Analyzing a Player's Talk
The ability to accurately analyze a player's talk at the table is a skill that you'll learn over time. If you are paying close attention, you are going to inevitably pick up on some of the subtle nuances that can create the difference between a good call and a bad call. Table talk is one of the primary differentiators between online and live poker.
Sure, you could type things in the chat box when you are playing online, but this isn't generally going to earn you a whole lot of information. In fact, you might not get a reply at all, and when you do, it will often times confuse you even more. In a real life scene, however, you are going to be able to look at things like tone, how someone talks, when they talk, and so on and so forth. If there's one skillful area of the game that should never be ignored, it is table talk.
To me, there are two different types of table talk. The first type of table talk comes from a player who is voluntarily speaking with the table. This player is basically volunteering information that they (usually) want you to have. The next type of player will require some more work on your end, as they are best referred to as the cooperative speaker. You can ask these players and prod for information, and eventually they might help you out.
Of course, there are always going to be those players who say nothing at all. Sometimes you'll have a player who helps you more and more as they ramble, while in other situations you will need to actually induce some conversation. No matter what the case may be, table talk should help you in every form imaginable.
Voluntary Table Talk
If a player is talking specifically about his strategy or anything related to the game at hand, you should be paying attention. For the most part these players are going to be speaking out loud exactly what they are thinking in their head. Though you might think it to be the case, there aren't very many players who will discuss strategy aloud while deep down thinking something very different. Sometimes players will talk in an attempt to justify their play in order to get some level of acceptance from their peers. Other times players will talk when they have made a bet and want either a call or a fold. Needless to say, talking during a hand should be interpreted differently than discussions after the fact, but both will remain useful in their own way.
It would be impossible to try and dissect all of the different things that a player might discuss after or before a hand. What we can look into, however, is how to pick apart common things that players will say while they are in a hand. These are some of the most common phrases that you'll hear live poker players rehearse over and over again, and they frequently mean the same thing from person to person.
"Be Careful." This is what players like to say when someone is about to bet into them. What this almost always means is "I am not comfortable calling a bet, so I am going to pretend like I am using reverse psychology to bait you into a bet while the reality is that I really don't want a bet at all. I am so tricky!" The players who mutter this phrase are usually holding weak to average strength showdown hands and simply want to win the pot without a fight. If someone says this, don't change your plan of betting. If you were going to win the pot by checking it down, you might as well try to win more by placing a bet-assuming of course that you are likely to have the winning hand.
"How Much Do You Have?" This is less static in meaning than "be careful," but it's most commonly used when someone is considering a bluff. You are less inclined to worry about stack sizes when you have a big hand, but a weak hand doesn't want to bluff if the person they are betting into doesn't have enough chips to justify a fold. If you were thinking someone was bluffing and they prefaced their bet with this question, you may very well have been on the right path.
Creating a Conversation
Creating table talk is my personal favorite way to identify hand strength when in difficult or tricky spots. You can learn a lot from how someone reacts to your honest questions. There are many different ways to approach a player when you want to find out where they stand. Since you are usually in a position where your hand strength is irrelevant to the outcome (in terms of the other player knowing your hand), you are going to be able to use this information to gauge reactions.
Let's say that someone has placed a bet on a board with a flush and straight possible, but you are only holding a set. Assume that all you can now reasonably beat is a bluff, given that top pair would be unlikely to bet. You are now contemplating a call and are unsure of where you stand. One thing that you can say is "Did you really hit that x?" with "x" representing the more unlikely of the draws. If you can get the player to react with a shrug or a smile or something similar, you can feel more confident that this isn't the hand that they have.
Most players who are actually holding said hand will remain quiet once you have called them out. You can then use the same line for the other draw and gauge the reaction again. The more they give off a happy/relaxed look when you call out hands, the less likely that they are to be holding them. Is this always true? No, of course not, but your goal is to play the odds as much as possible. This type of read is useful when you are leaning to one side or the other but can't really make up your mind.
My next favorite way to pick up talkative tells is to tell my opponent where I stand. Using the example above, although not best for this particular move, you would say "I have a set, all I lose to is a flush or a straight." Once the player knows that they are beat (if they are bluffing), they are generally going to change up their body language. They might have been silent before, but now they may start talking more or smiling or nodding, etc. etc. These types of actions are indicative of a player who is now trying to do all that they can to force a fold.
If you used this line and didn't get any change in posture or stance whatsoever, you should be worried that you are in fact beat. In the end, if a certain way of acting at the table seems to be working, a player is not prone to changing. If they think that their move is about to fail, they are more likely to try out new things in the way of table talk or body language signs that they weren't exhibiting before.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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