I had a couple interesting hands this weekend in the $15-30 game. There were only a few hands where tells played a big part in how I played. The one I’m going to tell you about involves a very common tell, but it’s not one that’s usually so obvious at fixed limit games. It’s usually one you see a lot more at no-limit.
But I think that limit is the perfect training ground for learning how to read poker tells. The bets and the edges are so small, that if you can get effective reads on your opponents at limit, you will be well-prepared for when you sit down at a no-limit game and see the same tells you’re familiar with, except magnified several times over because of the increased pressures of no-limit. It’s like training for a marathon on loose sand and then finally getting on some pavement.
The villain in this hand is one of the worst players in the higher games ($15-30 up to $30-60) at the cardroom where I play. Let’s call him Jim. He plays probably 85% of his hands, and he plays his “runs”, so that it can be virtually impossible to get him out of a pot when he thinks he’s on a hot streak. Also, Jim thinks I’m a way more crazy player than I actually am, just because of a few moves I’ve put on him in the past. He gives me virtually unlimited action when I have a hand (although I think he’s slowly wising up to that.) Also, he wears his cards on his sleeve; he’s probably one of the more transparent players at the game.
Jim’s usually a very calm, passive guy, but occasionally when he has a rough day, he gets a little stupidly aggressive. Today was one of those days.
He was sitting directly to my left. He had just gone through $1,000 in the past couple hours, and he got up quickly, walked over to the chip runner, and came back with another $1,000. Now I knew he was a little steaming, because I’d never seen him buy in for more than a rack of $500 at a time. I had played with him the day before and he had been up $3,000 when I left, so I think his degenerate mind was upset that the poker gods weren’t continuing to reward him for his faith-based strategy of playing every hand.
Jim comes back to the table and is dealt in. I’m in the big blind with:
It’s a kill pot, so it’s 30-60 now. Jim raises under-the-gun and there’s 4 callers. In a typical game I wouldn’t be getting the right odds on putting the $45 in, but I make the call for three primary reasons:
- I think Jim’s tilting and liable to play recklessly no matter what comes down
- There are two other super-loose players in the hand who are liable to pay me off if I make a big hand
- I have a very good read on Jim
[Ks] [Td] [7c]
giving me the middle pair with a pretty bad kicker. I check to Jim and he bets. Everyone else folds around to me and I think for a few seconds.
Jim is far from aggressive. He’s the type of player who, if he raises with AK, AQ, or AJ, and doesn’t hit, he might fire one shot on the flop but 90% of the time he will shut it down on the turn. Also, I’m just getting that tilting feeling from him, from the way he throws in his chips. Also, I figure if he does fire another shot on the turn and he’s bluffing, I’m quite confident I’ll be able to get a read on him. If he’s telling the truth and has me beat, I’m quite confident I’ll be able to tell that, too.
I make the call and the turn comes a 5, still no flush draw. I check to Jim and he immediately bets out. I stop and study. Jim is very still, and he has his face turned up to the TV, his whole body unmoving. This is a pretty standard bluffing stance – freezing up like this. It’s not something I’ve often seen in Jim before, but that’s because he’s 95% of the time such a super-passive player. And it’s not so much my read that he’s bluffing, as it is the lack of his normal demeanor when he has a hand. Jim’s usually a pretty jerky guy; I mean he moves around a lot. When he has a hand, he’ll look at you, and move his head around and sometimes act impatient, or play with his cards. But this time he was completely still. I put the odds of him bluffing at around 95%, so I made the call.
The river is another 5, not seeming to change anything. I check to Jim and he fires out a bet again. This time he is even more still than before, and again he stares up straight in front of him at the basketball game. I wait about 15 seconds, just studying him, because if I’m wrong about him bluffing I want to remember this hand for next time. He’s either got AQ or AJ or he’s got a set of K’s and is holding himself still out of so much excitement.
I make the $60 call and he flips over AQ and I take down the pot.
The reason this hand is significant to me is because it could have gone very differently if I had gotten a different read off of him on the turn. Most average players who bet that turn are going to have me beat right there. And if Jim had acted a little more relaxed on that turn I would have folded it with no real decision.