I received an interesting email from Daniel Steinberg, who’s an ex-poker-pro with some very good online and live results. He’s obviously got a lot of poker experience, so his opinions are worth listening to. I’ve included some of my responses to him in-line with his email.
Regarding your book, I wanted to email you to share some thoughts I had regarding what I liked and some tells that I have found in my poker career. My name is Danny Steinberg. I am 24 years old, and formerly a professional poker player who now works for xxxxxxxx as a xxxxxxxxxx. I was a very accomplished high stakes online cash game player under the screen names Mirttinur on Full Tilt and heybude on Pokerstars. However, I always felt that live was my best game, precisely because I felt like I was good at reading peoples tells or cues or whatever you want to call them. My best live tournament finish was 6th at the 2010 WSOPE Main Event. I also have a twin brother who won a World Series bracelet this year.
However, I did use bet sizing, game flow, and timing tells a lot online. There is definitely a lot of information to digest in whether a player is winning or losing, whether they just won or lost a big pot, how quickly or slowly they bet, and how that relates to how fast or slow they bet.
My response: Yeah, this is a lot of the stuff I look for to help sway decisions. Lot of times I initially think “oh, his range is xxxx” but after thinking about it later, I’m like “he wouldn’t have bet fast with some of those hands, so really his range was xxxx”.
After reading the first few chapters, I knew I’d really like the book. One of my favorite parts is when you talk about your belief that if you had all the information and ability to process that information well you could know someone’s exact cards or close to it. This was something I always attributed to my success in poker in a slightly different manner; I thought that an incredibly elite level of play was possible, and because of that I was always searching how to achieve it, never accepting that incorrect poker plays were impossible to avoid. That’s why I always liked live poker better than online even though most of my money came from online. With live, there is an entirely new and important set of information you are given that can be a vehicle to destroy your opponents even more than possible online.
My response: Totally agree. I question my play incessantly and I think this is the only key to becoming an elite player. I am always looking for things that could have swayed my decision differently. Whether its mathematics or tells. It honestly stresses me out, because I almost never feel like I’ve played near the top of my abilities. In hands where most players wouldn’t question whether they made a mistake, I am thinking ‘what info was there that I could have used to play that better?’ Although I don’t consider myself anywhere near an elite player, I think this is the mindset you have to have to get there. Too many people stop questioning their play, even the people who really suck. But it holds true for very good players too.
I think it’s nice of you to include a lot of references to Caro’s book of tells, but I have to say I think you’re book blows it away. I think the approach you take, a more conceptual approach to understanding the actions of an individual, instead of a laundry list of this = strong and that = weak makes this book much more useful than Caro’s.
You talk about how important context is in the book, that different actions can mean different things depending on the situation. I find that big pots vs small pots that you have mentioned briefly is really huge. I find that everything flips conceptually in small pots in regards to relaxed vs emotionally intense behavior. In small pots, when someone seems very relaxed, as when they open preflop, 3bet or 4bet, or check/bet the flop, it tends to correlate strongly with weak holdings. It makes perfect sense, as there’s really not much to worry about if someone calls or raises your bets when you have so little to lose. On the other hand, emotional intensity in small pots tends to signal that a person already knows that he is going to get involved in a big pot and naturally has some worry of being sucked out or having to put all his chips in the middle when its all said and done.
One of my favorite tells , although it is incredibly subtle, is the speed of the check. This falls under the strange behavior category, but I’ve noticed insta checks or checks that take a little long tend to be strong where as people tend to have a 1.5-3 second pace when they check with a weak holding.
You mention a tell in the book regarding when people look at their cards for a very short period of time and immediately put them down their holding tends to be strong. I’ve seen this as well. One different flavor of this I’ve seen is when people look at their cards but hold them up high when they lift them. This seems to be weak. I think it’s a similar concept to staring at the board after the flop, the player looks at his hand with the largest view possible because they want to make sure that their 85o is really not AK. It also may be similar to an instinct to protect your treasure. When a player has AA, they want to hide it, bring it closer to them, almost make sure no one sees or steal it from them. With a bad holding its more similar to using a metal detector on the beach, finding someone worthless, and tossing it back on the ground.
My response: You could be right. Although I’ve found when I’m playing heads-up with someone across the table, and there’s hardly anyone else at the table, that some people tend to lift their cards up high when they are strong in later stages of a hand, almost as if so relaxed that they just don’t care. But that’s usually really amateur players; don’t see it too often; most people aren’t doing that. But what you said holds true for initial pre-flop looks I think.
Another tell you mention is when a player stares at you or talks to you (or more confrontational in general) they tend to be strong. You say something along the lines that this is probably because people have a desire to crush their opponents, and when they do have the means, they want to show them they are going crush you. It’s kind of like a little kid who gets beat up regularly by the bully at school. When he gets his hand on some weapon that could give him an advantage, he’s going to want to show him it and feel powerful, not hide it. Maybe not the perfect analogy but you probably get what I mean. Anyways, I have another factor to add to this. I’ve found that this tends to be true mostly for people I refer to as “meek” characters. This is basically most people at the poker tables, somewhat shy, not incredibly outgoing, not brimming with confidence.
However, I’ve noticed with the more gregarious characters, the ones who are talking to friends, chatting up the table, showing arrogance, the ones who seem similar to the popular guy who picks up woman at clubs and goes out regularly, the tables flip. I’ve found these people love to talk, stare, and be confrontational when they are bluffing but act more quiet, unassuming, and more reserved when they actually have a hand. I’m not sure why exactly this happens, it may be because these people know how to fake confidence and are used to using it in their lives to get ahead, so they use it at the poker table as well. It does take a lot of balls to try to fake confidence at the table so maybe they got some satisfaction from that as well.
My response: This is a really interesting theory and I will think about it. It might help explain why you see the different tendencies. That’s a pretty cool theory you’ve got and does make a lot of sense on an initial read.