Making a Read
You’re in Day 2 of a WSOP Event and your opponent, a 30 something year-old white male, just bombed all in on the river for 100k into a ~125k pot. You check your hand, you have TPTK on a fairly harmless board, a strong hand but just a bluff catcher when facing this bet. You stare at your opponent. He is stoic except for shuffling his chips in his right hand. You start to count out a call and he slows down his shuffle slightly. You look at him again. He stares down at the felt, avoiding your gaze. You ask, “If I fold will you show?” He doesn’t respond. You say, “Call.”
This is a classic story of making a read on your opponent. We imagine looking for subtle physical clues after a big river bet or trying to induce our opponent to reveal his hand strength by saying or doing the wrong thing in the long wait before we make our decision. But this story is a misguided idea of how to make a read.
The first time I ever heard about physical poker tells is when I heard about a popular poker book you all probably know called Caro’s Book of Tells. It was extremely popular during the moneymaker boom and is also completely unhelpful in modern poker. Most of these tells are what I call “level 1” tells, they apply to rank amateurs who are unaware of their own appearance while in a poker hand. These people are such novices that they aren’t thinking about what they look like to us while playing their hand. Sound familiar? I didn’t think so. Most reads in modern poker are what I call “level 2” tells, the player is aware of what he looks like to others, so he is purposely trying to manipulate his appearance to get his opponent to make the wrong move. This makes reading more complex, but not much harder. My philosophy on live reading is that everyone is different, and that every thing someone does can be interpreted differently through the context of who the person is. This sounds hard, but by making a few observations about our opponent, it can make level 2 reading a lot easier.
The first and most important thing to observe is if our opponent likes to project tells. Some people will try to project feeling differently then they actually feel. Have a monster->Look nervous. Bluffing -> Try and look confident. Have a flush draw-> Look like you don’t care about the river card. Value betting the river -> look tense and still. I find people like this are really common. Most people are aware of the concept of tells, so instead of trying to hide them they try to manipulate them in their favor, just like they do while betting their hand. This idea alone is massively helpful while reading our opponent.
However, people will project in other ways that aren’t as simple as projecting the opposite of what they feel. I find it common with players who rarely make a peep or move at all, that when they do end up saying or doing something physically, no matter what it is, they will have a hand. Because the only time they feel comfortable enough to do anything is when they are comfortable with their holdings. That being said, I think these people think they are projecting something to manipulate us, but it’s just see-through.
These are just a couple things I use when trying to make a read. When I’m in a tournament, I’m always passively observing my opponents and thinking about how they may project themselves in different scenarios. Doing this takes practice and real world experience. Reading this post is only the first step to realizing how easy it can be to make a read on someone in the modern poker world.
Poker has evolved immensely over the last 10 years strategy-wise. In 2003, some pros played laughably and even those who were considered the best made some eyebrow-raising plays. In 2013 even the “bad regs” are “pretty good.” In the same way, the live and physical aspects of poker have also evolved. 10 years ago amateurs were so bad that they weren’t even aware of what they looked like when they totally butchered a hand. Now it’s hard to find an amateur that isn’t covering his entire face or is self-aware and savvy. It’s going to take more then Caro’s book of tells to get better at live-reading, and if you want to survive in modern poker you should start learning now.