Ever wonder how great poker players know when to make big moves or perfect laydowns?
A lot of times it comes down to a specific live read (or tell) discovered over hours at the table.
In a new ongoing feature series we'll talk to some of the game's most renowned pros to see how they develop those reads and then trust them to make the big play at the right time.
Best Poker Tournament Performance Yet?
In 2011 Chris Moneymaker went very deep in the PCA main event, eventually finishing in 11th place out of 1,560 players.
It was probably his best tournament performance until that point. On Day 4 Moneymaker spent many hours at the same table with eventual runner-up Chris “Imdanuts” Oliver.
Oliver had played hyper-aggressively -“80% of his hands” (Moneymaker) - but the champ had got the better of it for most of the day.
Going into Day 4 Moneymaker remarked that he had a read on Oliver. After he’d picked off several of Oliver’s bluffs a remarkable hand unfolded. Watch the EPT live coverage here:
"I Look at Details"
“The thing is, on TV, you don’t see what’s happening all the time. Oliver was dominating the table.
“He was in almost every single hand.
"He was three- and four-betting, I remember one hand he was five-betting with 4-8 and got there.
“I understood quickly that this was the guy I had to pay attention to.
"Right away I picked something up when he looked at his cards out of turn.
“I saw his demeanor change depending on the action in front of him or if there was any action. His demeanor also changed when the flop came out, depending on if he had hit something.
"The way he bet was changing, too. These changes are all very subtle. The way he moved his hand when he put the chips in, breathing patterns, it was almost like the aura around him would vary.
“When I look at a player like Chris who plays so many hands, I look at his card checking frequency, I look at his gaze, I look at details.
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"There was for example a correlation between him checking his cards and hitting the flop.”
"I Often Watch People More Than I Watch the Game”
“Finding a tell on someone is a process that I go through. It’s not a single thing.
"It begins with research. I would look for maybe the most active player at the table or someone who’s very animated.
“I would then check if they have a particularly high card apex, the way they look at their cards, the times they look at their cards.
“If they do something particular that I can identify I’m going to study that immediately to see if something changes.
“A typical example would be that a player always looks at his cards for three seconds, but when they get a very good hand, they only look at them for one second, put them down and don’t look at them again.
“But it’s individual. Other players look at their cards over and over again when they get a strong hand.
"Or they do the fake check of their hand if a four flush is on the board to see if they have for example a heart, although they know they have two.
“If I’m lucky enough to see their hand afterwards, I’ll remember that they did that check and then I’ll piece this together with the breathing patterns, the blink rate and so on.
"I often watch people more than I watch the game.”
"Most of the Time it Leads to More Chips"
“Another example – card protectors. Many players like to use them and in a tournament they almost subconsciously will use their card protectors every single hand.
"But three hours later they’ve gotten lazy, and they’re not using it anymore, and when they look at their cards out of turn you can see they want to fold before it even gets to them.
“Some players move their cards two inches closer to them, some move them a little further away, all these are hints that I’m making mental notes of to use for future reference.
“I often pay more attention to this kind of stuff than I do to board textures. I do focus a lot on betting patterns but that’s sort of second nature to me now.
"But the mannerisms of people are unique, and they always mean something.
“In the beginning of a tournament you might be making sure that you do everything the same every hand, but hours into a tournament you get slack.
"Things start to show. You’re doing things you’re not consciously aware of. When I teach players I tell them what I saw them doing and they often are completely astounded, as suddenly it has become so obvious.
“In today’s game many players think that tells are overrated, they don’t believe in them anymore. Especially people who come from online poker think tells are overrated and you can’t really get any good information anymore.
“I disagree, and sometimes I’m wrong and I look like an idiot. Most of the time it leads to more chips.”
How to Lay Down Top Pair against Chris Oliver
In the hand in question Chris Oliver raises with 7-5 UTG and Moneymaker calls with Q-J in the big blind. The flop is a setup: J-7-5.
“I could see pre-flop that he had a marginal hand, but one that might play well. I thought that he didn’t have a super-strong hand, but although his range is large, he doesn’t have to have garbage here.
“On the flop he did something that set my alarm bells off and I sensed that something wasn’t right.
"He made a relatively small bet on the flop, which I call, because I can’t just go away to a single bet when I flop top pair against this type of player.
“I wasn’t overly comfortable but we were very deep, so I had to see another card. Chris Oliver can very well have J-5 or J-7 here.
“Other players would only have pocket fives or pocket sevens here but a dangerous player like Chris has these six extra combinations in his range.
“I certainly felt he hit the flop and I was literally guessing if he hit it better than me.
"The turn bet was more than double the size of that so I knew I’d be faced with a +500k river bet and would have to pay that, too.
“I wasn’t sure that he had me beat but I was thinking that his range of hands in this spot was stronger than my range.
"There were so many hands in his range that beat me that in the end I thought there will be better spots for me where I can take his chips.
“The table broke later that day and I didn’t see Chris again. I busted to Galen Hall because I misread him for his hand and called him down with the worst hand.
“I had 11 big spots like this in that tournament, and I made 10 correct decisions and one wrong. That one cost me the tournament.”