Poker Mindgames
October 27, 2006 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Quick question for the poker players--What do you enjoy doing to confuse/befuddle your opponents? What interesting devices have you seen other players do? I am talking about making comments, sending off false tells etc...psychological manipulation, in other words.

I tend to clam up at the poker table, terrified to say anything that'll tip others off to the strength or weakness of my hand. According to Sklansky's new book, psychological manipulation is a very important part of No-Limit hold em, but as I say, I'm so terrified to say anything that I feel I am missing out on opportunites to send an opponent the wrong way. I'm hoping this forum will become the basis of a 'playbook' to help me open up more at the table.
posted by Mrs.Doyle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
sorry, I should have said "What devices have you seen other players use?". Duhhh....
posted by Mrs.Doyle at 9:01 PM on October 27, 2006

I was just watching a poker tournament the other day on TV and one of the players was wearing a baseball hat. After he made a particularly provocative bet, he pulled his hat down so that it covered his face completely.

...he eventually won the entire tournament.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:11 PM on October 27, 2006

I try and notice my reactions to certain situations at the table--obvious ones, ones that others usually pick up on, and mimic them in opposite situations.

Simple things, like re-checking my hole cards (in hold 'em) throughout the betting cycle when I have a pocket pair, which makes it look like I'm trying to connect a straight or score a flush. The opposite works as well.
posted by nitsuj at 9:11 PM on October 27, 2006

I asked hubby who is a prolific Hold-em player and this is what he says:

"I take my two cards and put a chip on them, not looking at my cards until it is my turn. As the action goes around the table, watch what the other players do. Based on the betting and the action, you make a plan with what you are looking for and what you will do, before you look at your cards. This method prevents people from picking up your tells. But, you can't just pick up the cards blind when it is your turn, and then contemplate for minutes on how to play your cards. You must have a plan before it is your turn. If you make a small raise instantly, you could have anything. The trick is to have a plan and act quickly. The longer you sit there and agonize over your decision, the more people will see right through you. After you have acted, do the same thing every time--such as put your hand on your chin and look to the middle of the table.

People always re-check their hole cards for two reasons:

1. To make it look like they don't have the goods.
2. To make sure they have the goods.
The end result is usually the same--they have the goods. It probably is a good trick. If you have nothing, and recheck your cards, a large bet will probably cause people to fold.

If you want subterfuge look at your chip stack when the card turns over. This is a good sign that the player has a hand. So look at your chip stack before it's your immediate time to act. People will pick this up as an eagerness to act, hence a good hand.

Most people will call your bet if they are unsure and you offer, quote. "you're beat, fold, and I will show you" They will always call your bet.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:54 PM on October 27, 2006 [3 favorites]

When you're playing, be someone. Be the tight player, be crazy loose guy, and when everyone has you pegged as "that type of player" do the opposite! That messes with people quite a bit, gets people to fold to you, or call you.

Have a beer while you play, should help you not think about what small hand movements you might or might not be doing ... which aren't as big a tell as some think.
posted by mattdini at 11:36 PM on October 27, 2006

A few quick hits (these mostly apply to beginners. Experienced players will already know all this. Also, much of this might be hokum, I'm not a psychologist, but if people at the poker table believe them, they're true enough for the purposes at hand):
- Anyone who touches there face as they are talking or betting is lying about something.
- When you lie, you tend look to the left, in order to activate the right (creative) hemisphere. When you tell the truth, you look right, to activate the left (analytic, logical) hemisphere.
- Your pupils will dilate (because of the norepinephrine and dopamine your brain releases - this is why gamblind is addictive) when you see something that excites you (like a big flop).
- Anyone who asks whose turn it is (or really any question at all) has a monster
- Anyone who grabs anything (beer, hat, table, whatever) is lying about something.
- Tall and high chip stacks = "I will not call you." Big random pile = "I will call anything"
- Then there's the old one about watching veins to detect changes in blood pressure, but I don't think anyone really buys that.

