I’ve been playing a $15-30 limit game, with a little bit of $20-40, the last few days. I had a few hands I wanted to talk about that pertain to betting motion speed and tendencies. Now that my book has gone to the printers, I’ve been having a lot of second-guessing and doubting of the way I phrased some things in the book. This is bound to happen, and I try not to beat myself up too much, because there’s no way you can polish a book 100% to your liking unless you worked on it forever. I always think of the Leonardo da Vinci quote: “A work of art is never finished; only abandoned.”
Still, some things are already apparent to me that I could have done a better job on. One of them was the “betting motion” section. So I wanted to write a blog post about how these things are useful in real hands. I’ll be talking about limit, but these tells are just as apparent, if not more so, in no-limit. I think this post will be a useful follow-up if you’ve read the book, or even if you haven’t. (I know the book isn’t out yet; it will be soon.)
One guy I played with a couple days ago was very transparent in his actions. When he was betting with a strong hand on the turn or river, he pushed his chips in slowly and thoughtfully, with his arm kept low on the table. (He also had a related tell; he wore a more serious, somber expression when he had a strong hand, but I’m going to stick to the betting motion tells in this post.) When he was betting a vulnerable hand or a bluff on the turn or river, he would tend to toss his chips into the pot with a little quick upward flourish, and his arm would be off the table.
This was a very reliable tell for him. He was not an experienced player; he was a moderately skilled amateur. He knew enough to play tightly, but he was not aggressive or creative nor could he read hands well. When he raised pre-flop, it was with a high pair or AK or AQ or something similar. I only got into a couple pots with him, just because he was so tight, but it was often pretty obvious to tell the spots where he had raised with AK or AQ and hadn’t connected. When coupled with his tendency to wear a somber expression when strong and be more smiley when weak, he was very easy to play against.
Another player had a similar tendency. He was an older guy, who was very loose pre-flop but also pretty passive. He would call way too much pre-flop but he would mostly only bet or raise post-flop when he had a strong hand. His betting motion tells when he had hands were mostly very smooth and even, and his body language was also very reserved and calm when he was betting with a strong hand. He was the kind of player you could easily give up a lot of hands on immediately if he showed any interest in the pot.
In the first interesting hand with him, I had
and raised it in middle position. He was directly behind me and called, and the big blind called. The flop was
[6d] [7h] [3s]
Not a very scary board for AK, except that for the old guy to cold-call my raise behind me, his hand was weighted very heavily in the middle-pair area. I bet, the old guy raises, the big blind folds, and I call. One other interesting thing I should note: there had been several hands in the hour leading up to this where I had raised pre-flop, this guy had called me, and I’d given up the pot to him on the turn or river. So, in the back of my mind, there was that almost subconscious feeling that this guy might be thinking of those hands, too, and wanting to take advantage of my perceived respect of him.
Turn is an 8:
[6d] [7h] [3s] [8c]
I check. The old guy bets. I’m thinking it’s likely the old guy has like a pair of 9’s or T’s or something like that. But I also noticed that when he bet, he was really quirky in his movements. He bet out pretty quickly, and then did a bunch of weird movements with his hands, like he was excited. Considering that I had already noticed that this guy was usually pretty still and calm when he was betting a real hand, I found this unusual and possibly a sign that he was pulling a move on me. When coupled with the previous thought that I’d made a few folds to him recently, it became even more likely. And add in the fact that even if he was ahead, I had probable outs with an A or a K, and the call was mandatory.
I should add that against decent and/or aggressive players, this would be an easy call just from a strategic standpoint. But the fact that I’d basically never seen this guy bluff made it an interesting situation. If it wasn’t for the behavioral pattern, I probably would have just moved on and not thought anything about it.
The river is another 3, pairing the board:
[6d] [7h] [3s] [8c] [3h]
I check and the man bets, displaying those same quirky movements. I call and he shows
and I take the pot.
Another hand against this player the next day. I had
in the big blind. There were four limps, including that same guy in middle position. The small blind and me just call, making it six-handed.
The flop is
[2d] [2s] [2h]
Which is a great flop for me. We all check around. The old guy from the previous hand bets, the small blind folds, and I call. Everyone else folds, and it’s heads-up. My plan was just to call down in case he had a small pair.
The turn made:
[2d] [2s] [2h] [5s]
I check to him and he bets really quickly, throwing the chips out with a good amount of force, which is unusual for him when he’s value-betting. At the same time, he does something weird that you sometimes see people do; he looks up at the high-hand board, where the high hand for that hour is displayed. People will sometimes do this when they’re trying to (badly) pretend that they have a potential for a high hand or that they already have a high hand. Occasionally you will see legitimate looks at the high hand board, but if they are legitimate they will be subtle glances, not the very obvious look up like this guy did.
All of that information makes me pretty sure he’s bluffing. I think he doesn’t even have Ace high because I don’t think he would look so bluff-y as this if he had a hand that good. In hindsight, with a tell this reliable, I should have raised him to get him off a random 6-outer, but I just called.
The river was a K:
[2d] [2s] [2h] [5s] [Ks]
Giving me without a doubt in my mind the best hand. Because I put him on a bluff and not an actual hand, my only option is to check, which I do. He thinks for maybe 5 seconds. In his head, I can see him debating about the chances I’ll fold if I hold a hand like AT. He bets and I call and he shows:
and I take the pot. Without the certainty that he was bluffing, I would have bet that river thinking that with his style of play a low pair was most likely for his hand range. Also, I should mention again that I made a strategic mistake in being so sure of my read and not raising on the turn.
I see these tells occasionally in limit games and no-limit games. Sometimes they are very subtle, involving small hand movements. Many decent players will not have these kinds of tells; they will have trained themselves to make their betting movements consistent. But a lot of average players will have them. I wouldn’t recommend burning up a lot of time looking for these tells, to be honest. You’ll usually be able to tell which players are varying their betting movements; if you see someone betting kind of hard one time and then betting gently another time, then this might make you look a little harder at them to see if they’ve got certain patterns. But honestly, it’s not something that comes up very often. It’s just that for some people it’s a lot more obvious than for other people, and it can be very profitable to notice who those people are.
I should also state that there are some people who can display an opposite inclination; some people will tend to bet with a more gentle movement when bluffing and a faster movement when value-betting.