This past weekend I went to a Windy City Poker charity tournament in Chicago. I played a couple interesting hands that featured a good amount of reliable poker tells, which I’ll share below.
The tournament was a $1,000 buy-in one; it got about 50 players. It had one featured table, with RFID sensors and camera coverage, that switched players once every hour. The episodes didn’t stream live but were uploaded in hour-chunks to YouTube every hour or so.
I had watched a good amount of Windy City Poker episodes in the recent past, and it was fun to be able to play against a lot of the same characters I’d observed play. Most were just local amateur players, but then there was Richard Roeper, the movie critic (who used to work with Roger Ebert) and author on a variety of subjects (including a book called Bet The House about gambling and poker).
I was on the first featured table. Unfortunately, I only lasted long enough to have that first hour of play recorded and the play wasn’t interesting. Lot of amateur players playing loose and calling loose, so there wasn’t much room for interesting poker. You can see that hour of play here.
After I busted from the tournament, I did some commentary in the recording booth with Jason Finn and Scott Long. The chance to do some commentary, which I’d never done before, was one reason I went over there. Jason Finn is a long-time Chicagoan and entrepreneur, the founder of Chicago Poker Club, and the host of Windy City Poker Championship. Scott Long is the publisher and co-owner of Ante Up magazine. I had a lot of fun joking around with those guys in the booth and playing an hour or so of a $1-3 cash game with them.
Here are the two most significant hands from the tournament, which also happened to feature some behavioral/poker-tell information. In one case, it affected my decision. In the second case, it should have affected my decision but I didn’t heed the warning signs.
Immediate bets, immediate calls, some verbal behavior
This is a hand from about 3 hours into the event. I had just moved to a new table and had about 45,000 in chips. Blinds were 500-1000 with 100 ante. Most of the players at the new table had me outchipped. I was maybe ¾ of an average stack overall. It was obvious as soon as I sat down that the table was very loose. Some large pre-flop raises with a lot of loose calls. Mine-field territory.
A loose player, who I’d seen on some Windy City Poker episodes and who I recognized as pretty illogical and wacky in general, raised UTG+1 to 2000, just 2x blind. There were two other callers and I called in the big blind with Ad 6d. The pot is 8,800.
(I can’t remember the following board details exactly, as I didn’t take notes quickly enough, but they are approximately correct.)
The flop was 9d 5c 4d, giving me a flush draw. I checked and the pre-flop raiser checked, as did the 3rd player. We all checked pretty quickly. The last-to-act player immediately fired out 4,000 in a slightly ostentatious, slightly violent way. This guy had maybe 50,000.
Now, in general, an immediate bet will tend to be weaker hands in this spot. A player who flopped a set, for example, tends to wait a couple seconds, portraying some indecision, before betting. You will often see players with sets or other strong hands pause for at least a moment, to convey some uncertainty.
Another factor: players with strong hands also tend to not want to draw attention to themselves. They tend to bet fairly calmly. Now this can vary by player, but when I see a bet that is kind of attention-drawing or ostentatious, I tend to lower their average strength. I’m not talking about super-aggressive or crazy behaviors—those will tend toward strength, at least when it comes to big bets—but a lot of bets with a good amount of force/movement will be weaker.
Neither of these tendencies is very strong in themselves, but when I saw this player bet immediately, with not much time to think, and bet kind of ostentatiously, I felt there was a much better than average chance that he was weak.
I believe either calling or raising can be justified here. I’d usually go with a call here, just because I don’t want to get reraised off the hand and because I have the pre-flop raiser behind me, who could have been trying for a check-raise.
In this case, though, with the behavioral information, I felt confident that the bettor was weak. If I did get a call, it would mean he was most likely on the weaker side and I’d feel very comfortable shoving on the turn.
Another factor: I’d been at the table only maybe a round and a half and this player had barely been involved. If he’d been one of the players at the table who was calling way too much and too light, I wouldn’t have liked raising here.
I raised to 13,000. (I readily admit I’m far from the best poker player, so if any experienced players have an opinion on the optimal line in this situation, I’d love to hear comments.)
