Why I don’t wear headphones at the poker table

There’s a lot of information at the poker table. Which is why I don’t wear headphones. I never want to restrict the possible auditory information I might pick up. A hand I played in Vegas a couple weeks ago illustrates this point very nicely…

It was a $235 Daily Deepstack tournament at the Rio (these run every day at the Rio during the WSOP). These tournaments are admittedly a pretty soft field, but this hand could easily have happened in a much bigger buy-in tournament.

We were at the 100-200 blind level. I started the hand with about 12k. I’m in the big blind with 95s. Pre-flop, an early position raiser made it 400 and there were 2 callers. Small blind folded and I closed the action by calling. So the pot is 1700 and there are four players.

Flop comes 59J rainbow, giving me bottom two-pair. I check. Pre-flop raiser checks. Old guy in late position, who’d been playing tight, bets small, like 500. I raise it to around 1,600. Folds around to the old guy. I see him drop a 5,000 chip into the pot along with his original bet, which made it about a 4,000 raise and only left him another 5,000 behind. Now at the same time he does this, he makes a very small “oh” sound, like someone would make if they accidentally dropped something. It was a very small, subtle sound, and he immediately looked as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Trying to get more information, I asked him, “Did you mean to raise?” He was very still and didn’t answer me in any way. 

I had to decide between two scenarios: either his “oh” was a subtle angle-shoot and he had a very strong hand, or it was an accidental drop of his chip and his little “oh” was a genuine reaction of regret. After thinking about it a bit, I came to the conclusion that it was very unlikely he was trying some complicated deception and that he had really meant to just call my bet. He was older, and seemed nice, which added to the unlikelihood of him angle-shooting me. Also, the fact that he remained completely stoic and didn’t respond to me after I asked him whether he meant to raise made it likely that he accidentally dropped the chip and then quickly realized he needed to act as if he meant to raise and shouldn’t give me any more information.

So I went all-in with my two-pair. He looked upset for a few seconds and made the call, turning over QJ, I guess because he felt pot-committed. He admitted he hadn’t meant to raise and I won the pot.

My point is that if I had been listening to music or whatever on my phone, I would never have heard the little sound he made and would have had to give him credit for a big hand.

Although this is admittedly an extreme example that doesn’t come up very often, there are many situations where small things people say can give you a lot of information. Sometimes people who are out of a hand say something to a neighbor about what they folded. Sometimes people make small statements under their breath that give you a clue to what they’re holding.

The poker table is full of information, and I feel like many poker players, even very good ones, cut themselves off from fully absorbing it. Of course, the most information comes from bad players, so I can see the argument that if you’re playing with mostly good players, that there isn’t much advantage to listening. But really, unless you’re playing at the most elite levels, you are playing with some bad players who will occasionally give you gifts of extra information.

  • dan

    very good points. I never have music going when playing tournies against weak competition like the $235 at the Rio. I’m constantly picking up little things listening

  • http://www.nicsmixer.blogspot.de Nico Lindner

    Hi Zach,

    thanks for your report. You keep your senses alarmed – not much people do this.
    Your example reminded me of a little tournament where one of my opponents passed his cards. And as a lot of players do, he threw his cards on the table – but far too high. This way, I was able to take a look on one of his cards. If I had been in play, this information might have been useful. The main reason I don’t teach my opponents to protect their hands while passing them. One day, this additional info fits into my specific hand.

    Beste Gröten, Nico