Drinking your own urine and playing poker

When it comes to poker, I have a very Eastern philosophy. Some people think that getting better at poker is all about studying hand histories and opponent’s “ranges” and things like that. That’s part of getting better, sure, but there’s only so far such dedicated, logical study can take you.

Over the years I’ve experimented with transcendental meditation, hypnotherapy, yoga, asceticism, “contemplation of the horrible”, tantric sex, and organic juice fasts. Some of these admittedly had more application to poker than others. But I think all of them added to my strength and success as a well-rounded poker player today.

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Review of Ed Miller’s book Playing The Player

I wrote a book review of Ed Miller’s 2012 book Playing the Player, which you can read here: http://www.readingpokertells.com/review-of-playing-the-player-by-ed-miller 

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Poker trip to Los Angeles, observing verbal behavior

I spent a week in L.A. at the end of February, playing poker and appearing in a couple episodes of the live-streaming poker show Live at the Bike. I played primarily $5-5 and $5-10 NLHE cash games. I haven’t played much at all in the last few years, so it was an interesting and educational trip, getting back into playing all the time and seeing how people were playing at these stakes.

I’d also never played in Los Angeles at all. I’d played for a week once in San Francisco but had never been to the most famous California cardrooms: the Bicycle Casino and the Commerce Casino.

During the time I was there, the LAPC (Los Angeles Poker Classic) was going on, so the games were much better than usual, because the LAPC attracted a lot of amateur action. I kind of wish I’d gone at a different, more normal time, because I was really curious what the L.A. games were like at a more normal time.

Because I’m in the process of finalizing my book on verbal tells, I took a lot of notes on any interesting verbal behavior people had when I played. One of the reasons for taking a trip down there was to see if a lot of the stuff I’ve written in my book over the last few months held up pretty well in practice. The following hands are a few of the more interesting spots where people said something that seemed to give valuable information about their hands. (I have a few more and might write a second post.) Remember that these patterns will mainly be useful for players you’ve already pegged as recreational and “non-tricky”. (Also, if you plan on going to L.A. to play poker, I recommend AirBNB for renting some fairly cheap rooms, as long as you don’t mind sharing a space with roommates. I found a place a few minutes from the Bike and Commerce.)

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Played embarrassingly bad on Live At The Bike $5-10 NLHE

I played $1-3 PLO last Tuesday on Live At The Bike and then $5-10 NLHE last night. I got made fun of for my PLO play, which I didn’t care about because I hadn’t played PLO in six years and was never very good at it.

Last night, though, I was very embarrassed by my play. I played really horribly. (Here’s the LATB website; you have to pay a monthly membership fee to see old episodes.) A bit of it was due to my anxiety and a bit of it was due to drinking a couple glasses of red wine on an empty stomach. I’d also taken some Lorazepam for my anxiety, which I shouldn’t have been mixing with alcohol. Looking back, I’m pretty angry at myself for drinking, considering how harshly I knew I’d probably be judged for not playing well. To be honest, at the time I found it tempting to drink to quell my nerves and also because everyone else was drinking wine provided by the hosts, so part of it was just me wanting to fit in socially.

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$1-2 NLHE: immediate bet-timing affects player’s hand range

This is a hand from a $1-2 NLHE game. This hand is interesting because of the villain’s turn bet-timing, and how it affected the way I perceived his hand range.

Villain in this hand is a maybe 26-year-old guy who I’ve played maybe 16 hours with total in my memory, spread out over the course of a year. I’d played some $2-5 with him, too. My perception of him was that he liked to raise a lot pre-flop and see a lot of flops, but his play after the flop had seemed fairly standard. I didn’t remember him making many big turn or river bets without a strong hand. I thought he was fairly tricky early on in a hand but seemed pretty standard on the turn and river. Like a lot of decent low-stakes players.

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Excerpt from Verbal Poker Tells: General verbal behavioral tendencies

The following is an excerpt from my book-in-progress, which will be called Verbal Poker Tells. This is not the final version and is still being edited and is subject to change. Any comments and criticisms on these general ideas are very much appreciated.

There is a lot of complexity in verbal poker behavior. Anyone who’s played a lot of poker knows there are many factors that can lead someone to talk or not talk in any given situations. In many poker situations, there are not strong, clear factors influencing how someone talks and what they say.

