You may use conversational gambits during a hand to gather information from your opponents.

There are a number of things frequently heard at the poker table. Some of them are questions like:

– “Will you show if I fold?”
– “What do you have?”
– “Are you bluffing?”
– “Why’d you bet so much?”
– “How much have you got left?”

These questions are asked honestly or naively by most players.

Let’s take the “Will you show if I fold?” question. Weak players use the question honestly. They’re hoping somebody will show them a better hand so they can rest easier in their fold. If they get shown a bluff, at least their curiosity will be sated.

When good players ask this question, they’re usually looking for information. Assuming pretty weak competition, a player who answers “yes” to this question has a weak hand. The reasoning goes: if a player had a good hand, he wouldn’t agree to show it if his opponent folded; he’d want his opponent to have to call to satisfy his curiosity. He doesn’t want to give information for free. He wants to get paid.

But that’s a pretty obvious bit of psychology, and even most amateurs are familiar with that concept. This makes any player’s verbal response to this question of dubious usefulness. What most good players are looking for, more than an actual answer, is how the player acts when he responds. Using the tells described in the Post-Bet section, particularly in regards to looseness and anxiety, a good player can get some clues as to an opponent’s comfort level.

For example, let’s say you are trying to figure out if a player is bluffing or value-betting, so you ask,

“Will you show if I fold?” The player, who is usually moderately talkative in a hand, sits stiffly with an awkward smile on his face, but doesn’t look at you, then says, “Maybe” in a congenial way.

What might we conclude? He isn’t being talkative, he seems to be avoiding eye contact, he has an awkward (possibly fake) smile, his statement is friendly and unthreatening, and he doesn’t act at all perturbed by your question. All of these things are more indicative of a bluff than a value-bet.

Same situation: you ask the question and he says jokingly, in a very relaxed manner, “Why would you want to know a thing like that?” He’s more relaxed, and willing to engage in playful banter. He’s also making eye contact with you this time. Those are all signs of someone not afraid of being called.

What about a third alternative? You ask him the question and he says, “No” or, “Just play the game” in a gruff manner. Someone who has made a bet and then engages in aggressive or rude behavior, even in a small way, will not usually be bluffing. As you should know by now, most bluffers are likely to act conciliatory. Players with big hands aren’t afraid of saying potentially rude or aggressive things to their opponent.

Good players will use questions like this one to gather information. Good players will notice what a bad player says, how he looks, and how relaxed he seems to be. Good players have accumulated a large mental database of people’s actions and statements and what these things typically mean.

Using humor

Humor is also a good way to interact with people when they may avoid other methods of interaction.

There’s something to be said for being a comedian at the poker table, if you know what to do with people’s reactions. Many players don’t know how to react well to joking, especially in higher stakes games. They might joke along with you, which can sometimes tell you that they’re relaxed in that situation. Or maybe they’ll get visibly irritated with the joking, which could also clue you in that they are feeling relaxed. Maybe a player who usually jokes around a lot clams up and seems uncomfortable when you joke with him in a big pot, which might tell you he’s anxious. Unless people remain completely stoic, they are probably giving away information.

Using feigned anger

I have seen good players purposefully aggravate their opponents in order to get information. An example of this would be a good no-limit player who responds to a big bet on the river by berating his opponent’s play. “You’re just fucking horrible. Just horrible. You are the most clueless player at this table.”

As you’ve learned, how irritated a player allows himself to get can tell you a lot about his hand strength. A bluffing player is more likely to stay friendly or stoic, whereas a player who is value- betting is more relaxed and is more apt to let their real irritation or anger show. By purposefully irritating a player in a key spot, you might pick up some clues. (But of course you should always be careful who you’re making enemies with.)

Using feigned confusion

Another little trick is acting like you’re uncertain of the action. For example, let’s say your opponent has bet all-in on the river for the amount of $900, and you’re on the fence about what to do. So you ask, “that’s $500, right?” and act like you’re getting ready to call. If your opponent is bluffing, he may nervously try to inform you that the amount of the bet is larger, in the hopes that you will rethink your call. If he actually wants a call, chances are he won’t say anything, because he’d like you to commit yourself to the call, whether you know the correct amount or not.

In other situations, feigning confusion can sometimes result in people giving away information about their level of relaxation. A relaxed person, for example, might quickly volunteer to clarify things for you, whereas an anxious person will tend to interact with you minimally.

Don’t talk too much

If you do try to gather information by being verbally tricky, don’t make the mistake of talking too much. These kind of conversational gambits should be used sparingly, if at all. They are mostly for spots where you’re on the fence about what the right move is and you’re looking for a little bit of information. Some people try to amaze everyone at the table with their linguistic acrobatics, and they usually end up outplaying themselves by giving away more information than they’re gathering.


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