The Look of Love
Men love to try and bluff women off hands. Especially when the action gets heads- up. Perhaps the explanation is that women are perceived in our culture as being passive and unwilling to take risks, at least in comparison to men. More “bluffable.” Whatever the reason, it happens too often. The man pushes, the woman yields, the man rakes in the pot.
So what is the best way to combat this, without turning into a calling station? The first and best way, particularly in a limit game, is to simply look at the odds. If the pot is large enough in relation to the bet, call. But that still leaves room for some difficult borderline decisions. How can you tell when your opponent really loves his hand, and when he’s betting at you with garbage?
Many factors should be considered here: Playing style, Table image, Betting patterns, etc. We’ll discuss those later. This is about ‘tells.’ Body language and vocalizations. Because the abililty to read other people is one area where women, as a gender consistently outerperform men.
In any social context, virtually all body language can be divided into one of two categories: Aggressive or Submissive. Aggressive body language is antisocial. It sends out the message: I am dangerous. I could hurt you. Keep your distance. Submissive body language is the opposite. It’s social. It transmits the message: I am harmless. I won’t hurt you. It’s safe to get close.
Now, think about this in terms of behavior at the poker table. The first rule of poker tells is “Weak means strong, and strong means weak.” Players who are bluffing with vulnerable hands are much more apt to be aggressive in their demeanor, because they want to appear threatening. They want you to go away. Players who are betting with very good hands want to be called, and thus will go out of their way to appear non-threatening. They want you to come close. So the ‘Look of Love’ is really the body language of submission, and the body language of submission is smaller, gentler, softer. If a poker player holding the mortal nuts could somehow transform himself into a cuddly little teddy bear for the duration of the hand, he would probably do so.
Anytime you see an opponent going out of his way to seem ineffectual and harmless, watch out. The ‘Look of Love’ often disguises itself as the Face of Indefference. That’s why the “look away” is one of the premium tells for a strong hand. As a rule, an opponent who only glances briefly at the flop and then quickly looks away has flopped a great hand (and the converse is also true, players who stare at the flop too long are more likely to have nothing). A player who is still involved in the hand and yet conspicuously gazes away from the action – watching TV monitors, passer-by, or anything, it seems, but what’s actually happening on his table – is telling the other players: Don’t worry about me. My hand is so insignificant that I can’t even be bothered to pay attention. In the same vein, players who act in submissive ways such as constantly staring downward are apt to be secretly strong. Placing chips in the pot meekly and gently is another sign of a good hand. Players who hesitate a long time before finally making a big raise (as though it had been a tough, borderline decision for them) are also more likely to have you beat. In all of these cases, the players with the strong hands are trying to paint a portrait of themselves as inconsequential. Trying to lure you in.
The Sound of Love
The Sound of Love at the poker table is a soft murmur. Often it’s the Sigh of Sadness. When you hear another player sigh and moan gloomily as he looks at his hand or places a bet – that’s pure acting. He loves his hand! Even worse, if you hear an opponent plaintively ask “How much is it to me?”, “Can I raise”, or anything in a similar vein when the action gets to him, loud sirens should be going off in your head. Warning! Warning! This player has a monster hand and desperately wants a call. The same can be said for any time you hear an opponent declare a bet or raise in a sad, defeated tone of voice.
The Look of Fear
Now let’s flip it and consider the Look of Fear. Because bluffers are afraid of being caught. The bigger the bluff, the greater the fear. This is the body language of aggression, the body language of I’m a threat, so just go away! Thus bluffers will generally try to make themselves appear bigger and stronger. So if the “look away” is a sign of hidden strength, it follows that the “stare down” is a sign of hidden weakness. Players who make the point of staring right at you while the hand is in play are almost certainly trying to intimidate you. It’s classic aggressive behavior. These players want you to be worried about them, to feel ill at ease, so in the end you’ll just go away.
Another common sign of weak hand happens when the action is on you and another player conspicuously reaches for his chips out-of-turn. This is a perfect example of a player making an effort to appear more dangerous than he really is. Here, the grabby player wants to scare you out of betting by acting like he’s eager to raise. Similarly, players who throw their chips into the pot with extra emphasis or an added flourish are more likely to be bluffing. They are trying to make their bet look more threatening than it really is.
In terms of body language, the classic sign of bluffing happens when a poker player becomes perfectly still. Players on a bluff don’t move much, if at all. They can even seem to stop breathing at times. Poker author and body language expert Mike Carso says that this happens because the bluffer is worried that any movement at all might trigger the bluffee’s “calling reflex.” Also, people who are afraid have a natural tendency to freeze in their tracks. So, the body language of bluffers tends to be a bit weird and contradictory. They’re nervous and tense and rigid all at once. Privately, the bluffer is feeling like a deer frozen in the headlights. But publicly, he wants his opponents to see him as a threatening grizzly bear. This bifurcated feeling carries over to the sounds of bluffing as well. In the “strong means weak” tradition, players who proclaim “I raise” in a loud, forceful tone of voice are more likely to be raising with garbage. But as a rule, bluffers are silent. This dovetails with the general stillness of the body. A player on a bluff is feeling anything but relaxed in that particular moment, and so carrying on a normal conversation becomes increasingly difficult. Please keep in mind, these are generalities. No two players are the same, and no single tell is always accurate. Before you begin reading a player for tells, you should get some kind of read on their standard demeanor. Some people are just naturally more aggressive than others. But once you’ve got an idea of an opponent’s general personality, it’s important to notice when their behavior is unusually aggressive or submissive. Figuring out what’s going through another player’s mind is the first clue to figuring out their cards.