For example, a player making a standard continuation-bet on the flop can be easily imagined to talk or stay silent with a wide range of hands. Because his bet is small and because his hand strength is not well-defined, we can observe players in this situation to have a lot of behavioral variety. Many poker situations are similar: the factors acting upon the situation are not strong enough to allow us to draw meaningful conclusions from observed behavior.

On the other hand, there are some situations where verbal behavior is much more likely to be meaningful. For example, a player who makes a large bet on the river and then who proceeds to talk for a long time, in a flowing, seemingly relaxed manner, is seldom bluffing. (We will take that as a general assumption for now and get into the specific reasons later.) The reason this is likely to be a more “significant” situation is because: a) the bet is much larger, leading to polarization in relaxation or anxiety, b) the bettor’s hand strength on the river is well-defined and he (almost always) knows whether he would like a call or not.

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Reading tells in Cards Against Humanity & Apples To Apples

Apples To Apples and Cards Against Humanity are similar games. Apples To Apples is a popular G-rated party game. Cards Against Humanity is like its R-rated cousin; exactly similar in play but with much darker, twisted content. These games are not seriously played and are usually just an excuse for the players to laugh at the humorous juxtaposition of ideas.

Even though these games are not serious at all, I couldn’t help but notice, when I occasionally play Cards Against Humanity, that there are often behavioral patterns (i.e., tells) that give away which player has played which card. Considering that no one takes these games seriously or cares about who wins, it’s not surprising that there is a lot of behavioral information. I thought I’d describe a couple of these patterns just because I thought they were interesting and because they could have applications to other games or situations.

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Players who get more relaxed and talkative when winning

An acquaintance of mine emailed me this story from his home game. This is a small stakes home game:  .10 Euro blinds, NLHE. My response follows his email.

There’s something I realized last saturday. We were playing six handed and of the guys was winning big time. Let’s call him Robert. He hit every hand, was paid off every time, it was just his evening. Normally, he is one the more losing players, so it’s all good that he was winning. And because he was winning, he felt very comfortable and talked more than he normally does (fwiw, he didn’t drink alcohol, had to drive home by car). At the end of the evening, a friend sitting direct to my left called Robert down with third pair when he made a river overbet with nothing.

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A Queen-high call down involving immediate bets from an opponent

I saw this PokerNews story where Kristy Arnett interviewed Jason Lavallee, the winner of this year’s PokerStars European Poker Tour London High Roller, about a Queen high call-down he made on the final table of that tournament. Here’s the story: http://www.pokernews.com/strategy/strategy-with-kristy-jason-lavallee-discusses-a-queen-high-c-16743.htm

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Analysis of Sylvain Loosli’s potential poker tells in 2013 WSOP Main Event

In this post, I’m going to describe my analysis of Sylvain Loosli that I did prior to and during the 2013 WSOP Main Event final table. I had been hired by Amir Lehavot to analyze his opponents and himself for possible behavioral leaks. The point of this post is not just to talk about how I went about trying to find patterns in Loosli and what those patterns may have been, it’s also to talk about the difficulty in trying to do this kind of analysis.

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Analyzing poker tells for Amir Lehavot at the 2013 WSOP Main Event

A couple weeks before the WSOP Main Event final table, I got an email from Amir Lehavot (founder of PokerWit.com and 3rd in this year’s WSOP ME), asking if I’d be interested in helping him prepare for the final table. After discussing what I might be able to do to help him, and making sure we had similar expectations, I agreed. My role was to analyze existing footage of his opponents for possible behavioral patterns, and to be present for a final table simulation that Lehavot was doing, and look for possible patterns he might have. During the final table, I was also watching the 15-minute-delay broadcast in a hotel room, weighing in occasionally with my thoughts through Skype.

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Reading Poker Tells book mentioned in 2013 WSOP

This year, during the World Series of Poker Main Event broadcast, my book Reading Poker Tells got a shout-out from Norman Chad. Here’s the clip; go to the 1hr1m point if it doesn’t automatically take you there.

I’d sent a copy of Reading Poker Tells to Norman a few months ago, but I’ve sent out so many books over the past year to people (roughly $4,000 worth!) and haven’t heard back from many people, so I honestly wasn’t expecting a shout-out, so that was nice. Norman DMed me on Twitter and let me know he was going to mention it in the WSOP broadcast, but I didn’t know what episode it would be.

