False Tells, Min Raises, and Overbets
If there are three things that you'll see over and over again in live poker, they are false tells, min raises, and overbets. These three moves seem to be favorites of live players. You might wonder why anyone would make these plays that are so obviously bad, but you would also be answering your own question. To a bad player, making bad plays just seems correct. Picking apart these plays isn't the most difficult thing in the world, but you'll still need to know what you are doing.
It's not all that challenging to confuse yourself when trying to decipher what a certain play means from a weak player. Beyond this, you might even find these actions in a good player as they do indeed have their benefits as well. We are going to take a closer look at each one of these plays and moves in an effort to analyze what they tend to mean.
False tells have a surprisingly high success rate. Have you ever seen a guy bemoan his luck audibly, shake his head, and then proceed to either bet or raise? Odds are that you have, and the odds are also that this terribly unlucky player happened to have a big hand. To amateur players, wearing your emotions on your sleeve is one of the most incredibly genius things that could ever be done. After all, how could they NOT call your bet once you've made it obvious that you have a bad hand?
False tells are usually straightforward because they tend to mean the same thing over and over again. You aren't likely to run into a whole lot of skilled players who are trying to use reverse false tells in order to trick you into making a mistake. Now, while as much is true for the obvious acting jobs as were alluded to above, it's not always the case.
A skilled player is much more apt to implement subtle reverse tells than they are to use obvious ones. Speaking out loud about how unlucky you are is obvious, but talking nervously is not. If you think you know what someone is looking for, it will be much easier to let them see what they need to in order for them to do what you would like. For example, if a player follows traditional live poker tells, they would likely think that an authoritative bet with a loud voice would mean a bluff. Most poker strategy says that the more someone acts like they are strong, the weaker they are. Because of this, an aware player might act overly strong when they are actually holding a good hand. Often times there will be nothing you can do about this until it's too late, but this is something worth keeping your eye out for.
Min raises are one of the premier hall marks of a bad player, both in online and live poker. The min raise is one of the most ineffective plays regardless of how its used. Yea, it might work from time to time, but this also depends on how you define "work." If a player min raises and gets a call that they wanted, it certainly doesn't mean that they couldn't have potentially made a lot more money by placing a larger bet. By contrast, if a player min raises because they are bluffing and want a fold, they might think that they lost the least when they get called. The truth, however, is that their odds of success were likely much higher if they had made a bigger raise. Before understanding how to pick apart min raises from other players, you should have a complete understanding of why they are almost always a bad play.
In the case of a min raise, going with your gut feeling is usually the best play. It's very rare in poker strategy that going with "feeling" is one of the most advisable things that you can do, but I believe it to be true here. There will be plenty of situations where you just know that your opponent has it. The fact that it is only a small raise is exactly the reason the other player made it in the first place. If a min raise is made and there's theoretically no way you can fold, chances are that you should fold. Now, if a player min raises in a pot where they are likely to be holding either a huge hand or nothing at all, calling becomes a much better option. Min raises are going to mean that the raiser has a big hand and wants to get paid off way more often than not, but if the price is right and the play doesn't make sense, calling shouldn't be counted out of the equation.
Overbets are best defined as a coin flip and a bet that is very situation dependent. A well placed bluff could be executed in the form of an overbet, but a big value bet could easily be an overbet as well. With min raises, you are almost always going to be up against a big hand, but with overbets, you'll frequently be left confused.
How you read into an overbet will depend largely on which street it happens. An overbet in pre-flop play is most likely to be a moderately strong hand, because it's the go-to move for many players when they have hands like JJ and AK. Players use the pre-flop overbet for a few reasons. First, it will allow a player to see where they stand. Second, it will create an opportunity to take down the pot pre-flop. Third, it will build a big pot for post-flop play. While these reasons often times aren't justifiable, they are usually the driving force behind a pre-flop overbet.
In post-flop play, overbets carry a variety of different meanings. A bluff is still going to be discounted a fair amount, but they are hardly rare. Players who back themselves into a corner will often times use a turn or river overbet as a last ditch attempt to win the pot. They figure that they haven't been able to force you out yet, so making a big, intimidating bet is the only way to go. The trouble with this is that players with monster hands will also make the same play. This could be due to the fact that they either don't know how to play post-flop or simply because they think the other player in the hand is prone to calling.
The best advice with post-flop overbets in live games is to put the story together. Has the player demonstrated a capability to run big bluffs in previous hands? Has the player always had it when they bet? These are the types of things that you should be thinking about. An overbet will tend to be for value more than anything else, but there's certainly plenty of times where it will be a bluff as well. So long as you are carefully considering all of the likely possibilities, you should show profitability in the long run when facing post-flop overbets in live games. Calling an overbet will be very nerve racking, but few feelings beat the rush when you make a call and are right.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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