Poker, Tells, and Acting

Poker, Tells, and Acting

Monday, 26 May 2014

More from road gambler Johnny Hughes.

An eagle can see a rabbit move for three miles. Poker is a game where it is just fine to stare hard at folks. And you always know you are being watched, which is great for acting. I'm watching your eyes look at your cards, the board, your chips, my chips, and way too late, my eyes.

When you arrive at a new game, rate the players according to age, attire, chip stack amount and neatness, alcohol, and frequency of calling and raising. Betting patterns are still the most important tell.

If you see an older player with a big, neat chip stack, nice attire, who is a tight rock, he's playing kicker poker and has big cards. I look for the macho, bragging, ego centric fellow Texan with a rodeo buckle. I tease him or bluff him out and show it, setting him up for a big fifth street bet that looks like a bluff.

If the young player gloats or celebrates a win, I say, "Is that the first pot you have ever won?" or "You are not much used to winning, are you?" You needle with humor.

I have thirty-six ways to look at my hole cards, and then I watch those behind me, to see if anyone has a big hand. My initial action may be based on the collected body language behind me. When someone's shirt or blouse is jumping up and down to signify a noble, racing heart with a big hand, the value of mine goes down. When someone starts looking all around, who is not so active, I notice. I found two aces at Bellagio just as two talkative women pros behind me shut up. One moved a little closer to the table, sitting higher, getting ready to play a big pot. I trapped, not raising.

The eyes are a window to the emotions and pending decisions. When someone does a long study, I am alert to the moment of decision. If the decision is against me, to fold when I have a hand as large as Big Foot's paw, then I start talking. If they pick up their cards for a last look, say, "Let me have this one. We will let you have the next one." They study some more. We can talk. If they study and reach for chips when you are bluffing, start talking. Poker is like the stock market, but with more emotion condensed in a shorter time period: greed, fear, pride, anger, joy, and pure unadulterated suckerism. If we didn't have suckerism, we wouldn't have poker. Suckers slow up the game and tell bad beat stories.

Do not look at the board. When I'm in a pot with one person, and they look at the board, and my chips, greed has revealed itself. When they just keep staring a hole in the board, it has not blessed them.

I don't watch the flop. I watch you watch the flop, and what you do right after that: look back at your hole cards, look at me, start acting nonchalant, look at your chips or mine, count the pot for a bet. You are a hard little worker over there. I'll now check the board. I need to know your hand. I already know mine. Three clubs come, and three people look back at their hole cards. This says more about them than just this hand.

Sometimes in a pot, everybody gives up but you, and you are just sitting there looking around. Curly Cavitt, the ultimate Texas road gambler of all time, taught me more than any other person about gambling. He was the model for a main character, Moody O'Malley, in my novel Texas Poker Wisdom. He was incredibly active in a poker game, watching every move. He would say, "Let them see you looking them in the eye." Curly judged people by their eyes. He said you could tell if someone was "thick-headed" by looking them in the eyes. You want them a bit afraid of you and a bit annoyed.

By the old ‘weak means strong’ pseudo-acting of the modern, dirty hat, sunglasses crowd, they are afraid not to eye dance with me when they are out on a limb, where they usually are. If they have a strong hand, they are less likely to make eye contact, or to maintain eye contact, more important.

Research shows us that failure to make eye contact means lying or deception. I have some ex-friends that have not been able to look any decent people in the eye since Moby Dick was a sardine. In poker, I would adjust that to say the bluffing, lying person can not make eye contact long. I put my best Rasputin all hopped up on bad speed look on them, and they melt like warm butter in a microwave.

Greed will get the breath response or the shaky hand or the neck vein going, if you wait a little while. I even have the greed tell of increased breath rate. Emotion will reveal itself in body language or the eyes if you pause, and play the hand slowly applying the pressure. That deer in the headlights look develops when their peanut-sized brain fears being read. The off duty dealers, "the white shirts" always run scared. I'll say, "I'm betting you the rent."

Fear is impossible to conceal. If they are gambling above their bankroll or skill level, it shines like all the bad, neon beer signs in a Texas honky-tonk. Curly Cavitt would say, "Being a scared gambler is like being a jealous pimp." It is fun to scare them between pots, just for practice.
I wear soft-foam ear plugs in casinos, coffee shops, book stores, and restaurants. Hearing silence enhances my eye and tell reading skills. It does not matter what people say, it is the way they say it. They can lie, but their eyes cannot, for long.

Look at your hand as soon as possible. Those behind you may lay down their beer or cigarette, change posture, a big tell, or get ready. Others do the same as folding out of turn. I wear a hat where they can't see my eyes count them down. If a solid, tight rock raises and checks to a small card board, he is usually not trapping. I put him on Ace-King and may buy it. The most money losing hand is Ace with a lower kicker. Old folks play kicker poker and rarely bluff.

Tournament poker and TV have brought us the loose button raise and the continuation bet. More for younger folks. You want an older rock to your left where you can play the cut-off like the button, gaining two buttons. You want the loose players to your right, but not directly as they will drive you into folks.
Ask the person next to you who is stuck. Losers prove the "gambler's fallacy," thinking they are due to hit, as if the cards were fair and had a memory. They will chase and call big bets on fifth. I do not believe in value bets. I play big bet, big pot poker because of the rake and my acting. When losers buy into the gambler's fallacy, the odds are they won't get even.
Johnny Hughes is the author of 'Famous Gamblers, Poker History, and Texas Stories', available on all Amazons.

Tags: Johnny Hughes, Road Gambler