As to what Norman says here; I would have rather he said that my book says that SOME bluffers have the tendency to avoid eye contact, not all. I think it’s an important distinction; my point in the book was to study someone’s past behavior in post-bet spots (after they’ve made a significant bet) and see if you can spot any pattern with regards to how much eye contact they give an opponent. Some people will look at their opponents more when they’re relaxed and have a big hand, and they’ll avoid eye contact when bluffing, whereas some people are the opposite. And of course many people are very consistent and stoic with what they do after they bet and you won’t be able to get anything from them. It all depends on past correlation of behavior.

In this case, I have no idea whether Kaplan was exhibiting an actual poker tell. It’s impossible to tell from one hand; I don’t recommend doing “cold-reads” of players unless you are very experienced and have a good sense for those kinds of things. I glanced through this episode and didn’t see another significant hand to compare Kaplan’s behavior here with. To do this right, you’d want to get a few hands of Kaplan value-betting and a few hands of him bluffing and then look at them side by side to see if you spot a pattern.

I sent Norman Chad a follow-up email with some other poker tells observations I’d made. I’ve been watching so many WSOP episodes in the past few weeks, mostly old ones, and I had a few observations I thought he’d find interesting. I’ve been watching so much televised poker because I’ve been working on a new poker tells book and so I’ve been taking notes on a lot of actual hands from televised events.

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A couple of interesting hands from $1-2 NL

Just a couple interesting spots from some recent hands where someone’s behavior played a role in my decision-making.

First one is from $1-2 NL. I had about $700 and the guy directly to my left had about $600. A couple limpers in front of me. I limp with 46 of diamonds. The guy directly to my left was an older guy who was “tricky”, and who liked to make small raises pre-flop as pot-builders in multi-way pots. The kind of thing somewhat skilled players like to do in passive games to build the pots and get paid off if they hit. I’d seen him do this a few times, whereas he’d raise bigger pre with legitimate hands.

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Should have folded top set

This isn’t related to poker tells or behavior in any way. Just a hand I played yesterday that I spent a lot of time thinking about so I thought I’d share it.

It was a $2-5 game. I only have $400 in front of me. I usually am significantly deeper and my shorter stack plays a role in this hand. This game can vary from super loose to mostly tight and it was in the mostly tight range yesterday. In this hand, UTG and UTG+1 both limp, as does a middle position player and the SB. I’m in the BB w/ TT and I check. So it’s 5-way to the flop of 67T rainbow. 

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Working on a new poker tells book

I’m working full-time on another poker tells book. The book will be called Verbal Poker Tells and will focus specifically on all things verbal at the poker table: the things people say and how they say them. It will use a lot of examples from actual hands, both televised and hands played by me and others. I’ve been collecting a fairly large database of verbal patterns and will use this database to show examples of patterns and tendencies. I’ll be writing about a lot of stuff that I think has very practical usefulness against a lot of opponents and much of it is stuff that I’ve never seen anyone write about in much detail before.

The book will be around $30-35. I’ve set up a $50 pre-order that gets you advance content and updates on the status; kind of a behind-the-scenes look at the process. I’m also going to put the names of the people who pre-order in a special Acknowledgements section of the book; kind of a ‘thanks for your support’ section (unless people don’t want their names in there.) Here is the page where you can pre-order the book.

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My WSOP tournament experience

I played in 3 of the WSOP 1.5K events this summer, and a few other $500+ buy-in tournaments. I am not much of a tournament player, to be honest. I’ve only played maybe 60 live tournaments and just a few HU SNGs online. I used to hate tournaments and only in the last couple of years started to play more of them, slowly starting to appreciate the specific kinds of talents they require. I had a good ROI off the tournaments I’d played but I also knew it was a very small sample size. I know there’s some people who eat and breathe tournament strategy and that those people are far ahead of me in many aspects. Still, I thought I had a good edge on amateur players, so I thought I’d be +EV in most tournaments. 

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Immediate bets and calls in a $2-5 hand

I’ve been much more attuned to bet-timing tells lately, just going out of my way to study it more. I think bet-timing tells are responsible for a lot of the more subtle reads of situations that experienced players can get. I also think a lot of the time this stuff can be analyzed in an instinctual way by experienced players. For instance, in the hand I’m going to describe, I think a lot of experienced players would have had a similar read on the situation without necessarily realizing a lot of it had to do with bet-timing tells.

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No rechecking of hole cards on flush-y board helps define opponent’s range?

