$2-5: quick call of turn bet indicates probable draw

This hand is from a $2-5 NL full ring game. Long story short: my opponent called a substantial turn bet very quickly, and I should have thought more about what his action meant. I should have come to the conclusion that his quick call meant that he was most likely drawing, which means I should have bluffed the river.

I’d been playing this $2-5 for a couple hours. I’d been fairly active pre-flop, making a good number of raises and continuation bets, but not being too active on the turn or river, although I sensed that my opponent in this hand thought of me as mostly full of shit (just my general sense from his demeanor). He had not been active hardly at all, and I viewed him as quite nitty, just waiting for a hand. Only hands I’d seen him show down were small pots where he had decent strength hands that seemed like he should have put more money in.

I raise to $20 in late position with Q5 clubs. My opponent is in the BB and he calls, and it’s just us.

Flop is 8h 3s 4h.

Opponent checks and I bet $30. He calls pretty quickly. I think he can have anything from 89s-A8os, 99-JJ, and any decent hearts, unlikely much worse than that.

Turn is a 6s, giving me an open-ended straight draw. After a few seconds, he checks. Considering this guy’s range and just how nitty he’s been playing, I think he will fold most of his range, so a bet is definitely in order. I bet $80. He calls immediately.

The river comes another 3, making it:

Flop is 8h 3s 4h 6s 3c

Because of his turn call, I start thinking that a decent pair (99-QQ) is most likely hand for him. Maybe even an 8x that he has decided he is not folding to me just because of the image he has of me. If it wasn’t for my perception of how he viewed me, I probably would have bet, thinking he would fold a lot of better hands. But I check and he turns over KQ of hearts and takes the pot with KQ high.

This is when I started thinking about what his immediate call meant on the turn. I came to the conclusion that his quick call was a dead giveaway that he didn’t have a made hand, and that it dramatically increased the draws in his hand. If he had had a pair of 8’s, like an A8 kind of hand, he would have thought for at least a few seconds before making the call. Same thing if he had 99 through QQ; with a vulnerable pair he would have thought for a few seconds. Also with those hands he would have likely raised the flop or at least thought for a few seconds about it, but he called quickly on the flop, too. And with stronger hands like sets, chances are he would have raised me on the flop or turn, or at least considered it longer.

The more you think about it, a flush draw with overcards is so much more highly represented in the range of hands that he calls quickly with there, because it is (for many players) a hand of obvious strength and a no-brainer call. Most players are much more likely to put in money with that type of hand than they are with single-pair hands, even pretty high pairs.

In the book and in some past blog posts I’ve talked about the fact that quick calls of substantial bets are more likely to be draws than made hands. The important thing to realize about quick calls is that the player has decided very quickly not to raise but they have also decided very quickly that they are not folding. This can sometimes give you a lot of information. (It is especially meaningful when you are first to act and they are calling your bet, as opposed to them checking first and then calling a bet, because in the second case they’ve had more time to consider their options and plan a decision.)

I’ve talked about this tendency (quicker calls of substantial bets being more likely draws than made hands) in the book and in this blog, but I know I’m not that great at using that information in the moment as best as I’m able, especially now that I’m not playing as much as I used to. It helps me to write this stuff down because it makes it more conscious for me and helps me recognize it better next time, in the moment.

Looking more critically at the math involved, it seems it was a clear smart move for me to bet the river just from a fundamental perspective, considering the most likely hands he’s calling with (99+) are less numerous than the many drawing hands that beat me (mainly Ax of hearts) and weaker pairs he might fold to a bet. In the moment, though, I had decided he probably had a mediocre hand (as weak as a lone 8) that he wasn’t going to fold just because he was adjusting to me being aggressive.

As happens frequently, though, I think I was overthinking a relatively simple spot and making the mistake of jumping to a conclusion, thinking that he was being stubborn with my perceived aggression and willing to call down much lighter than he’d shown evidence of prior to that hand. If I had thought more about his immediate turn call, I would have been better able to put the pieces of the puzzle together a little quicker and could have decided that firing the river was the clearly superior move.

NOTE: See comments below and responses for more discussion on this. Also see soon-to-come post on same topic.

  • Bob

    First of all, very nice blog. Your work is truly great.

    As for this post, IDK if it’s that obvious that vilain has a draw. Most likely u have more experience than I have, but I’ve seen many players just snap call down on this spot with J8 and better (TT for them would be a hand they’d never fold nor would they think of raising with it).
    Some people play their draws agressively at some point, either check-raising flop or donking turn, because they don’t expect to win at showdown (some players also make the kinda obvious donk bet river with missed draws).

    I’ve seen people check and calling VERY quickly with nut hands, although on this board texture it’s not very likely.

    Basically my river decision would be mostly based on whether or not I think he’ll fold his weaker pairs / ace high flush draws. Many people will never fold a pair on this river if you have some kind of agressive image ; some would.
    If it’s a close decision, I’d use the timing tell and will try to bet.
    Otherwise, I’d say the timing tell on this spot might not be accurate enough to change the decision.

    Afterwards though, you do get an information on this player and can use it with reliability.

    • http://www.readingpokertells.com Zachary Elwood

      I was thinking about this, too. In the book I do go into how immediate calls can mean vulnerable hands that are obviously worthy of a call, like top pair, good kicker or an overpair that isn’t very high, and less frequently (as you point out) a very strong nut-type hand (although those are much less likely because usually people want to try to figure out how best to get value). I didn’t like this post this much for the reasons you point out; it was a bit vague. I’m going to put out a blog post that goes into more detail on this because I think I figured out some interesting stuff last night. Thanks for the comment.

