Leading up to the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event final table in November, I was hired by Max Steinberg to analyze opponent behavior. This is an analysis of Neil Blumenfield’s pre-flop raise behavior during the 2015 WSOP Main Event final table. (Neil is the only player whose behavior I’ve followed up on and studied after the final table was over.)
I am not making this page public; it shouldn’t be indexed by search engines (if you see it is, please let me know). I’m just sending this to a few people who I think would be interested. If I’ve sent it to you, you can share it with poker players you think might be interested, but please don’t post it publicly.
Neil’s bet-timing is pretty balanced and diverse overall. We’ll consider mainly the time it takes for Neil to ‘reach’, which means the time it takes him after first looking at his cards to start reaching for chips. We’ll call this ‘reach time’.
Raise ‘reach time’
Let’s look at raises first. We have 20 raises to study (there were 22 but we are missing some footage at the start of two raises: 33 and QQ.)
Reach times for raises range from 9 seconds to 27, with an average of 14.75 seconds and a median value of 15 seconds.
The six most immediate reach times were with these hands:
- A9 (9 sec)
- A6o (10 sec)
- 44 (10 sec)
- T9s (11 sec)
- A4o (12 sec)
- JTs (~12 sec)
The six longest reach times were with these hands:
- 82 (27 sec)
- A7o (18 sec)
- A3o (18 sec)
- KQs (17 sec)
- QQ (17 sec)
- AA (16 sec)
Pretty good variety there. It might seem interesting that QQ and AA both are in the long-time category, but again the sample size is small and both of these hands are near the median value, where there are also a good amount of weak hands.
As far as chip gathering time goes (time it takes after a reach to put in the bet), this varied from between 4 seconds to 8 seconds. This was pretty consistent and there didn’t seem to be any noticeable pattern.
3-bet reach times
Let’s look at 3-bets next. There seemed like there might be a slight pattern here, being that Neil was a bit quicker 3-betting strong hands than he was 3-betting weak hands.
There are 9 3-bets we can study from Neil, so not a big sample size. The average reach time is 28.2 seconds. The median reach time is 25 seconds.
The three most immediate 3-bet reach-times were done with these hands:
- QQ (19 sec)
- AKo (22 sec)
- AA (24 sec)
The three most delayed 3-bet reach-times were with these hands:
- A9 (verbal 3-bet shove) (50 sec)
- A7o (35 sec)
- Q8o (29 sec)
Not hugely significant, as the sample isn’t large, but still interesting. It might make sense that acting more quickly could be a slight leak of being relaxed due to having a strong hand. (Although this goes against a general pattern of most players taking longer to bet/raise with strong hands.)
Considering these are 3-bets and calling or 4-betting Neil in these spots would obviously commit a lot of chips, this pattern would be of limited value unless we were quite certain of the pattern. If you did feel confident it was reliable information, however slight, the main practical benefit would be to influence you to 4-bet light or to perhaps just call w/ AA or KK. It would require counting how long it took Neil to 3-bet and then giving more respect to the quicker 3-bets and less respect to the longer 3-bets. But again, it is a small sample size and you’d want to feel pretty confident in it before basing a big decision on it. If you were ‘on the fence’ in some way, this might be a good way to swing you one way or the other.
There were a couple other hands that reinforced this general theory:
When Neil 4-bet with AA versus Josh, it only took him 26 seconds, which is slightly less than his average 3-bet bet-timing. It’s very unlikely he’d be 4-betting as a bluff, so the bet-timing, even if it was reliable info, wouldn’t give you much extra info here.
When Neil 5-bet AKo versus Joe, he took 28 seconds, which is his average 3-bet time. Again, it’s very unlikely he’s bluffing in this spot, but still might point to a sign that with stronger hands, he acts more quickly.
Unrelated to the general pattern but still interesting: When Neil 4-bet shoved the 22 (his bustout hand), he only took 4 seconds to verbally go all-in. The general pattern is that this quite quick raise/shove makes AA or KK unlikely. That is the only practical information I can see from the speed of his shove; I think if he had KK or AA, we’d see him “think” a little longer. It would be hard for anyone to resist trying to get action with those hands and hence putting on a little act of uncertainty, whereas with QQ or weaker, the pot is so large and the hands are so vulnerable it’s understandable that “no-brainer” shoves will be done more quickly. Also, with weaker hands players can have a motivation to display confidence, and a quick shove is one way to do this.
Let’s look at physical behaviors now.
Based on the footage, I have a general theory about Neil’s physical behavior when raising and 3-betting. The theory is this:
In the moments after looking at his hole cards pre-flop and before putting in a bet, unusual physical movements and behavior will be associated with weaker hands. With strong hands, he will tend to be more stoic in these moments.
Neil’s usual ‘script’ was to:
- Look at his cards, usually for 2 or 3 seconds.
- Put down his cards on the table in the RFID-reader position.
- Place his arms crossed on the rail for some amount of time.
- Put in a raise with his right hand (which was often followed by a single-finger push forward)
‘Unusual’ is of course subjective and hard to quantify. By ‘unusual movements’ during or after looking at his hole cards (and before putting in a raise), I am referring to behaviors like the following:
- Very quick looks at hole cards (which deviate a bit from his staring for a couple seconds or more)
- Quick hand motions in putting his cards into position on the table
- Quick arm motions in crossing his arms on the rail
- Unusual facial expressions or movements (e.g., mouth open or opening and closing)
- Looking at opponents
- Looking around
- Looking farther down more than usual (i.e., looking down towards his chips/lap)
My general idea is that, with stronger hands, Neil is more focused on his usual ‘script’. When he looks down at AA, for example, he is focused on the moment and wants to follow his script and not give anything away. With weaker hands, he is less focused; he does not have as much riding on the hand because he knows he will either be folding to a 3-bet or probably giving up the hand if he doesn’t connect well post-flop. Also, with stronger hands, there is a tendency for some players to want to be more stoic and ‘not give anything away’ that is more present than with strong hands.
I don’t believe this is a super-strong pattern but I think it was a slightly reliable pattern for Neil. Worth mentioning: if it is a pattern, it would mainly be practically useful in the moments when the unusual behavior is seen, and not the stoic behavior. The practical benefit would be that you’d be slightly more encouraged to reraise Neil light if you saw him acting in unusual ways when he raised.
Here’s a video compilation showing some of these behavioral patterns I’m talking about. (It is not possible to get footage for this spot for all hands, due to the footage not covering Neil at all times.)
Keep in mind the unusual-motions-when-weak is not a super-reliable pattern (if I’m even correct about it existing in the first place, which I am confident of but not very confident of, considering sample size and some variation present). Neil often adheres to the more stoic behavior even with many weak hands, which is understandable; it’s just in those spots where he does ‘slip’ and do something out-of-the-ordinary (which is not every time with weak hands) that it theoretically would make weaker hands more likely.
If anyone has any thoughts on this, love to hear them.
Below is a video compilation of all of Neil’s pre-flop raises from the final table, put in order of raises, 3-bets, and from weak to strong hands.