Non-Verbal is Revealing

poker language

Betting actions or patterns can scream louder than any words. If we listen carefully in the silence, the villains often will tell us exactly what they have.

In one hand last night, I call a small raise with KX. The flop is Q7X, giving me the 2nd nuts. Looking oblivious to this, the pre-flop raiser makes a continuation bet. For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Wesley.” I just call, choosing to follow Napoleon’s battle advice: “When the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him.”

The turn card is a 7, pairing the 7 already on the board. Wesley bets again. He looks entirely unbothered by the flushy, now paired board. QQ seems like part of his range, although Wesley tends to vary his pre-flop bet sizing based on his hand strength and would have made a larger pre-flop raise with QQ. Maybe he has the A. Maybe he thinks my call on the flop suggests that I have the A. Napoleon was pretty successful in combat and I should be ahead here, so I just call again.

The river is another 7, putting trips on the board. Now I’m losing to any pocket pair. Wesley bets again, and his body language continues to ooze confidence. While I still discount larger pocket pairs like AA / KK / QQ based on his pre-flop bet sizing, I’m losing to any Q and any pocket pair.  Whatever his exact hand is, in the language of a poker player, he is saying “I’m going to win this pot and you can pay me off if you want to.”

I don’t want to pay him off and Napoleon didn’t win every battle. After I fold, Wesley flips over 97o. Quads are good! #TheyAlwaysHaveIt –> nuts edition.

Awhile later, my stack has gotten very short, a little less than 50 BBs. I was planning to top it up soon, but first needed to get my thinking and patience back on track after a few leaky plays.

I’m on the button with J8o. If you haven’t read Tommy Angelo’s Waiting for Straighters, I highly recommend it. There is a raise and call in front of me, and with a “Straighter” on the button, I call. The flop is K♠J♠9. The pre-flop raiser checks, but the player on my immediate right bets about 1/2 pot. For purposes of this blog, I’ll refer to him as “Matt.” He’s an aggressive player and his betting range on this flop includes a lot of draws. I call and so does the pre-flop raiser.

The turn was something low and off-suit, and both players check to me. With 2nd pair, a weak kicker and no draws, pot control seems in order, so I check. The river is the 9, putting a pair of 9’s on the board but not completing any of the draws. After the first player checks, Matt puts out a pretty large bet, close to 80% of the pot. In the language of poker players, what is he saying? If he had a 9 in his hand and just made trips, he would bet less, to try to coax a crying call out of a hand like mine. Otherwise, if he had a strong value hand on the flop, like a straight with QT, or top two pair with KJ, he would not have checked on the turn with so many draws available. Not only is his bet large in relation to the pot, it also is large in relation to my stack… if I call and lose I’ll only have about 5-6 BBs remaining.

More than anything else, Matt’s betting line through the flop/turn/river and his river bet sizing is the language of a missed draw that smells enough weakness to think he can push us out of the pot. It’s loud enough for me to call with confidence, and the original pre-flop raiser folds. Matt smiles weakly, saying “good call, I have Ace high.” #TheyAlwaysHaveIt –> bluffing edition.

Another bit later, Matt puts out a small pre-flop raise, less than the typical amount at this game. With AQ, I re-raise. This isn’t an automatic 3-betting hand, but Matt’s weak bet combined with the fact that I haven’t 3-bet a single time during this session makes it an easy move that has the desired effect of isolating Matt, as he calls after everyone else folds. Very quickly my read is that he likely has a small-to-medium pocket pair and is set mining. If so, his small raise was designed to sweeten the pot and keep multiple players in, to support some decent sized bets if he flops a set, while keeping his investment small.

The flop is Q42♣. As I’m processing this top pair / top kicker flop, Matt leads out for about 75% of the pot. That’s unexpected. If he flopped a set of 4’s or 2’s, he would be more likely to check, figuring my pre-flop 3-betting range to be weighted heavily towards AA & KK, which I would always bet again on this flop. Rewind, erase, start over. Inside my head, I hear myself saying to myself “Oh, Matt has a flush draw.” If so, it has to be a suited connector / 1-gapper kind of flush draw, as I have the A and the Q is now on the board. He cannot have a nut flush draw, nor top pair + a flush draw. Is this congruent with his pre-flop actions?

He might make the same small pre-flop raise to try to keep his investment small and the flop multi-ways with suited connectors / 1-gappers. Calling my 3-bet to be isolated and out-of-position would be unwise, but Matt likes to see flops and here we are. Above the clatter of shuffling poker chips, the language of Matt’s betting actions is as clear as if he simply spoke the words. My A negates one of his outs, serving as an In-Case-of-Emergency-Please-Break-Glass re-draw to a higher flush if another heart comes on the turn.

So I push all-in. My shove is somewhere between 1-to-1.5x the pot, which makes any lesser sized raise a bit awkward. Matt hems and haws a bit, says “I know you’ve got aces… or maybe queens” and decides to gamble, making the call and tabling KJ. I decline to run it twice and get a favorable runout and full double up, after which Matt begins referring to me for the rest of the night as “KKing Fucking David.” Having known and liked Matt for a couple of years, it is easy to take that as a compliment. #TheyAlwaysHaveIt –> drawing edition.


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