    • http://www.readingpokertells.com Zachary Elwood

      Oh, I also wanted to say:

      You are correct that many people are capable of snap-calling with top pair or better. But against a pretty tight, nitty player who you haven’t seen enter many pots, and who plays cautiously, I think that is much less likely. I didn’t want to give the impression a pair-type hand was out of his range; just that with this extra bit of knowledge the chances of it went down greatly. Of course he could have had QQ or JJ; I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those hands, but those two pairs are virtually the only two pairs strong enough I could imagine him specifically snap-calling with, and that’s only 9 combinations of hands (subtracting my Q) versus the roughly 15 flush draws that he’d call with pre-flop and that would beat us. Even if we say he snap-calls with TT, too, to make the pairs equal in number to the flush draws, that’s still getting odds on a bluff succeeding. And that’s not even factoring in the fact that he could decide to fold his pairs on the river.

      So what I was trying to say was that it’s a fundamentally good spot for a bluff (assuming you know the player pretty well), not even taking into account his behavior. But the behavior seems to narrow his hand range even more to where it’s a requirement. Because I just can’t seem him snap-calling turn with many vulnerable hands, but I can see him snap-calling the turn with many strong flush draws. That last sentence summarizes my thought process much better than anything else I’ve said so far and as usual it took me way too long to say that.

  • Bob

    Thx for the answer.
    I was wondering how much emphasis u put on concealing your own reactions / tells + balancing your body langage / or using your body langage for some purpose.
    I’ve see you’ve written some posts about not trying to give too much false tells (and I agree with that).
    On the information war of tells, how do you work on your body control? For instance you stressed out several times how the body becomes looser when people have a big hand (contrary to bluffing). Do you practice controlling this looseness / release of tension, e.g. forcing yourself to a predefined posture, as Antonius does?

    How do you work on controlling things tough to control, such as eye blinking or pace of breathing? I’m meditating often so I’m good at focusing on something and calming myself down quickly ; still when playing I often find myself with a sudden fast heart beating or fast breathing, and it’s pretty tough to hide.
    Or sometimes your hands just get agitated, and you want them not to move, and you make your best to control yourself.

    To sum up: quite a vague question, but what is your take on controlling oneself at the poker table?

    • http://www.readingpokertells.com Zachary Elwood


      Regarding how to stay unreadable; simply put, it’s just a matter of acting consistently in all ways no matter if we hold strong cards or weak cards. Of course that sounds simple but is harder to put into practice. But I think against 95% of the competition your more subtle tells won’t matter much, so just the conscious thought of reducing the variability of our behavior will help a lot. It’s really the most obvious behaviors we want to eliminate. Eye contact tells are big, stillness (freezing up when bluffing), talking when we have a big hand; those are big ones that far too many people do. So the more you work on it, the better you’ll get at realizing where your leaks are. There’s definitely a reason Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius look like emotionless statues; it’s good practice and for them it’s become a habit.

  • Chas

    What was the turn draw.All i see is hearts and spades he turned of Suited diamonds, what was the quick turn call drawing too?

    • http://www.readingpokertells.com Zachary Elwood

      Oh, damn it, I wrote that wrong. Supposed to be KQ of hearts. Thanks for pointing it out, fixed it.

  • http://www.readingpokertells.com Zachary Elwood

    Just to sum up my thoughts on this hand, because I don’t think I was too succinct:

    The pot on the river was $265. If we assume a pot-size bet on the river (just for argument’s sake) I only need to get a fold half the time for this bet to be worthwhile. And if we assume that there are many more drawing hands in his range on the river than single-pair hands, which is going to be a realistic hand range for most players, it is a good bet. And if we assume, as I do in this spot, that a quick turn call is going to be more likely weighted to strong draws than it is to vulnerable single-pair hands, than the bet becomes even more mandatory. Finally, if we factor in that the bluff amount can be significantly less to achieve the same result, then bluffing is by far the best move, with or without the quick-call knowledge. But this tell is still interesting to think about and look for, in my opinion, because it will help make closer decisions easier. I really screwed up not betting, IMO, hence the thought on it and the post.

  • Rob

    After reading all this, a thought came to my mind:

    You say after analysis, you consider a river bet to be a superior play has a bluff, which you are right. But i assume here, that your actions until the river we’re consistant in the matter of bet timing (may be wrong).

    So scenario unfolds: raise preflop. Bet the flop after 3sec, bet the turn after 3 sec, and then i assume you paused the river, and that you would pause the river to analyze if a river bet would be profitable has a bluff?

    If that’s the case, you are giving uo a bluffing tell aren’t you? Why think of a sudden of value betting the river? People dont pause to value bet the river. If you had any showdown value, has little has ace high, it’s usually a check behind. They either panic bet on the river has a bluff, or think too much / bet timing is unconsistent with flop and turn bet timing. If i was villain here, id call your bet with ace high, think but probably fold king queen high, not 100% though… Actually, the only hand that would value bet here is a very strong hand (for most 2 5 players). From the way the hand was played, and that type of board, i can’t see a bet being other thing than a bluff or monster. A monster would pause also to value bet here i think in the river. But AA for instance, i dont think would bet fearing a full house And (unlikely straight), and check behind, pot being large enough. So unless you we’re planning on the turn to bet the river and bet like you bet the flop and turn with regards with same bet timing, you can only have a monster or nothing….

    Btw, i did not read your book or all your posts, but im planning to buy it! Keep it up!

    So i come back to the river bet timi