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Vocal Tells

Vocal Tells: The Guessing Game
by Loki Luchs

When you’re at the table, you have to focus all of your energy on the game. Your eyes have to take in all of the subtle nuances of the table because there are a hundreds of little red flags that can tell you where you need to be careful! However, many people spend so much time looking around the table, they don’t bother to listen to it. Your opponents may be skilled in hiding their physical tells, but not many of them will be skilled in hiding their verbal ones.

The father of tells, Mike Caro, stated long ago that the most fundamental laws of tells is that players are always acting. If a player is acting strong, he’s weak; if a player is acting weak, he’s strong. In short, just like the car salesman who says he can’t go lower than sticker price, the player is selling you something. The question is if you’re buying it. The best thing to do is to figure out what they want you to do and then do the opposite. This is never truer than when you hear something that sounds suspicious!

Keep in mind to figure out what your opponent’s motivation is; if they want you to call, they will do something that will try to make you think they don’t. “I guess I have to bet.” I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this one… mostly because I still catch myself doing it! You “guess” you have to bet, do you? Someone’s just taken a shotgun and put it between your legs, did they? You’re tragically forced to put money into the pot, huh? This player (often me) is trying to sell you on the fact that he is on a poor hand and that it’s obviously in your best interest to call. When you hear a player say something like this, you can be certain that they have a strong hand. (unless it’s me, in which case, you obviously should call my Aces full.)

“You don’t want to call” or “You should lay it down.” These statements are often used as a reverse psychology technique to get you to call. Why would they tell you to fold if they really wanted you to? Mostly because they expect that you will ask this question, believe they are bluffing, and will then call. Their motivation is to get you to call, so listening to them and folding is often the right move! I usually see my opponents rake in the pot and say that they were bluffing, but most of these opponents would flip their hands over if they actually were. Again, they’re trying to sell you (and others) on their lie, so it’s just better not to buy into the bull.

Mike Caro coined another term that I have found to be invaluable over the years. “Poker Clack” is the sound the “tsk” sound you make with your tongue when something bad has happened. If you ever hear this sound and see someone bet, they have a monster. Think about it: if they’re making a poker clack sound or sighing as they bet, they’re trying their hardest to convince you that their hand is weak. Why would they do that, if they actually were? If they wanted you to fold, they would naturally try to intimidate you, not convince you to call. Their hand is close to, if not already, unbeatable and they really want a call! Since they know that they’re ahead, they feel like selling to you is the only way to ensure you’re going to put money in the pot.

The game of poker is about information. The person who can process the best information will always be a winner. The minor things that seem so innocuous, may not be so invaluable. While looking for signals, patterns, and tells is an important step in this process, don’t be so intent on watching for them when you might need to be listening for them!


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