I got a few texts from friends the other night, telling me I’d gotten another shout-out from Norman Chad on the latest WSOP episode. Here’s the clip below; the hand starts at 29:30:
Dan Smith goes to raise with Qc 9c and drops a chip. He smiles sheepishly and says emphatically, “Terrible omen; I’m going to make it 90 thousand anyway.” He then slams down his chips in an exaggerated way.
Norman Chad humorously says, “The harder you bang the table with your chips, the weaker your hand is; even I know that.”
The player in the big blind says, “Please. Don’t slam on my big blind.”
Dan Smith then does a Teddy KGB imitation (from the Rounders movie), saying, “In my club, I will slam the chips whenever the fuck I please.”
Griffin Benger is in the small blind w/ AQo and he raises to 260,000.
Norman Chad says, “Of course Benger was going to 3-bet there. If he’s read Zachary Elwood’s Reading Poker Tells or Verbal Poker Tells, he’d know Smith is weak.”
I am super humbled and flattered just to be mentioned by Norman Chad again. (This is the third time. You can read a blog post about a past WSOP mention here.) I think Norman, being an announcer, is understandably prone to some bombast and over-exaggeration, and there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s a good thing for entertainment purposes. But I don’t think this is a spot where certainty is called for (and that’s usually the case when it comes to 90% of poker behavior.) I will say I agree with the general idea of what Norman is saying, although perhaps for different reasons than he said it. I’ll break this situation down in a little more detail.
First: slamming the chips down. In my first book (Reading Poker Tells), I actually say that, contrary to the popular knowledge, confident, “strong” betting motions are actually often signs of strong hands. Caro popularized the general idea of “weak means strong/strong means weak,” and I generally agree with that, but in Reading Poker Tells I said that, for a lot of verbal and physical behavior, “strong often means strong.” This is usually just because many amateur players are more relaxed when betting with strong hands and that relaxation can show up as unusual behavior like slamming chips down or taunting players or staring at players or whatever it is. And this is often player-specific information; for example, one player might be more likely to act “strong” in these ways when betting a strong hand whereas another player might be more likely to act strong in these ways when bluffing.
So, in a nutshell, it’s far more complicated a situation than just “slamming chips down means a weak hand.”
But in the past year or so, after working on my second book (Verbal Poker Tells), I’ve become more attuned to the differences between early-in-a-hand behavior and later behavior. I first started becoming attuned to this studying verbal behavior, when I noticed that most early-hand talking (whether from bettors or waiting-to-act players) tended to make it more likely that player was on the weaker side. The main reason for this seems to be that players with strong hands are more likely to be focused on the situation, and this focus is likely to result in being quiet. Another contributing factor: players with strong hands don’t like to draw attention to themselves.
For example, a player raising pre-flop with aces is often thinking about the best way to play his hand and is also intent on studying his opponents (because he knows he’s probably going to be seeing multiple streets). This player also has an instinct (like someone setting a trap does) to keep quiet to not dissuade action. Whereas a player raising with a weaker hand often has less incentive to be focused or quiet; he’s often either going to connect well and continue or he’s going to miss and maybe fire one bullet and give up. A player with a weak hand also doesn’t have an incentive to avoid drawing attention to himself; in fact he may have an incentive to imply that he’s relaxed and to discourage action. The player may decide to become more focused later but the point is, early in a hand, when the stakes are low, there’s not nearly as much reason for a player with a weak hand to be focused and silent. This often manifests as a lot of small, joking statements heard from pre-flop raisers or defensive statements heard from players calling pre-flop or on the flop.
This is much different than players’ behavior later in a hand. For example, players with strong hands who make large bets on the river have less to think about. They are confident and they have less reason to be focused than they did earlier in a hand. Whereas players making big bluffs tend to be more quiet, due to not wanting to be observed. This is why most verbal behavior from players making significant bets will tend to indicate strong hands; this can be seen as basically a reversal of earlier-hand behavior.
When I started keying into this verbal behavior, I also noticed that a lot of physical behavior early in a hand, whether from raisers or callers, tended to also make strong hands less likely. This is for the same reasons that ostentatious verbal behavior early in a hand tends to make strong hands less likely. Examples of physical behaviors that make strong hands less likely can be:
- Slamming chips down hard
- Playing with chips a lot
- Moving around a lot in seat
- Staring at waiting-to-act players
As I’ve become more attuned to this behavior lately, and as I’ve been playing more lately (a local $2-5 NLHE game w/ straddles), I’ve incorporated this information into my strategy. For example, if I see a pre-flop raiser raise in an ostentatious manner, with either verbal or physical behavior that seems to draw attention to him, I’m more likely to 3-bet that player light, thinking that there’s a good chance of either a) the player folding pre-flop, or b) the player giving up to a later aggression.
Another example: in the games I’ve been playing lately, it is fairly common for short-stacked players to limp in early with big hands with plan of 3-betting big if there’s action behind them. Much of the time, these players will also limp with weaker hands, so any clue you can get to when they are limping strong versus limping weak can help you make decisions. These clues I’ve talked about above help me decide when to not raise with decent hands and when to raise. For example, if I see a player limp UTG and they slam their chips down kind of hard and look around a lot at other players, this player is, IMO, more likely to be on the weaker side. Whereas, if that player was limping with a strong hand, they’d be more likely to put their money in calmly and unostentatiously and just sit neutrally and not draw any attention to themselves. If I think there’s a good likelihood a player has limped with a strong hand, I’m more likely to just call with hands that I might otherwise raise, because I don’t want to get played off the hand and want to see a flop.
So, for these reasons, I find Dan Smith’s behavior in this hand as more likely to indicate a weak hand. But the main caveat is that Dan Smith is an experienced, strong player, so the general tendency is less likely to apply to him. Without some decent past observation and correlation of Smith’s behavior, I’d be unlikely to base a big decision on this information. Although I would be more likely to make smaller decisions based on this; for example, 3-betting him with a wider range pre-flop.
Also worth noting: the big blind’s verbal behavior here, following Dan Smith’s raise (the big blind says, “Please. Don’t slam on my big blind.”) also makes it likely he is weak. As it’s easy to imagine, if the big blind had a strong hand, it’s easy to imagine that he’d be more likely to be quiet and not draw attention to himself. The big blind’s behavior (and Smith’s behavior) could have played a role if Benger had decided to 3-bet light here. (Edit: the big blind’s behavior is obviously only relevant if he’d already looked at his cards, and there’s a good chance he hadn’t here. I haven’t checked the video to see if you can tell either way.)
So, as I said, I do agree with Norman Chad’s general idea here, although probably not for the exact reasons he was thinking, and definitely not with that much certainty. But obviously it was awesome to be mentioned.