After these kinds of old saws, there are basically only two things you can communicate without betting: stregnth or weakness. Leaning towards the table, staring down an opponent, asking for a chip count, quickly making bets, drumming your fingers, "so what's it gonna be?"-style taunts, placing hands and arms on the table, etc etc etc communicate stregnth. Leaning back in the chair, talking about anything other than the current hand, getting up to grab a beer, talking to players other than your opponent, folding your arms, etc etc all communicate weakness. Beginning players will always communicate stregnth when they are weak, and act weak when they are strong. Advanced players will understand the signals their bodies are sending, and its your job as a player to figure out more WHY they are sending you tells than WHAT tells they are sending.
posted by ChasFile at 12:16 AM on October 28, 2006

"- When you lie, you tend look to the left, in order to activate the right (creative) hemisphere. When you tell the truth, you look right, to activate the left (analytic, logical) hemisphere."

This comes from NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and the directions are the reverse of that above: Looking right indicates a creative thought process, left is remembering.
posted by Manjusri at 2:25 AM on October 28, 2006

This sort of subterfuge is highly overrated by amateur players. At lower limits and with less skilled players, you will often the only one at the table looking for physical tells. Attempting subtle ways to mislead them will usually be wasted.

There are two schools of thought between professionals and serious amateurs. One school (typified by Chris "Jesus" Ferguson) is to provide as little information as possible. Do everything the same way every time. When in an all-in confrontation, do not talk, do not move, do not do ANYTHING. If you don't provide any information, you can not be exploited. The other school likes to engage in second and third level mind games where you attempt to provide false clues to your strength.

If you are playing in a big buy in tourney with pros, you are usually going to be better off to adopt a "no information" policy. You might pull off an elaborate trick, but it is much more likely to backfire. Some of the best players are amazingly skilled at reading body language and extracting information from you with apparently casual conversation. I've played with people who might as well have had their cards face up.

Against less skilled players, you can often trick them with old and transparent tricks. There are so many... People hold a handful of chips when it isn't their turn to indicate that they plan to bet or call to prevent the other guy from betting, they touch their cards to indicate they plan to fold when they want a bet and so on. Most of the serious trickery revolves around the tells that everyone knows and reversing them. The quick glance at your chips is a very well-known tell and you can reverse its meaning. Other very well known ones include the audible sigh, sitting back with your arms crossed, staring aggressively at the other player, rechecking your hole cards.

If you want to trick people, you need to learn the basics first. Start with Mike Caro's Book of Tells. I think 95% of people are better off just trying to avoid giving off any information.

I don't agree with some of ChasFile's tells. For instance, tal and high stacks are usually a sign of a gambler who will make lots of aggressive moves. The guys who won't call without a real hand usually make low orderly stacks, usually favoring triangle shapes.
posted by Lame_username at 4:49 AM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I play a regular weekly game with some guys - some are very very good, and others are real cruddy.

I usually come in somewhere between 6th and 3rd in our group, and I too have been looking to be a bit better at putting people 'on tilt', to borrow a phrase.

All I can tell you is what works on me - there's one guy in particular at our table who is like a freakin' magician. For example, this past week, as big blind, was doing some stupid joke talk about how he had some good cards (usually a sign of a 2/4 offsuit) for a big blind. We go around, I pair up on a 10 with the flop, and since I'm last act in the bets, I bet after a round of checks from everyone. He laughs, and says "You're just trying to push me out. Let me do this by committee: Who wants me to call and raise him?" Everyone else laughs and raises their hand, so he doubles my bet. I go in. He's tall stack, and from what it sounds like, just f*cking around, as he's want to do.

Well, turn and river come up, and no obvious help to anyone - if I remember correctly, it was 2/7/10/5/7, all different suits. He then goes all in. Being early in the game (we rebuy in the first three blinds), I call. He then flips a 2/7, giving him a full house.

I sit with my mouth wide open and gawk, as of all the cards I thought he might have, a 2/7 would be the last cards I would figure.

So, that's one story of many. One of our players self destructs if his chip pile gets below $50. Another one gets his strength from the short stack and is more dangerous than anyone when he has $10 to his name. These are the kind of tells you start to pick up on a regular game, or (with some people who are obvious and not able to protect themselves from...themselves) over the course of a couple of hours.

