I was browsing Twoplustwo.com the other day (an addiction of mine) when I found this little thread about Kenny Tran. They call him “Sick Call” Kenny because there’s been several televised tournaments where he’s made some unbelievable “sick calls” with weak hands.
This hand makes you wonder about his skills, though (although he could be the greatest player in the world, I have no clue.) In one of the tournament videos of him, he plays Q2 suited, hits a pair of deuces, and pays some amateur off all the way to the river, on every street. The amateur has pocket Aces (it’s one of those hands where they don’t show you until the end, but that’s what he has) and he displays some common tells for strength, so it’s worth discussing here.
In the video, Kenny raises with Q2. The amateur three-bets. Kenny calls. The amateur, it should be noted, has very loose facial and body movements at this point. He also has a facial expression that looks kind of disgusted with the situation. The combination of these two tells; loose physical bearing and a somewhat disgusted/upset facial expression, is pretty significant. (This is always assuming you’re playing with pretty amateur competition.)
The flop comes 23T rainbow, giving Tran bottom pair. The amateur bets and Tran calls. Now check out the super-obvious look of disgust on the amateurs face here, along with the physically loose shaking of his head in mock disgust and the licking of his lips. These are just things you will not see an anxious player, especially not an amateur, do. Most amateurs who are continuation-betting with air there will not be looking like that, especially with cameras watching them.
You seldom see tells this obvious unless you’re playing in a $1-2 No-limit game or a $20 buy-in tournament, so it might be kind of surprising you’re seeing this kind of thing in a big buy-in tournament. But you have to remember many of these amateurs got into the tournament from a low buy-in online qualifier or something similar.
The turn comes a very innocuous 6. The amateur again fires out a bet. Check out how loose his arm is when he bets, and check out the little aggressive push he gives to the chips when he fires them in. This is just something you will not see very often in bluffers. An amateur with a good hand feels free to get a little cocky and throw some chips around; the adrenaline rush of having a good hand and not being afraid of anything results in him tossing his chips in hard.
Contrary to what Mike Caro’s book will tell you, betting with a pretty aggressive forward motion will hardly ever be a bluff (although smaller, more subtle forceful forward motions can often indicate a bluff with some players – see my previous post on betting movement tells for more on this subject.)
Kenny Tran then asks the guy how much he has left. The guy counts out his chips and then does a little, weak-looking shrug at 1:15. That shrug can be easily read as seeming to be weak and scared, which is why it should make you think he’s not weak or scared. But Tran makes the call anyway.
The amateur then does a bunch of seemingly aggravated-looking faces, as well as rubbing his face in a pacifying way, and having his eyes go wide in a stereotypical fearful/uncertain face. It’s really a great example of the types of mock-sad expressions that will clue you into a player who’s betting with a good hand.
The river comes a fairly innocuous 5 of hearts. While it puts a heart and a four-straight out there, it’s unlikely that anyone would give Tran credit for either of those, so it’s understandable why the amateur pushes in here. Plus if he checked and Kenny bet with a better hand, he’d have to call anyway, so better to push and get a possible call out of a Ten. Not that I think the amateur is necessarily thinking of these things.
Then Tran contemplates for a while. Maybe he’s thinking about the value of making a super sick call here with bottom pair. While he’s thinking, we see the most useful tell of the game. As Tran is thinking, the amateur looks over at Tran and stares at him for a while. The willingness to engage in eye contact after a bet is one of the most useful poker tells you’ll find.
It should be common knowledge, but it’s not for whatever reason. Contrary to popular knowledge, bluffers do not stare you down after they bet; value bettors do. When you’ve got a mediocre player who is willing to give you significant eye contact, your alarm bells should be ringing. This is especially meaningful here, because the amateur must be extra certain he’s good. He may have been worried right after betting, but when Kenny doesn’t call immediately the amateur knows he’s good.
Again, I have no clue about exactly what occurred in this hand or what Kenny was thinking. I’ll give Kenny the benefit of the doubt that there was some history that would help explain this. Maybe the amateur was acting like that in past hands when he was really weak. Anything’s possible. But this video’s still a good lesson for how an average amateur looks when they have a good hand.