Betting motions refer to how a player puts his money into the pot when betting or raising. Does a player stack his chips carefully and push them forward slowly? Does he push them forward kind of aggressively, with some forward motion? Are there any little flourishes he does with his hand when he bets?
There are many ways a person can bet. The most important thing to notice is how forcefully a person pushes chips forward. You want to try to memorize as much as you can about an opponent’s betting movements so that, after the hand’s over, you can match it up with what that player had.
Keep in mind that the hand movements I’m talking about are very subtle. We are not talking very exaggerated movements (those will be addressed in the following section.) We are not talking someone who’s throwing chips across the table. We are talking about somewhat decent opponents who are making an effort to be consistent in their betting movements. We are talking mostly unconscious movements. These subtle movements can take a good amount of careful observation to tune into and notice but once spotted they can be very valuable.
There can be multiple factors influencing how forcefully a player bets. Mike Caro said, in short, that people who throw their chips into the pot forcefully are trying to appear strong and so are actually weak, and vice versa. This was one of his major examples of ‘weak means strong; strong means weak’. The reality, though, is much more complex than that. The first important thing to realize is that, for the people that exhibit these types of tells, they will have one of two basic tendencies.
Tendency #1: Betting forcefully when bluffing; betting more gently when value- betting
Some opponents, if you watch their hands carefully when they are betting, throw their bluffs and semi- bluff bets into the pot with a little more force than when they are betting a good hand. This can be very subtle; it might just involve a slightly faster flick of the wrist when betting. Their chips may travel across the table a bit further. Or their hands may move upward slightly after they release their chips. Or they may cut their chips out with a bit more of a flourish.
The basic psychology behind this is Caro’s ‘weak means strong’ idea; these players desire (for the most part unconsciously) to appear confident when they are bluffing, so they instinctively opt for a bit more forcefulness/quickness when they are betting weak. Conversely, when they are betting a strong hand, they instinctively don’t want to arouse suspicion and so bet more gently and slowly.
Tendency #2 – Betting forcefully when value-betting; betting more gently when bluffing
Some players will behave in the opposite way. These players will make slightly more forceful betting movements when they’ve got a strong hand. These players get more relaxed when they have a good hand, which makes them more physically loose and animated. They bet a little harder as a release of psychological energy, maybe as a result of anxiety being removed.
Conversely, when they’re bluffing, their betting motions will be more leisurely and calm. They instinctively bet gently when bluffing because they don’t want to arouse someone’s attention, or else they want to appear more in-control and hence strong.
Differentiating these tendencies
These two tendencies just described are opposite of each other, and yet they are understandable at a psychological level. A gentle betting motion is easy to imagine as either a wish to not attract attention (a bluff) or a wish to conceal strength (a value bet). A forceful betting motion is easy to imagine as either an attempt to communicate confidence (a bluff) or an attempt to attract attention and action (a value bet).
Because these opposite tendencies both make sense but are mutually exclusive, it might make you wonder: what good are they? These tells are useful because many players will have one of these tendencies and not the other. My observation is that the second tendency is more common; if a player has a betting motion tell, he will be more likely to bet slightly more forcefully when value-betting than when he is bluffing.
(My thoughts on this differ from Mike Caro’s. In his book he says that a forceful bet is more likely to be a bluff. I think he says this because he is mostly describing low stakes players who are more likely to be consciously putting on an act. In my experience, the behavior of regular poker players will be much more subtle and can vary greatly.)
Getting reliable reads on people using this kind of tell is not easy. Keep in mind we are talking mostly subtle hand movement. If you can’t fairly quickly see who is exhibiting these types of tells, then it’s best not to concentrate on them. Experienced players will usually put their chips in the pot consistently, and you should notice that about them, and realize it’s not worth your time to observe their betting movements. But if you notice a player whose betting movements vary a lot from one spot to the next, then that might mean he has tendencies that are worth observing.
Other betting movement observations
Here are some related betting motions you can study when a player bets or raises:
– How far forward does he push his chips into the pot?
– How far does his arm extend outward when he bets?
– Does he keep his arm bent or does he extend it completely? – How does he arrange his chips when betting?
Mike Caro pointed out that bluffers are more likely to bet with their arms straight out. I don’t know whether this is true for most players, but I do know it’s something that some players are prone to do.
All of the aforementioned observations are things I will occasionally try to correlate, but I don’t start out with any preconceived notions, just because I haven’t noticed that there are any tendencies that apply to a lot of players. (It’s also possible that I don’t study these tells as much as I study other types of tells, and my information is deficient in this area. I welcome any feedback.)