Talking to Players to Gain Information
Talking to players is the easiest way to create information that you otherwise wouldn't have been privy to. If you haven't previously used table talk to try and extract some tips from your opponents, you might be surprised at how well it works. While it's going to be most beneficial against less experienced players (of which there's no shortage in live play), you'll also be able to pick up some tells from long time players as well. When it comes down to it, the majority of players just can't help but to react in one way or another. You don't necessarily to have a full on verbal conversation with someone in order to find what you are looking for.
There are a handful of different ways in which your speech can give you information. If you are talking to a player and get a spoken response or a body language response, you are going to have more to work with than you did before. A simple shrug of the shoulder could be the difference between a good call and a bad call. Of course, reactions and their associated meanings are going to vary wildly from player to player. You need to still be able to use context clues when you are trying to piece the puzzle together. With all of that being said, the aim of this article is to pinpoint how you can talk to players and how you should analyze their responses.
How to Talk
How you talk to a player will depend on what you want to happen. If you are trying to bait someone into making a bet or a call, you are undoubtedly going to use different language than if you were trying to determine whether you should call one of their bets. For the most part, I prefer to avoid talking to opponents in the hand until I am in a risk free position.
A risk free position would be defined as a spot where anything I say wouldn't really be putting myself in jeopardy. In fact, often times you'll be in such a safe spot that you could even show the other player your hand. These are the times when talking is most beneficial because you have little to lose.
The best way to gain information from players through talking is to say things that encourage and warrant a reply. "Did you get the flush?" "Can you beat a straight?" These are the types of lines that you can use with a reasonable expectation of a reply. If someone asked you these questions, you would be at least be tempted to answer them.
My personal favorite way to gain information is to tell them right where you stand. If you tell a player, "All I lose to is xyz," they are going to know right then and there whether they want a call or a fold. Now that you have an idea of which types of phrases and lines are most effective, the next step is to consider what the relative responses mean.
A fair amount of the time you'll be left with no reply whatsoever. Some players know what's best for them and will just keep quiet no matter how much you talk to them. While adding some additional talk could provoke them to ultimately reply, you shouldn't hold out too much hope. These players are going to be your worst enemy in these situations, because they leave you all but helpless when it comes to gaining more information.
Body language reactions are the most common form of reply to table talk. Whether or not someone verbally replies, they will usually have some mannerism that could give you some insight into their hand strength. For example, say that you asked a player if they hit a draw. If the player shrugs their shoulders, I would lean towards "no". The reason for this is that players tend to tense up in an attempt to stay calm and poised when someone is calling out their hand.
Now, if you ask a player whether they can beat a specific hand and they react in the same way, I would lean towards them having a made hand. The trouble with these exact tells and reads is that they can and will vary greatly depending on the type of player. For the most part, however, a "shrug" type reply to a question like this would mean that they were caught off guard with excitement and are trying to induce a call.
As mentioned previously, my personal favorite way to pick up some valuable information is to tell the players which are the only hands I lose to. This is particularly valuable in a nuts vs. second nuts (or something close) spot. If a player is making a value bet and it turns out they are actually behind, they are going to generally become a bit squirmish, on the inside if not also outwardly.
The same can be said for a player who was completely bluffing. It's easy to remain calm and focused when you bluff and are hoping for a fold, but it becomes a lot more difficult if you find out that your opponent is actually very, very strong. Players want to think that their bluff has a reasonable chance of standing for itself and forcing a fold. If someone finds out that they are up against a monster, they are of course going to be nervous.
Though it has been mentioned several times, you always need to factor in the specific player at hand. Middle aged players in their 30s-50s tend to be the easiest to read and fall in line with many of the stereotypes. Young players also match the typical reads, but they can be trickier. Older players are the toughest because they will often times say nothing at all.
Beyond their physical appearance, however, you should also consider an opponent's skill level. A weaker player will give off more standard tells and reads than a more advanced player. The more advanced and skilled that a player is when it comes to poker strategy itself, the less apt they are to give you information when it comes to table talk.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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