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Verbal Poker Tells

Verbal Poker Tells

by Zachary Elwood

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24 Mar 2015


Zach Elwood’s exhaustive book takes the table talk and psychology you’ll hear at live poker tables and gives you the full SP on how you can better read (and listen to) your big-mouth opponents at the felt.

High Stakes Poker, Series 2 Episode 4: In a cash pot that’s already reached $44,000, David Benyamine tosses in a bet of $16,000 on a board of K-5-5-4-J.

Canadian Cirque du Soleil squillionaire and One Drop charity legend, Guy Laliberte, says “OK” and places his hands on his cards as if to muck them.

Benyamine says, laughing: “Don’t give away too much of the Foundation. Think of the foundation….I want to be called.”

“I think you do,” replies the businessman, mucking his pocket sixes. Benyamine has K-J for top two-pair.

It’s one of the high-profile, high-stakes examples of how verbal statements from your opponents at the poker table can drastically effect how you bet against them, as well as giving away vital information.

It’s also one of the real-life examples features in Zachary Elwood’s new book on poker psychology, ‘Verbal Poker Tells’.

Words Speak louder than Actions

Providing the perfect counterpart to his recent book on tells, ‘Reading Poker Tells’, Zach Elwood’s exhaustive study takes the table talk and psychology you’ll hear at live poker tables and gives you the full SP on how you can better read (and listen to) your big-mouth opponents at the felt.

‘Reading Poker Tells’ was a competent all-round book on spotting poker tells that updated Mike Caro’s classic ‘Book of Poker Tells’ for the 21st century and provided a decent crash course for beginners.

Using specific big-name examples from TV shows like High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark, this book instead picks out the nuances of table talk and shows that when it comes to live poker words speak louder than actions.

The book is split into clear sections: a general introduction to verbal poker tells, theory on talking during hands, deception and bluffing, mis-directions, defensive statements, verbal tells during big bets, general verbal patterns, and information-gathering and manipulation. Each chapter is presented in clear steps, with real hands to back up Elwood’s points.

Author Zach Elwood gives an overview of some of the Verbal Poker Tells covered in his book.

Tips From the Pros

There’s no doubt that Elwood has done his homework. The concept for the book came in 2013, and since then the former poker pro has taken notes on thousands of poker hands gleaned from the World Series of Poker and European Poker Tour, as well as specially televised cash games like Sky Poker’s Cash Game, PokerStars’ The Big Game, and the popular celebrity-filled shows like HSP and PAD.

Arguably the book’s strong point is tips on gathering information from opponents. It can work at the most basic level but also works when the players involved are multi-millionaires with hundreds and thousands of hours under their belts.

“The best question to ask a player to get information is usually something that has nothing to do with poker at all,” argues Daniel Negreanu in a chapter on deception, and Elwood catalogues several famous cases of opponents trying to glean clues from an opponent with a few subtle probes.

Elsewhere, referring directly to opponents by their first name (often seen in your local casino game, but also in pro tournaments where players know each other well) can be a giveaway that a player is holding a strong hand.

Real-life examples

In the 2010 WSOP, for example, Daniel Negreanu checks a flop of A-K-4. Charles Hook asks, “How much you playing, Dan?”

Confused, and a bit annoyed, Negreanu says, “Can’t you see my stack?”

Hook bets into the pot and Negreanu folds 10-8. Hook flips over A-K for top two-pair but has given away the strength of his hand with an unconsciously relaxed demeanour.

There are excellent case studies throughout the book like the Benyamine/Laliberte example above which illustrates how players can throw in last-gasp statements to disrupt your concentration and force you into a move you may not have otherwise made.

What’s so fascinating about many of Elwood’s examples, which most poker fans reading will remember from TV, is that the same tricks and unconscious tells can be derived at your average pub game or £30 casino game every week.

For Novices and Pros Alike

How many times has an opponent said, “I’ll show you my cards if you fold,” when holding a strong hand or asked how much your stack is when they’re contemplating a fold? Virtually every nuance of verbal tells is covered in the book and every one you’ll spot from a typical live game; there’s no need to be a millionaire playing the PokerStars Big Game.

It’s also a great excuse to revisit (in)famous classic hands from WSOPs from years gone by (admittedly, most involving Jamie Gold). Just make sure you follow up the entertaining reads with a quick visit to YouTube afterwards.

‘Verbal Poker Tells’ is a well-structured strategy book that achieves that trick of being informative without getting bogged down in text. There’s no doubt that you’ll be heading off to the Internet to see Jamie Gold, Daniel Negreanu et al in a new light once you’ve finished the book and don’t forget to check out Elwood’s YouTube channel for further verbal tells analysis.