In the most recent session I played (Parx Casino $5-10 NLHE), there were a couple hands where tells came into play. In this post and the next, I’ll talk about a couple physical tells I spotted that influenced the way I played my hand. The tell in this post involves the length of time a pre-flop raiser would look at his hole cards.
My opponent in this hand was pretty nitty; he wouldn’t make big bets on the turn or river unless he had very good hands. (He checked a set of Aces behind me on the river when there was almost no chance I could have him beat.) He was capable of raising pre-flop with marginal hands if he sensed weakness, and he was capable of firing a pot-sized bet on the flop, but other than that he was pretty straightforward and not worrisome.
Pre-flop, he was prone to lifting up the ends of his cards and looking at them for several seconds. This could be either his first peek at the cards or after he had made a raise. When he did this, it was near 100% reliability (from my 8-hour session) that he was raising with a marginal hand, like suited connectors or AT or the like. I was able to correlate what he had in these situations because he would either fold quickly to a pre-flop reraise, or else he’d reach show down and he’d have a hand like TJ or 78, or something like that. When he had big pre-flop hands (high pairs, or AK or AQ), he would not perform this tell; he would just put the chip holder on his cards and not look back at them.
This is a pretty common tell I see a lot. It shows up in different ways. Usually it’s most meaningful when people look at their cards for the first time. I wouldn’t usually rate a player who looks back at the cards as reliable, because that is more likely to be an act (not a false tell, but just something the player may be prone to doing.) But this guy was quite reliable on both fronts; the first look, or the second stare after he’d raised. Either one meant weakness.
At the point this hand took place I was down $1900, and I only had $400 in front of me. It was late, and I was leaving soon. In this hand, I’m in the small blind. The guy I was just describing is in late position, and makes a raise to $60, which screams “steal” to me, considering there’s only the blinds in the pot, and considering this is the guy who limped AA twice that night. But, I might not have done what I did if I hadn’t seen him lift up the edges of his cards and peek down at them for a good four seconds or so.
I still had the big blind to act behind me, but lucky for me he was a pretty careless older gentlemen who had no problem showing his intention to fold, so I knew it was just me and the raiser in this pot. I had 89 offsuit, and I made it $200. (In this case, I had my stack working for me, because if I had had a bigger stack, the guy might have called me, trying to stack me. But if I had more chips I would have raised bigger.) The big blind folded, and the raiser folded after a few seconds of what I thought was fake deliberation.
A slightly interesting follow-up to this hand; I showed my hand to my immediate neighbor before I threw it in the muck. I did this because it was obvious he was friendly with everyone at the table, and I thought there was a good chance he would share my hand with the table. I didn’t want to flip the hand over and show the bluff, because that just looks like an obvious “advertising” ploy that would be rightfully interpreted as basically stating “I hope you guys will call me down because of this bluff I showed, because I’m only going to be playing the nuts from now on.”
While I did indeed want to advertise, I wanted to do it more subtly, by showing my neighbor (and hoping he said something), so the other players could legitimately give me credit for still having some gamble in me, even though I only had a few hundred in front of me and was mostly going to be peddling the nuts. Sure enough, my neighbor asked the original raiser if he could beat 9 high, and the guy said, “Barely. Jack high.”
I felt like that the way I did it was much more likely to get me action than just tabling the hand, because people are more likely to believe people who aren’t obviously advertising their looseness.