Whenever I make a bad read on someone, which will happen occasionally, I get pissed off and start to really study the player and their behavior and try to figure out where I went wrong. It’s my way of punishing myself for making mistakes. Basically, I want every stupid thing I do to have something good come out of it, so if I can just get a little bit of knowledge from every stupid thing I do I know I will eventually learn everything there is to know (or so I like to tell myself).
I was playing in the $15-30 limit game with this guy I hadn’t played with for at least six months. Let’s call him Fu. Hard to describe his style; he is occasionally aggressive in some spots, and is capable of some well-timed bluffs, but mostly just very passive, calling pre-flop with way too many hands, and calling people down when he shouldn’t. I had
in the small blind. It had been limped 5 handed pre-flop, so I called. I flopped top pair and checked it around, and so did everyone else, including Fu, who was last to act.
The turn came another low card, making it:
I still felt good about my J4, considering everyone had checked the flop. I again checked it, planning to checkraise or not, depending on the player who bet. Fu bet out in last position. Now this is the interesting part–when he bet, he performed a series of motions that are highly correlated to bluffing: as he threw his chips out, his head lowered down toward his lap in a head-dipping movement and he avoided making any eye contact with anyone at the table for at least a second or two. This head-dip combined with a second or two of looking down is pretty common bluffing behavior for a lot of people (probably related to the natural instinct people have to lower the head when telling a lie), although I hadn’t really studied Fu much at all before this hand.
Not that it mattered much in this spot, because I made a standard checkraise with my top pair, which is a pretty mandatory play in this spot. But then Fu made a three-bet on me. This is when the read I thought I had clouded my judgment a bit. That’s when I should have folded. I hadn’t really studied Fu that much and for all I knew he did that head-dip thing every single time he bet. Also, I knew Fu was capable of bluffs, but I’d never seen him play any bluff or semi-bluff this aggressively. It should have been obvious that I had misread the situation and I should have just folded. Instead I called his three-bet and then check-called the river and saw that he had 45 for the turned straight.
But I’m willing to be wrong occasionally. I will occasionally call down knowing it’s almost certain I’m beat. I do occasionally like to make these calls in the interest of science and curiosity and all of that, and also because these stupid calls spur me on to higher levels of observation. I think it starts a bit of a useful war inside of me, with one side of my personality trying to prove to the other side that I’m not actually retarded. So after making this bad call, I really studied Fu and learned some very valuable things about him–things that were very educational and profitable later in the game.
For one thing, Fu did indeed make that same head dip almost every time he bet, which was something I haven’t seen too much. This was true on almost every hand. The hands he didn’t exhibit this behavior, and instead kept his head up straight, were the hands he was bluffing on. This is interesting because often players who keep their heads up, with their eyes looking around at people, are usually betting with decent hands. Fu basically reversed these actions. It wasn’t very helpful, though; even though it was meaningful, it wasn’t highly meaningful because he did occasionally look down when he bluffed, and he did occasionally look forward when he bet with value, but it was still significant.
But after several hours of observation, I noticed what was much more significant than all of that. The really significant thing about Fu was his posture. Because when he was betting with a weak hand, his posture was more erect. His back was straighter, his shoulders were a bit broader, and his neck and head were raised up higher. When he was betting for value, his body had a weak, subdued posture, just kind of slumped down, his head low to his chest, his elbows on the table.
All of this was pretty subtle stuff at first, but once I’d tuned into his postures, it was impossible not to notice, and it was 95% accurate. It was all classic Caro’s “weak means strong, strong means weak” stuff, but it took me a while to tune into it. But that may be because I haven’t been observing players’ body postures much lately.
It was actually a bit of a rediscovery for me, because I remember I used to look at people’s postures a lot back in the day, but I hadn’t really been attuned to it much in the last few years. So I’m excited about getting back out there and studying other people and their postures and seeing how easy it is to correlate some behaviors.