The hand in question occurred when the final table was 7-handed. The behavior is from Scott Blumstein, the eventual winner of the event. To see the hand history, see Hand #101 in this PokerNews article.
Long story short: Blumstein had a turned full house and bet the river vs. Pollak. Pollak started talked and smiling and said, “Sick turn” and “What are you on, Scott? Speak!”
Blumstein responded, “You’re going to let me bluff you on national TV?” with some smiling.
This is fairly elementary, but there are a few reasons why this is very likely to be strength/relaxation and we’ll go into that below. I think there’s a reaction by a lot of people to say, “Oh he’s experienced and it’s such a well-known pattern he could easily reverse it.” But I think the surprising thing is just how reliable something like this, which combines a couple reliable behavioral patterns, really is. If I saw this without hole cards, I would have been very confident that Blumstein was relaxed, simply because there were a couple behaviors pointing to relaxation and also because it’s just so rare to see such strong indicators effectively reversed in a tricky way in a high-stakes situation like this.
- Blumstein’s statement is a weak-hand statement, implying weakness, even if jokingly. Especially in high-stakes situation, bluffers don’t want to imply weakness about their hands. I talk about this a lot in Verbal Poker Tells. Besides the obvious fear of an opponent believing them and taking them at their word, there’s an added factor: people don’t like to look stupid. Telling an opponent you’re bluffing and having them call you has a good chance of making you feel stupid, and this helps explain why it’s not often done. But mainly it’s a factor of bluffers just not wanting to get verbally tricky in general because they don’t know how their behavior will be interpreted and don’t want to rock the boat.
- Blumstein’s statement is also a goading statement, and goading statements and challenges are associated with relaxation and strong hands. A goading statement is one that seems to challenge an opponent/listener to do something, regardless of what that something is. Even without assigning a known desire to Blumstein’s statement, Blumstein is effectively “raising the stakes” by stating that he could be bluffing. He is in a way saying, “I’ve challenged you to make the correct decision,” and challenging-type speech is pretty rare from bluffers.
I wrote about this hand elsewhere and someone pointed out that this tell doesn’t mean much because there are essentially no bluffs in Blumstein’s range. I think this behavior is still likely to be meaningful even if we believe that. For example, if Blumstein had a straight or a non-nut-flush, IMO he’d be unlikely to be this verbally loose because he wouldn’t want to accidentally increase the likelihood of the same hand (the straight) calling or a better hand calling. While he might value-bet some decent but not super-strong hands on the river, I think he’d be uncertain enough with the weaker side of his range to make this (in my opinion) very relaxed behavior here unlikely.
All that said, to give Scott the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is capable of mixing it up here and has done so before. Also, another possibility: on hearing Pollak’s own speech/questions, maybe Blumstein correctly read that Pollak was leaning strongly towards folding and was trying something, no matter what, to make Pollak rethink things.
Update: I asked Scot Blumstein about what he thought of my analysis via Twitter, and he responded:
I just thought he was leaning towards folding anyway and I was hoping to confuse him into changing his mind.
— Scott Blumstein (@SBlum2711) August 28, 2017