THE POINT: From what it sounds like, you don't need to talk anymore, unless it's to activate one of the tells you've noticed in another player. Make your natural silence work for you - become "The Sphinx" or something. Being able to clam up is a great strength in poker, provided you are able to still affect the other players.
posted by plaidrabbit at 5:42 AM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Although I don't agree with the final 'Sphinx' point, this is definitely the sort of answer I was hoping for. Anecdotal examples of players 'throwing dust'.

The reason I don't agree with the 'Sphinx' point is that my quiet, withdrawn manner is very out-of-character for me. I'm usually very friendly and gregarious, and when I'm in a home game with friends, that is how I am and I tend to do very well.

It's when I'm in a card club that I clam up, with a corresponding decline in my play AND in my enjoyment.

Anyway, to say again, if anyone has any more anecdotes of this flavour, I'd be very grateful.
posted by Mrs.Doyle at 7:15 AM on October 28, 2006

So this guy got a free flop as big blind, then pulled a stealth two pair out of it, knows his image is loose agressive and he has rags to play act a garbage hand against, and that you probably flopped a decent pair if not maybe top pair (T, which you did), since you bet after a round of calls. Plus, he's got the 27o - the worst hole cards possible - so it's fun. Then he went all in with a set draw on the board that showed as a middle pair on the flop that you got no info on since it was free for him. Remember, he knows you probably either had pair 7 or T since you bet into it, but he still has the 27 that he's slowplaying, then gets the boat on.. so he tried you for sucker money, and got it.

Point here relevant to the thread is that it takes a LOT of situational awareness and awareness of your own persona, as people have noted already. It's not just tells but tells in context. If you KNOW people see you as aggressive, you can slowplay a board of rags like that and then overbet into the river "like always" even though you just used the Hammer to sucker everyone in to ride your boat. And I'd bet that if you were familiar with this hand, you'd expect anyone alive in the hand on the river, especially anyone BETTING it, to have played it for fun.

So, play more, and create "you" as someone else said. It's only once there's a "you" that you can smash it to pieces at opportune times. I make my money playing loose and aggressive, so that no one ever knows if I'm playing good cards into the river.. I'll take the hit folding then if it's just not going to work. Most people I play with regularly know this. My mind game is simply keeping a straight face while I stare because I probably have the nuts.. or probably don't. And play more. Then play some more.
posted by kcm at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2006 [3 favorites]

To clarify my point: tells are simply what a given person always does in a given situation. He may look at the board on a bluff, hoping you won't call, or stare at you, trying to goad you into calling, on a good hand. In other people, you need to be aware of what those are and if they're reliable, and in yourself, you can either try to rid yourself of all tells - which is impossible - or you can be aware of your own and either mix them up on purpose or otherwise use them to your advantage. Be aggressive on good hands with amateurs, since they all "know" people act opposite of their true hands. That sort of thing. Read up on poker and realize most people you're playing with have done the same, then use that knowledge against them!
posted by kcm at 8:44 AM on October 28, 2006

It's a waste of time. Just play your cards correctly.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 AM on October 28, 2006

Honestly, delmoi is on the right track here.

NLHETAP is a 300+ page book, and there are approximately five pages about manipulating opponents.

If you're really interested in this sort of thing, start off by alternating between two simple games, after you fold your hand.

game 1: Ignoring all verbal and physical tells, using only the betting amounts and patterns, try to identify what each player is going to turn over at showdown.

game 2: Ignoring betting amounts and patterns, using nothing but verbal and physical tells (posture, voice, hands, breathing, etc.), try to classify each player as either Happy or Sad before showdown.

After all, there is no point in manipulating somebody unless you start with good information about where they currently stand, and what they are capable of doing.
posted by mosch at 12:30 PM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Have you asked your husband, Mrs.Doyle?
posted by DakotaPaul at 1:24 AM on October 30, 2006

« Older Power adapter, battery, wall socket?   |   Charming road warrior seeks smart and sassy net... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.