Very surprisingly, the pre-flop raiser called this raise almost immediately. This was very bewildering to me. If he had an overpair (or any one-pair hand), I would fully expect him to at least consider for a moment whether he wanted to raise or fold. The third player folded and the flop bettor laughed and folded quickly.
Worth mentioning here that the pre-flop raiser had me covered, with about 90K to start the hand.
I at first had zero clue what to make of this guy’s snap-call. I knew he was very loose and unusual. I started thinking that he must have some sort of draw himself. I thought maybe he had gotten frisky with an early pre-flop raise with 76s, giving him an open-ended draw. Or he had a lower flush draw, like TJdd, which was more probable. It would be weird that he wouldn’t c-bet with a flush draw, but then I thought maybe he was getting fancy and trying for a check-raise and then he was faced with my check-raise and he just weirdly snap-called. This was at top of my mind for possibilities.
The other most likely option, in my opinion, was that he had flopped a set, although I also found this pretty unlikely, considering he’d probably at least consider raising me, given such a draw-heavy board. But you just never know with a lot of inexperienced players how they value their hands on different boards; I thought it was possible he might still view a set on such a board as a monster and think he was setting a trap.
The last option was that he checked a hand like A9 or TT or JJ or something, although I really found it unlikely he’d both check that flop and just snap-call without giving it more thought. I was overall a bit bewildered. My two top ideas were that he had a flush draw or he had flopped a set.
The pot is 38,800. The turn was a Jack, making it 9d 5c 4d Jh. Considering I thought his most likely hands were sets and draws, I opted to check. He laughed a tiny bit and said, “Okay, I’ll give you a break, I’ll check.”
At this point, I was super-certain he was very weak and I thought I was ahead. If he had any sort of good pair, he would have at least considered a bet here in position. Verbal ways of checking, in general, are correlated with weakness. And when your average player makes an excuse for a check and tells you he’s doing you a favor, he’s almost always going to be doing this defensively, trying to slow you down. (I call these kinds of statements “misdirections” in my Verbal Poker Tells book.) It’s mostly something you’ll only hear the most inexperienced players do but it’s surprisingly common.
Also, a player with a super-strong hand just hardly ever is going to laugh like that. Players “setting traps” are quiet and focused almost always, so laughter in this spot is more likely to be related to nervousness or relief that they get to check behind.
The river was a 4, pairing the board. I checked and my opponent immediately fired 20K into the near-39K pot. Again, immediate bets are more correlated to weak hands in general. You can imagine how my check on the turn and river would influence my opponent to be thinking ahead about his chances for pulling off a bluff on the river. This can be a factor in an immediate bet being a bluff, and helps explain how it sometimes shows up. Now I’m not saying it’s a hugely reliable behavior—obviously we’ve all seen immediate bets with strong hands—but it will sometimes sway me when I’m on the fence.
But all of this was kind of unnecessary information, as I’d already decided he was very weak on the turn. I couldn’t imagine a hand that he might have, considering the action and his behavior, that beat me. I couldn’t imagine a draw that he could call the flop raise with that would beat me now. Probably more importantly, I couldn’t imagine him making this hefty snap-bet on the river if he did just have a single-pair-type hand. Immediate bets, if nothing else, are polarizing to strong or weak hands, and it’s hard to imagine him snap-betting huge with a hand like A9 or JTdd, for example.
So I called with my ace-high and he turned over Ac Ks, just ace-king high, no semblance of a hand or draw on the flop, but still good enough to beat my own ace-high.
Going over the hand later, the one thing I think I might have done wrong is not betting the turn. I kind of assumed that any hand he could snap-call that flop bet with he’d be shoving on the turn. I was admittedly a bit lost in the hand, though. I just assumed he’d be shoving all his range on the turn. But thinking it over later, if I put him mostly on draws, I should be betting the turn. I like my river call, though; on the river, I never considered he’d have a better ace. The chances of a player, either recreational or experienced, playing this hand like he played it here are probably near 0%.
