We’ll look at a video of Matt Damon flopping a full house in the 2009 WSOP. Damon exhibits a few behaviors that are fairly common from recreational players with huge hands who want people to think they’re weak.
Matt’s got 6T in the small blind and makes the call 4-handed. The flop comes Tc Th 6c.
Looking away from the flop is a pretty common tell when someone connects. Here, it’s hard to tell if Damon actually looked away from the flop immediately. But he does something else that is pretty common. His eyes look unfocused on the table; they have a far-away, thousand-yard-stare look that I usually associate with someone who has hit the flop hard but who makes an effort to continue staring at the board.
Damon also looks very uncomfortable for the few seconds after the flop. He then acts very casual, as if he’s not interested in the hand. As his opponents all check around, he doesn’t watch the action and tries to seem as if he doesn’t care.
The turn comes an 8 and again Damon checks. It checks around to Scott Wilson, who’s got A8. While he bets, watch Damon trying to look very uninterested in the bet or the pot. This should always draw your attention. Contrast Damon’s disinterest with the attention Eric Seidel is giving Wilson; Seidel’s interested stare is far more common of a player who does not have a hand and would rather someone else not bet. (Not that I think Seidel is inexperienced enough to give this kind of information away here – it’s just a good demonstration of how an average player might look if he didn’t have a hand.)
All of this stuff is fairly subtle, and you probably wouldn’t spot it in the moment unless you were watching Matt Damon from the beginning and had some past history to compare it to. You might think it’s too subtle to be of much use, but I sometimes spot this kind of body language in games with a lot of amateur players. But you have to be watching the person intently: this does admittedly make it difficult to catch this information when it’s happening, especially in multi-way pots.
But forget about subtlety; this is where it gets more obvious. After Wilson bets, Matt Damon puts on a very exaggerated impression of someone struggling with the call. His brow is furrowed, he shakes his head while scrunching up his face in a “Damn, that sucks” expression, he sucks his upper lip in a worried way. (Lon McEachern sums up the situation pretty nicely by saying: “A Hollywood star with some pretty bad acting.”)
After a few seconds of “deliberation”, Matt makes the call. Another interesting thing: at 1:35 you can hear Damon perform what Mike Caro termed “poker clack”. This is the sound you make by pulling your tongue off the roof of your mouth with a clacking sound; it’s the sound you might hear someone make as they say, “Oh, that’s too bad!”. Caro recognized that this sound was almost always made by someone with a strong hand trying to (consciously or unconsciously) make you think they are weak. In my experience, Caro is correct and it’s a very useful tell. I have heard this tell many times and every time it indicates decent strength. (Of course, it’s mainly useful against pretty weak competition; you won’t hear experienced players do it.)
The river comes a 2. Damon again does another poker clack immediately before checking. Then he looks very worried as he waits for Wilson to (hopefully) bet. Wilson doesn’t take the bait and checks behind.
Damon’s “acting” is pretty standard for a recreational player trying to act weak when he is very strong. Surprisingly, Damon’s actually played a good amount; he’s been in a lot of WSOPs and I know he’s a student of the game. (And of course he was also the star of Rounders, the movie some say was a contributing factor in the poker boom of the early 2000’s.) If you can see Damon doing this kind of stuff at the WSOP, you can rest assured you will find similar tells in the game you’re playing in.
Two important things to point out about Damon’s behavior.
The first is his apparent discomfort in what is a pretty small pot. Whenever you see someone acting strangely at the beginning of a hand, before there’s even much at stake, you should ask yourself, “Why is this person acting strangely?” There are several things that Damon does that could draw your attention: the unfocused look at the board followed by apparent disinterest, the not-watching of the action, and most of all the seeming hardcore deliberation of what is a fairly standard and small bet on the turn.
If this were a large pot, you could potentially imagine reasons for Damon acting uncomfortable (even though most of the time you see this kind of behavior it’s still going to mean strength). But the fact that it’s a small pot should make you especially aware of the strangeness of this type of behavior.
The second main point is the general looseness in Damon’s body language. Physical looseness is generally an indicator of a lack of anxiety. People who are generally cautious or wary in a hand are likely to be still and have less looseness in their body movements. If you watch this video again, you can see that even though Damon is acting as if he’s scared, his head movements (as he glances at Wilson and as he shakes his head in mock disgust) and his arm movements (as he taps the table for a check or crosses his arms) are loose, and give away the fact that he’s not worried about a thing.