Truth-tellers

Some players will occasionally tell you exactly what they have. This doesn’t much happen in tournaments anymore because of the rules in place that prevent people from talking about their hands. But people still talk about their hands a lot in cash games, especially in limit.

Some people will tell you their hands because they want you to fold. These players might have a vulnerable hand and, based on some sign of weakness from you, think they can dissuade you from calling and potentially sucking out on them. For example, in limit poker your opponent bets into you on the turn. You pause for a few seconds, considering your options. After a few moments your opponent tells you that he has a pair of queens (for an overpair) and that he’ll show if you fold. Assuming this is a fairly predictable, straightforward player who doesn’t usually talk about his hands, he’s seldom going to be lying here. (And the fact that people will occasionally volunteer this information is another reason for sometimes taking a little time in difficult spots—you never know what information you might gain. Of course, if you’re regularly taking a lot of time on easy decisions, the less information people will be apt to give you.)

Other times people will tell you their hands because they don’t think you will believe them. Like a maniac who 3-bets pre-flop with 23 suited. The flop comes 22T. He bets out and shouts, “I’ve got a deuce!”, and then proceeds to tell his incredulous opponent, “I’m telling you I’ve got a deuce!” He knows no one is likely to give him credit for the deuce. He wants action and attention, and he loves the feeling of getting people to call him after he’s already told them what he has. At the end of the hand, while he’s raking the pot, he can say to his opponent, “I told you I had a deuce.”

Specificity vs. ambiguity

You should be more likely to believe a player who tells you his hand when:

– He states a pretty specific hand, without much room for ambiguity, and:
– You can think of a good reason for why he would tell you the truth in that situation.

You should be less likely to believe a player who is telling you the strength of his hand when:

– He makes ambiguous statements about what he has, and:
– You can’t think of a good reason why he would want to reveal the strength of his hand.

For example, in a no-limit Hold’em cash game, a usually-silent player tells you “I’ve got a set” after pushing all-in on the turn on a draw-heavy board. He could have a set and not want you to call. His statement is specific, his play fits logically with his hand, and there is an understandable reason why he would tell you his hand.

Also, the fact that he’s all-in, and he won’t have to make any more decisions, adds to the chances of him telling the truth. If he wasn’t all-in and had more money behind, it would make less sense for him to tell you his hand. In a situation like this, you should strongly consider the possibility that this player is telling you the truth.

Imagine almost the same situation, except the board is not draw-heavy this time. Again, your opponent pushes all-in on the turn and you ask him what he has. He tells you, “I’ve got a set.” His statement is specific, and makes sense with how he’s played his hand, but you can’t figure out why he’d give away his strength in this situation. Your first thought might be that it doesn’t make logical sense for him to tell you his strength in this situation, so he must be lying and actually be weak.

But sometimes a player who has a big hand and who is already assured of a decent pot can just be so relaxed that he will tell the truth in an attempt to make you think he is being deceptive. Sometimes people with strong hands just like to mess with their opponents. As I’ve said before, acting strong doesn’t always mean a player is weak; often strong will just mean strong. For the most part, players will avoid lying, even in spots where it would be to their advantage to lie. Even though it seems unlikely that the player would reveal his strength in this situation, you should still give serious consideration to him having what he says he has.

One more example. Your opponent pushes all-in on the turn and you think for a while. After a little while he says, “I’ve got you.” He could very well have a good hand, it is true. But I would be less likely to believe someone who makes this statement than I would someone who makes a very specific statement like “I’ve got an overpair,” or “I’ve got a straight.” (But you should also always keep in mind two important points: 1) anyone willing to engage in conversation after they’ve bet is more likely to be strong than weak, and 2) bluffing players will typically not say things that could potentially piss their opponents off.)

With all things tell-related, you need to correlate. There will be some players who have no compunction about lying to your face about their hands. Such people should be placed in a special category in your mind, because most people will not feel comfortable doing that.

Liars

With people who do lie frequently, there is usually a pattern to their lies. Maybe they’ll only say their hand is strong (when it’s actually weak) when there’s a big pot that they’d obviously like to take down; and maybe they’ll only say their hand is strong (when it is actually strong) when the pot is small and they want to induce action from someone who thinks they’re lying.

Or maybe they’ll only lie based on how believable the situation is; if they’re telling you they have top set after they’ve raised pre-flop, this is a lie, but if they’re telling you they have an unlikely straight then that will be the truth.

I used to play in a limit game with a guy who adhered to this pattern. If he raised pre-flop and the board came out AQ3, he would insist that he had AQ, and that you should fold. This would almost always be a lie, because it was actually plausible that he had that hand. Whereas if he raised with 79 and flopped a straight, he’d be more likely to tell you the truth, just because he knew hardly anyone would give him credit for that hand. He liked telling the truth when he figured it wouldn’t prevent him from getting action, and he liked lying when the lie was believable enough that it had a chance of getting people to lay down decent hands.

You might be able to simply correlate a player’s hand strength with how much that player is talking. If you aren’t able to correlate that, and you see no other patterns in their speech, you probably need to block out their chatter and concentrate on fundamental strategies.

Most people you play with will not be so gregarious that there will be a lot of “noise” to get in the way of analyzing their statements. When most players make a statement about their hand, you should listen to the statement and try to figure out what they are trying to accomplish.

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