So I was left with 10K after that hand and I was a little frustrated. I started thinking about how busting soon wouldn’t be bad because I’d have a chance to do some commentary, which was the main reason I’d come out in the first place.
Weak-hand statement from bettor
A few hands later, I was in the big blind with Tc 7c. I’d won a pot with a shove, so had about the same amount: 11K. There were several limps around, making it 5-handed. Richard Roeper limps in last-to-act. I checked. The pot is 5,800.
The flop is 6d 6c 9d rainbow. Everyone checks. The turn is an offsuit 8, making my straight. It probably would have been a good idea for me to bet it myself, considering my chip stack, but I thought it was quite likely with all these players that someone would have a pair or a straight draw or a checked 6 and bet it, and then I’d be able to shove. But it was checked around again.
The river was a 4, making it 6d 6c 9d 8s 4h. I bet 3,500. Everyone folds except Richard Roeper who makes it 12K, enough to put me all-in. I’m kind of bewildered by this, because the only hand I can put him on is one where he flopped huge, like 9s full or quad sixes, and slowplayed it last-to-act all the way. Nothing else makes much sense.
So I ask him, “You flop quad sixes?”
Roeper laughs a little bit and says emphatically, “No, I don’t have that” or something similar.
In my Verbal Poker Tells book, I talk about the meaning of what I call “weak-hand statements” from bettors. Weak-hand statements are hands that weaken a player’s perceived range. If a player making a significant bet is willing to weaken his hand range, it’s become highly unlikely that the player is bluffing. Being willing to weaken your own hand range is very indicative of someone who’s very relaxed. Bluffers just don’t like to do that, and this is an underlying factor behind a lot of other types of verbal patterns.
Also, loose, emphatic statements and laughter are highly correlated to strength. Roeper laughed here and made a loose, immediate, emphatic statement. If he were bluffing or weak in some way, it become smuch more likely he’d be more tight-lipped and restrained in his behavior.
But even without that extra information here, it’s just obvious that there are basically near-zero hands that Roeper can raise with on the river here that I can beat. He’s a logical, decent player, who I’ve seen player a good amount on these Windy City Poker episodes. A bluff makes almost no sense considering the action and the fact that I’m very short-stacked and putting in 1/3 of my stack on the river. I had some small, hopeful idea that we had the same hand or maybe that he slow-played trip sixes, but that really makes next to no sense. Add the verbal information to the mix and it becomes even more crystal clear that I’m beat. It’s just a super-easy, standard fold from a purely strategic perspective.
Realizing most of that in the moment, I found myself calling out of a mix of frustration and wanting to go do the commentating and, finally, the fact that if I lost, at least it’d be to Richard Roeper, which would give me a good story. And, as I told Roeper afterward, if I had to pick anyone at the event to bust out to, it would’ve been him.
At the bottom of this post are the episodes I did some commentary for. I can’t say it’s very interesting poker footage or commentary, but I got a few good jokes in and made a couple interesting behavioral observations. Jason Finn and Scott Long are experienced at doing these things, and they seemed to appreciate my contribution and were very encouraging. It was due to their encouragement and friendliness that I felt so at ease, and I thank them for that. I wasn’t sure how nervous I’d be and they made me very relaxed.
As someone who’s watched a lot of poker footage, I like commentary that stays focused on the game and the players, even if it’s only tangentially-related, so I tried to focus on the game as much as possible. I’m not a big fan of the commentary where the commentators talk about a lot of stuff completely unrelated to what’s going on at the table. If the commentary is completely irrelevant to the game, I’d rather just hear the player microphones and table talk.
But obviously there’s a motivation to keep a potential mainstream audience engaged and I understand that, too. It’s definitely hard to sit there staring at what is mostly fairly boring poker and come up with things to say. You hear poker commentators get a lot of criticism from serious poker players, but it’s not an easy job to do.
I might put together a compilation of my best bits later. I’ll also be putting up a blog post about the Chicago poker scene, which I learned a bit about during my trip.
First episode w/ commentary, starting at 6:45.
Second episode w/ commentary
Third episode w/ commentary
Fourth episode w/ commentary
Fifth episode w/ commentary