This is a $2-5 hand I played the other day. This one was interesting because my opponent’s actions added up to make me suspicious enough to make a river call, in a spot that I ordinarily would have folded from a fundamental perspective. It’s also interesting because he was doing a lot of stuff (like talking and showing his neighbor his cards) that will usually mean a good hand, but in this case things didn’t add up and his post-bet behavior seemed more desperate than confident.
My opponent is a young guy who’s just sat down to my left. My take on him is that he’s pretty inexperienced, just by the way he talks about the game and the way he handles his chips and the fact that he buys in for $300. The first hand he plays he raises to $15, gets one caller, fires $30 on the flop and takes it down. The hand in question is the hand immediately after this, so only the second hand he’s played. UTG, he raises again to $15. A middle aged man directly behind him, who’s quite tight, calls the bet, and I call on the big blind with K8 offsuit.
The flop is 344 rainbow. The pot is $47. I check, the young guy bets $20, the older guy calls immediately. I put the older guy on a pretty obvious middle pair. The small size of the young guy’s bet says probable weakness to me, considering I just saw him bet $30 into a $30 pot. And you often see pretty inexperienced players like this one make small continuation bets in spots like this. I figure if I raise to $75, I’m almost certainly taking the pot down now. Especially when you figure me being in the big blind they are likely to give me credit for a 4. I know it is almost certain the older guy folds and I like my chances of the young guy folding.
So I raise to $75. Surprisingly, the young guy calls immediately. The quick call is very strange to me, because if he has what his most likely hand to call with in this spot would be (which is JJ+), you’d think he’d think about it a bit and consider whether he wanted to raise. He’s only got $210 behind after making the call. So it’s very strange and I’m surprised, and I figure he must indeed have a good pair to make that call so quickly. There’s no flush draw he can have, and I am not putting him on connecting with the board in any other way. If he had an unlikely 4 for trips I know he would definitely consider shoving for at least a second.
The turn comes an 8, giving me a pair, which is nice. I check to him. He takes a few seconds and then checks behind. Now this doesn’t mean too much. He could be checking behind his high pair here, scared of me playing a 4 tricky, so I’m still thinking he’s most probably good here.
The river comes a 9, so the board is 34489, rainbow. Again, I check to him. He thinks for a few seconds and bets $80 into the $217 pot. Again, this does make sense if he has an overpair; I’ve now checked the turn and river and my raise on the flop would seem pretty obviously a weak hand at this point, so he would feel quite comfortable betting a large range of pair hands. But the weird thing to me was his immediate call on the flop. If he truly had an overpair, it seems he would at least think for a few seconds about shoving, but instead he called immediately. I’ve said in this blog before that immediate calls can be very polarizing, and that often people will do this with vulnerable hands and draws. But as weird as the immediate call is, I also can’t put him on anything that would just call the flop that wouldn’t have me beat.
So, as I do sometimes when I’m a little stuck and am trying to figure things out, I start talking, hoping he’ll give me some info. I say, “You got Aces? I’m probably no good here. I just can’t figure out why you didn’t just shove the flop or the turn.” Just hoping he’ll give me something.
While he started out looking pretty calm after betting, after the 15 seconds of me thinking he starts getting strangely uncomfortable-seeming. He says, “No, man, I’m bluffing, you got me.” He says this a couple times, with me asking “Really? You’re bluffing?” Usually, someone willing to talk after betting is more likely to be strong than weak. As a very general rule. It’s especially likely to be strength when a player is implying they are weak in some way, like this guy is. But still, I was suspicious, because some people are prone to desperate behavior when bluffing.
He also does another strange thing; he holds up his cards and shows them to his left neighbor; the older guy who was in the hand at the beginning. It’s a weird gesture; most amateur players only show their cards to someone after betting when they’re strong, because it’s such an unusual thing to do, and unusual behavior, as I say in the book, usually means strength. But I also mention in the book how bluffers can get pretty desperate when they think someone’s about to call, and do strange things. This is one of the strange things a bluffer might do, although I don’t specifically mention it in the book; they may try to convey strength by showing their cards to their neighbor. Another thing they may do, when they sense that you’re going to call, is hold their cards as if they’re threatening to turn them over, ready for a showdown. I had a feeling he could easily be doing something defensive like that here, just out of discomfort and desperation.
After I’m deliberating a little more, the young guy says, “If you got a four, you’re good, you got me. You don’t got a four, I got you.” This seems to me to be an attempt at some subtle double-talk, trying to seem strong by seeming weak. In other words, by expressing some slight weakness (a four will beat him), he’s trying to subtly convey strength (I can beat everything but a four). I’ve seen inexperienced players say this kind of thing before, and I’ve infrequently said such things to try to subtly sway someone’s decision. The reason people are drawn to say such statements is because they want to convey strength, but they know that just coming out and saying “I’ve got a high pair” or “I’ve got you beat” is likely to be interpreted as bullshit, so they intuitively find a more subtle way to convey strength, by putting a little bit of realistic weakness in there (“If you got a four, you’re good.”) They also feel quite safe saying something like this when it’s obvious that their opponent doesn’t have a super-strong hand.
So I feel much better making the call after this guy’s actions and statements. I call and he turns over 56 of diamonds. Suddenly the hand makes sense. It was interesting because he essentially had the one unlikely hand he could have in that spot that I can beat. There is virtually no other hand he could have had there that calls my raise on the flop and bets the river that doesn’t have me beat. So in the absence of his poker tells it would have been a fold for me.