A lot is made of being able to read and catch your opponent when he is on a monster bluff, or trying to induce a heavy call while holding the nuts.
What's seldom given much attention is being able to make the lighter reads - the ones in the softer spots, when not as much is on the line, but valuable information is up for grabs.
Today's Top 5 list will focus on what I like to call the soft tells of live poker. These tells are particularly valuable in ring games, where you play against the same opponent for a lengthy amount of time and the blinds do not increase.
5) Big blind peek. In a standard live ring game you should make a habit of casually observing the player positioned on the big blind - especially when you're sitting in the small blind position.
A surprising number of inexperienced or impatient players will peek at the cards almost as soon as they've left the dealer's hands.
Whenever you spot this, you need to make a conscious effort to gain as much information from this player before the action turns to him. Be sure not to let him notice that you are spying on him like a safari animal, because eventually even the wildebeest learns he has become the hunted.
If this player has any serious interest in participating in this hand, then he is likely to let this be known through inadvertent body language. Since he is last to act, there will be plenty of time to get a read on his demeanor.
If there are few (or no) limpers and it is your turn to act in the small blind, you can either raise knowing that he seems displeased with his hand, or get out cheaply if you've noticed him tying on his poker dancing shoes getting ready to tango. This information can earn or save you many chips.
4) Sit slanting. This soft tell is also easy to pick off before the flop. Players who suddenly awaken and lean forward after seeing their hole cards are most often getting ready for action and preparing themselves for battle.
Unless you have a big hand or a strong read on your opponent's overall game, it may be a good time to lay down your small pair or weak-kicking aces that you may otherwise have wanted to play.
3) Bouncy eyes on board. Make a habit of watching your opponent's eyes on every street when he looks at the board. The quantity of eye shifting is often staggering to a level that would concern even Three-Card Monty hustlers.
With practice, you'll be able to decipher just how likely it is your opponent is looking to fill in his gut-shot straight or how concerned he is that the third heart just fell on the turn. Remember: watch them while they are not watching you.
2) Rack stacker and castle builder. There are three things to pick up on here. The first thing has become less common recently. In fact, National Geographic has recently reported it on its endangered species list.
With the increase in skill and experience in most poker rooms during the poker boom, when you see this soft tell, your eyes should light up. I am speaking of the elusive awkward chip-rack dissembler. These players display unnecessarily sloppy transitions dismounting their chips from the rack to the felt.
New players often do not even realize that this is a costly tell. Beware the bamboozler who fakes this move, and also the Internet pro who is unfamiliar with live games.
The second soft tell in this category is when a player grabs a rack and is clearly preparing to leave the table. He may be fond of round numbers and does not want to risk a late hit when he can already smell the cash in the cashier cage.
If you see this you can attempt to isolate this player or induce an easy fold. Again, beware any participation from this player because it most likely means he has two cards he's quite fond of.
Lastly, pay special attention to the player who's trying to stack the goodies from a monster pot he just took down and who hasn't had a chance to look at his cards on the next hand.
The balloons and confetti are still popping off in his head so his actions, should he decide to call or raise (once he finds his cards in his ocean of chips), may be difficult to accurately pinpoint. It may take a few extra minutes for his tendencies to return to normal.
Don't get caught in the party and the afterburn of a heater.
1) Frisbee toss. The easiest of the soft tells to spot. This is a beauty of a tell that can win you pots with busted draws and bottom pairs, as well as help to scoop the blinds from a disinterested big blind (see #5).
The Frisbee toss soft tell is when your opponent is so anxious to chuck his cards into the muck that he has his barrel cocked and loaded to fire.
For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone can be oblivious to these behaviors, but they do happen, so look for them and prevent yourself from accidentally displaying them.
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