Zachary Elwood has quietly built a near monopoly on poker tells strategy.
The author of Reading Poker Tells and Verbal Poker Tells recently added an online component to his poker tells portfolio with a poker tells video training series.
He was kind enough to give us a preview of one particular section that discusses what pre-flop talking, laughing and smiling can sometimes mean at the poker table.
By Zachary Elwood
This article describes a general behavioral pattern of many amateur players and shows some clips taken from my video courses. The videos feature real poker footage from Chicago’s Windy City Poker Championships, both cash games and tournaments.
Pre-flop, players with strong hands usually have a few reasons to be on the more stoic and silent side. These reasons are:
With strong hands, players are more focused on thinking about the situation and their opponents.
They want to maximize their value and think about the best way to play the hand. (Players with weaker hands don’t have this same motivation.)
With strong hands, players also don’t like to draw attention to themselves. There is an instinct to seem inconspicuous and this usually results in more normal, stoic behavior.
Similar to the last reason players with strong hands, when the pot is small, are anxious about building a pot. They don’t want to “waste” a good hand by accidentally scaring an opponent off.
For all of these reasons, early-hand ostentatious behavior such as talking, laughing and smiling, will usually be from players with weaker hands.
Keying into a specific player’s behavior -- and noticing that they may be more likely to engage in these behaviors with weaker hands -- can help you in various ways.
You might decide to raise an opponent lighter than usual or to call with lighter holdings than you normally would.
Below is a video showing a few examples of these kinds of ostentatious pre-flop raiser behaviors. The video is a compilation of clips taken from my poker tells video series.
Ostentatious Behaviors Make AA Less Likely
These types of ostentatious behaviors are actually more valuable when seen from pre-flop non-aggressors (i.e., callers and checkers) than they are from aggressors.
Ostentatious behaviors from pre-flop raisers are mainly only useful for making AA and KK, maybe QQ, less likely. This is because with most other hands, even strong hands like JJ and AK, players are pretty ambivalent.
The flop will mainly define their hand strength. This means that it’s primarily AA and KK that these players wouldn’t act ostentatiously with. Whereas players facing a raise and holding hands like JJ, TT, AK, and AQ, will usually have a decision to make.
Most players with these hands will be thinking something like, “Should I raise here? Should I just call? Should I maybe fold?” They will have decisions, and this thought process will make them more silent and thoughtful and less ostentatious in their behavior.
For these reasons behaviors such as talking, laughing and smiling are more useful for discounting (i.e., making less likely) a wider variety of strong hands. For example, when one player raises and another player calls behind him pretty quickly while muttering something and laughing, it’s become unlikely that the muttering/laughing player has hands like TT+, AK, and AQ.
With these hands it’s probable he’d be more thoughtful about the situation, and hence more stoic, even if he decided to just call.
Below let’s watch some clips, taken from my video series, showing some examples of talking, laughing and smiling from early-hand non-aggressors. These early-hand concepts also apply on the flop, too, so I’ve included a few flop situations.
Poker Tell Patterns Hold True for Amateurs
A final warning about these behaviors: these are just general behavioral patterns. While they are generally true for a lot of players, they will mostly come in handy when you notice it to hold true for specific players.
In other words you should have some reason to trust these patterns for specific players before basing a big decision on them. And, as with most tell information, these patterns will mainly hold true for more amateur and inexperienced players.
The more experienced a player is the more likely it becomes that they will be more well-balanced (doing these behaviors with both strong and weak hands) or tricky (reversing common expectations).
Zachary Elwood is the author of the books Reading Poker Tells and Verbal Poker Tells. You can learn more about his video series at www.readingpokertells.com.