Played $2-5 NL today and this hand went down. I raise from CO with 8c8d to $20. I get a call from the big blind. We have a little bit of history because he’s a bit steamed from a hand an hour or so ago where I value-bet a flush for a lot of money on the turn and he made a bad call for all his chips with a straight and lost. I get the feeling he’s a bit steamed at me or at least wants to get some chips back from me. My view of him: he’s a bit too loose and prone to not give people credit for hands. I have not seen him get too out of line with anyone before, but I think it’s possible he will make a move on me. Continue reading

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Why I don’t wear headphones at the poker table

There’s a lot of information at the poker table. Which is why I don’t wear headphones. I never want to restrict the possible auditory information I might pick up. A hand I played in Vegas a couple weeks ago illustrates this point very nicely…

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$2-5: An immediate call on the flop and desperate behavior after river bet

This is a $2-5 hand I played the other day. This one was interesting because my opponent’s actions added up to make me suspicious enough to make a river call, in a spot that I ordinarily would have folded from a fundamental perspective. It’s also interesting because he was doing a lot of stuff (like talking and showing his neighbor his cards) that will usually mean a good hand, but in this case things didn’t add up and his post-bet behavior seemed more desperate than confident.

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$500 Pendleton tournament – Immediate check-behind from aggressor raises red flags

Wildhorse Casino in Pendleton, Oregon

Wildhorse Casino in Pendleton

This past weekend I played in several tournaments at Wild Horse Casino in Pendleton, Oregon. I played a $200, a $300, and a $500 buy-in. I had some pretty bad luck, but I also did some stupid stuff that probably contributed to my lousy showing. For one thing, I had scheduled a 30-minute phone interview right in the middle of the $200 tournament, which caused me to be blinded and anted down from above an average stack to significantly below one. I should have just postponed the interview, which I could have done, but I don’t like to cancel on people when the scheduling is my fault. So that contributed to me not doing well in that one and also threw my mood off a bit for the $300 tournament the next day.

There was one very interesting hand from a poker tells perspective, where my read on an opponent helped me survive getting a full house beaten.

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Quitting job, WSOP tournaments, other stuff

I recently quit a full-time job I was working for the past 9 months in order to focus on some personal projects, including playing more poker and working on a video project related to my book. I’m trying to sell some pieces for a WSOP tournament package (6 tourneys) I put together, which you can read about here. (Update: I’ve sold this package out.)

I won’t exaggerate my tournament experience; I have been mainly a cash game player and I’ve only played about 40 live multi-table tournaments, although my results are good and lately I’ve felt very confident in these events. I am of course aware that this is a very small sample size. To offset my far-from-proven MTT track record a bit, I’m not charging the 10-20% mark-up that more proven people charge on selling tournament pieces. I’m charging no mark-up, so a piece is a piece.

What else? I’m going to playing in a few tourneys this weekend; $200, $300, and $500 tourneys in Pendleton, Oregon. Apparently they get good turnouts there.

In preparation for the WSOP events, I’m also going to be playing some MTTs online, which I’ve never done, and reading more 2+2 forum strategy talk. I’ll try to post some questions on 2+2 about any interesting or troublesome hands I have in the next few tournaments I play.


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Guest blog post from poker player Daniel Steinberg

I received an interesting email from Daniel Steinberg, who’s an ex-poker-pro with some very good online and live results. He’s obviously got a lot of poker experience, so his opinions are worth listening to. I’ve included some of my responses to him in-line with his email.

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Immediate calls – a badly written chapter of my book

A reader, David Monath, sent me an email about my book Reading Poker Tells yesterday, pointing out some inconsistencies in the “Speed of calling” chapter, specifically what I say about immediate calls and what they mean. I wanted to address the inconsistencies here for the benefit of people who read the book. 

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Got third in a fairly big tournament: thoughts on poker tells

This past weekend I played a $215 tourney at Chinook Winds, put on by Deepstacks Poker. Out of about 280 players, I got third for $5,700. I feel like I’m playing my best tournament game I’ve ever played; I can literally only point to one hand of the entire 22 hours of playing where I believed I’d made a mistake. That’s a big step up for me; in most of the few bigger buy-in tourneys I’ve played ($200-400 buy-ins), I’ve frequently felt like I butchered several hands, no matter how well I ended up doing. This time I felt like I played near flawlessly, had great focus, and picked my spots really, really well.

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