A couple days ago, in the EPT 10K high-roller poker tournament, the following hand occurred:
10pm: Holz hero calls all-in, busts
Level 26 – Blinds 30,000/60,000 (5,000 ante)
Fedor Holz’s extraordinary day is now over, with the young German making a pretty audacious call for his tournament life…and losing.
Holz got things started with a limp from the cutoff (also under the gun) and both Sergey Lebedev (small blind) and Chance Kornuth (big blind) came along. That took three of them to a flop of 4♣4♦2♣, which Lebedev checked.
Kornuth set the tone for the rest of the hand when he bet 120,000. Holz counted out a call, but Lebedev folded.
The 2♦ came on the turn and Kornuth bet 325,000 at his only opponent. Holz called. That took them to the 7♦ river and what would likely be a tournament-defining climax whatever happened next.
Holz had only about 1.2 million in his stack at this point. Kornuth had about 2.9 million. And Kornuth moved all in, covering Holz.
Holz took a long, long time about this decision. “I’m just happy you didn’t snap-call,” Kornuth said, taking a swig of water.
Holz then did call, and wanted to muck when Kornuth turned over his Q♣2♠. Holz knows the rules about called all-in bets, however, and showed his Q♥T♥. He was second best and out in fourth, winning €169,000. — HS
(Hand taken from Pokerstars blog.)
I wrote about this behavior in Verbal Poker Tells. Here’s the chapter (edited a bit):
Relief when bets aren’t called immediately
Sometimes players will make an all-in bet or raise with a strong hand that could easily be behind. When these players don’t get an immediate call from an opponent, they’ll sometimes let out genuine expressions of relief because the hands they were most afraid of have been eliminated from their opponent’s range. These kinds of statements can also indicate indifference as to whether an opponent calls or folds.
An example: a tournament player 3-bet shoves pre-flop with QQ. After his opponent waits a few seconds without calling, the bettor says, “Whew, I was sweating that one.” He now knows he’s not up against AA and is almost certain he’s not up against KK. He’s now genuinely indifferent about whether his opponent calls or folds; he may even desire a fold.
The fact that the player is willing to talk at all, and especially that he’s willing to express some concern about his own hand, makes it likely that the player has something strong and is actually relaxed. In the example just given, if the player who shoved was bluffing, he’d be unlikely to make a statement like “I was sweating that one” because the statement seems to subtract the strongest hands from his own range and, as we’ve seen, bluffers generally don’t like to say things that weaken their hand range.
Players with weaker value hands are also unlikely to say this. If the player in the previous example had shoved with TT, there is still a chance his opponent has a hand like JJ, so the all-in player wouldn’t feel as comfortable verbalizing some concern about his own hand.
Better players are capable of switching this up a bit, as we’ll see in the examples. But it’s still rare to see experienced players do this with their weakest hands. Experienced players may say things like this with a very strong hand in order to trick another player into thinking they have a medium-strength hand. But this behavior with a bluff is very rare.
In a vacuum, not knowing anything about their history or the skill of the players, I’d be very confident that this was a strong hand. A bluffer, even a good player bluffing here, is hardly ever going to want to make a weak-hand statement like this. Even assuming both players are strong players and both know that this statement is usually a sign of relaxation (which makes it possible there’ll be some leveling), most players would not want to accidentally make an opponent suspicious. Most good players are going to either be silent or be more neutral in their verbal statements.
I had one person ask me if I thought good players would be more balanced here with this behavior. While in general good players are balanced, the balance usually means that they’re consistently stoic, not that they try to pull off complex, verbally tricky things when they’re bluffing. For one thing, if Kornuth was going to do this when he was bluffing, he would have to be confident that Holz would usually interpret that statement as representing a strong hand, and predicting what another opponent will think of your behavior (especially when both players are experienced and leveling wars enter the picture) is difficult. So this explains why weak-hand verbal behavior like this, even from great players, will usually happen when the player has a strong hand and is relaxed enough to try something tricky/weird. (And the fact that Holz called here is one small supporting argument that trying to do such things as complex reverse tells may not be a good idea.)
I will say that, in Holz’ defense, it’s possible that Holz is aware of this pattern but that Kornuth had some past behavior that explains Holz calling here. Like perhaps Kornuth had made other weak-hand statements (which usually indicate strength) earlier when he was bluffing. But in a vacuum (like if Kornuth had been silent in all other hands they’d played) I’d be confident this would be strength.