folded.

He showed 74o, which was a very unlikely hand for him to have considering he’d called under-the-gun.

PL: What's the most basic thing that people get wrong about verbal tells?

Reading Poker Tells Elwood Zachary 280x385.1352178973
Zach Elwood's original Reading Poker Tells.

I think there’s mostly a lot of just simple ideas about verbal behaviors that most people have. Ideas like “if he’s talking when he bets, he has it” or “if a player’s usually talkative and then silent when he bets, he’s probably bluffing.”

I don’t think there’s a wide knowledge of how subtle a lot of information can be, or all the factors that can influence verbal behavior. For example, some factors affecting verbal behavior can be board texture, what street it is, how much money is behind, and whether or not the player was prompted to speak by an opponent. I think my book will, at the very least, clue people in to how complex behavior is, and prevent people from drawing faulty conclusions about opponent speech.

PL: Has anything surprised you about verbal tells while doing research for the book?

Yeah, for sure. I actually started out thinking I knew most of what I would put in the book, that it was just a matter of collecting it and looking for known patterns. Not that I think I’m super experienced or the best person for the job, but I just thought there wasn’t a whole lot to say.

But as I kept taking more notes and logging more similar verbal behavior, I started noticing more patterns that weren’t obvious. Some of them seem obvious in hindsight but they were far from obvious at the start. For example: it’s very unlikely for a bluffer to make a weak-hand statement—a statement that weakens his hand range in any way.

When you really think about what that means, it can clue you in to a lot of statements, some of them very subtle, and give you great information. The example earlier is one example but there are many others.

PL: The new book isn't out yet but has the process been easier considering what you learned from Reading Poker Tells?

Oh, a lot easier. I learned so much writing and self-publishing the first book. I learned a lot about how to structure the project to save time and prevent headaches later.

PL: Reading Poker Tells seems pretty universally liked. Was it weird getting praise from really well-known poker players? Was it nice to get that validation? 

It was weird, considering I didn’t know what to expect. It definitely made me feel good hearing that players I respected liked it. I was confident in the book but wasn’t sure if really experienced players would find it useful. I’ve had several experienced players tell me they really liked the organization of the book and that the organization and categorizations I used helped them to better understand behavior.

I think a lot of people just liked my writing style, too. I think that was a big part of it. I think I’m pretty good at writing and expressing ideas that might be hard for some people to put into words. I know I’m not the most experienced poker player and also know there are players who are much better instinctually at reading people. So my writing style I think was a big part of the success.

PL: When does the new book drop and how can people get it?

My goal is to have it available for sale by, at the latest, June 1st, 2014. It will probably be available earlier than that but that’s the deadline I’ve set myself.

To keep tabs on Zach Elwood's new book be sure to check the Reading Poker Tells website.

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