Have you ever wondered just how professional poker players make reads on their opponents that seem to be genius, but not entirely explicable?
Every time we watch a hand live or on TV where we see one of the game's best players do just that, we always want to know more.
This time we caught up with Daniel Negreanu and asked how he made Angel Shlomi lay down the best hand at EPT London.
Negreanu's Jedi Mind Trick
People have referred to this particular hand as Negreanu pulling off a “Jedi Mind Trick." Not only did he read his opponent correctly, he also managed to make him throw away the best hand.
How did he do that?
Daniel Negreanu: The first thing is that he raised under the gun very big. I knew he wasn’t a professional player and usually players like him are scared so they like to bet big with big hands.
I had ten-nine suited which is a hand that plays very well against big hands, so I try to trap with these kinds of hands. I want to go for the big ones.
The flop comes nine high and he makes a big, pot-size bet on the flop. He wants to take it down right there.
But what I like about the flop is that there are flush and straight draws. So now I’m using my image, as people know I play all kinds of crazy cards.
I might try to represent one of the draws. I might catch another nine or ten to get all of his chips. Or I might be able to bluff him.
But right off the flop bet I think he has aces or kings. Maybe 10% of the time he could have ace king, but I don’t think he would bet that big on the flop with ace king.
I call his bet on the flop and on the turn he makes a critical mistake. There’s a queen on the turn and now he bets 2,175 into a pot of 4,600, which is a little less than half the pot.
I don’t think he would make that bet size with ace-queen, but even if he did, who cares? Now there are even more scare cards for him that could come on the river.Play Online with Daniel Now!
He looked at me and I could see he was nervous. But it was a different kind of nervous. He didn’t look like he wondered if he had the best hand or like he was bluffing.
He looked nervous like he was thinking 'please fold. I only have a pair, so please fold.' So everything he did confirmed my idea that I had him on aces or kings from very early on.
PL: Did you feel he was getting more and more uncomfortable because he didn’t really want to play you?
DN: Yes. That’s why amateur players like him bet so big. That’s why he bet so big on the flop. He was scared.
That’s also why he bet smaller on the turn. Had he bet the pot again on the turn, I would have folded. I’d have had to for mathematical reasons.
So now the eight comes on the river. He bets small again and that opens a door for me. I know he doesn’t have three queens and I know he doesn’t have a straight.
His best hands are aces or kings. But the way I played the hand I could represent 6-7, or ten-jack of spades, several hands that would beat him.
So I’m certain he has aces or kings, so if I now raise him he has to give me credit for something. I called the flop, I called the turn, he has to ask himself 'what I could be bluffing with?'
And that’s why I raised.
PL: The unique thing about this hand is that you wait for a couple of seconds and then you ask the floorman if you can talk about his hand. Had Shlomi just snap-called you would have lost, and it was big raise. How do you know you can wait that long and where do you get the nerve from?
DN: Well, I noticed he was a thinking player. On the river I saw he was thinking about making the call so I wanted to discourage him from doing it.
One of the ways I discourage people is by telling them they have aces or kings. If I tell you what you have, what else does that tell you?
PL: It tells me that my hand is beat.
DN: If I put you on the hand you have and still raise, it must be a value bet, right? I waited for a couple of seconds as I didn’t want to make that move with the floorman too quickly.
Typically, players like him take 20 seconds at least to make that decision. At least! (laughs) But when you let them think too long, they are better at it than when you’re talking to them. So I start talking.
It doesn’t matter what I’m talking about. If you’re doing math, and I’m talking about the weather, it’ll still disturb and confuse you. I don’t want you to focus any more on the hand; I want you to focus on what I’m saying and I’m saying that you have aces or kings.
So now he stops thinking about it and gets scared because he knows that I know what he has. And then he does what scared people do – fold. (laughs)
PL: How do you approach live reads in general?
DN: Every situation is different but it’s a combination of bet sizes, expressions and body language. What I typically look for is something different or unique and then I hope to see the hand they were doing it with.
If someone’s bluffing, and I see them go for a big swig of water during the hand, I’ll try to find out if the next time he’s bluffing he does it again.
I look at the way their eyes move when they check, the speed in which they bet, also how far their arm extends, sometimes.
Some players stretch out their arms in a hand as if to say “go away." It usually indicates weakness, but they don’t realize it. And if they have a really good hand they sit there and bet very calm, very softly.
There is also something in the direction they put the chips in. If they move the chips in my direction, it looks like they’re not afraid, but if they move them more to the side, it looks like they don’t want you to touch them.
Of course, really good players understand all these differences and they’ll try to mess with you head. It’s your job to figure it out.
PL: Has the significance of tells changed in the near past? It seems like people don’t pay a lot of attention to them anymore.
DN: That’s because they’re not good at it. Young players who come from the online world know their numbers, they know betting patterns, but they don’t even look at each other anymore.
They come to these tournaments with millions of hands of experience online but with almost zero live experience. They don’t have these thousands of hours of looking at people and observing them as I have.
I might notice something particular that you do when you’re bluffing and later see someone else do the same thing, Maybe that means something. Maybe it means the same thing. It doesn’t necessarily have to, but it might.
The young players don’t notice that. The experience gives you the edge between being pretty good and very good.
PL: With this mixture of individual tells and more universal body language, is it possible to categorize tells?
DN: it is possible, because some signs are just more likely to mean a certain thing. Raising an elbow is usually a sign of aggression beyond poker.
Players who’re bluffing often try not to bring any attention to themselves. The body stiffens, they don’t move.
When they’re comfortable, they behave differently. Of course, there are also reverse tells. Players who are aware of this will try to look very comfortable when they’re bluffing.
PL: What’s more important – tells or the board?
DN: Both are important. I have a book with me at tournaments. My personal book of player tells. I take plenty of notes on different players.
I’ll show you a simple one without telling you who it is. So here, Andrew Pantling – “doesn’t blink as much when he’s weak." Or this guy: “Loud sniff before he’s betting. Get him to crack a smile, and if he does, he probably has it.”
Another one: “When bluffing, he announces bet like a question.” I try to have lots of notes on players so that when I play with them, I can look them up. A lot of them play the high roller events of the EPTs.
PL: Thank you very much!
Watch the video of this iconic hand here: