Reading Poker Tells May Be Most Important Skill for Success

If you’ve ever seen a poker game in a movie, you likely know about poker “tells”—tics or unintentional gestures that betray what the player has or if he’s bluffing. While there’s always a certain amount of luck involved in poker, any serious player can tell you skill separates the pros from the amateurs, and the ability to read your opponents is arguably the most important poker-playing skill of all.

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Final Table for 2011 WSOP Whittled Down to Three

Nine men were left standing – or sitting, as it were – at the poker table at the beginning of Sunday’s World Series of Poker Main Event Final Table, but in just under eight hours, only three remained.

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Want to Learn How to Play Poker?

So, the first time you play, approach the poker room staff and ask for a seat at the stakes level you want to play. If a seat is available, they will show you to the table and you will buy chips from the dealer. You may have to wait a few hands till the big blind comes around to you to begin play. You will place your blind across the betting line of the table and the dealer will deal two cards to each player. The player to the left of the small blind player starts the betting, and it proceeds clockwise around the table. When betting is done, then the dealer will deal the “flop,” which is three cards face up. Then another round of betting ensues, with you starting the round. If you continue, there are two more betting rounds with one card dealt face up each time. That’s five cards on the table and two in your hand, but you can only use some combination of five cards to make the best hand possible. After betting is finished, everyone shows their hand, or, if you see you’re beaten, you can “muck” your cards, turning them in face down so the other players don’t know what you were holding.

If you have the best hand you win, if not you lose.

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How to Survive Your First Live Poker Game

Another common home game practice that will not fly in a poker room is what professionals call “slow rolling.” It’s when you get to the end, or “showdown,” and you have the winning hand, but let the other player think you don’t, even if only for a few seconds. In the movie “Rounders,” Edward Norton is notorious for this, and it is one of the worst offenses of etiquette you can commit.

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Sample Hand Commentaries

Antonius Tilts Lindgren With Gutsy Call

Patrik Antonius proved he isn’t afraid of overcards to his pairs, and his correct call put Eric Lindgren on tilt, chastising Phil Gordon for his commentary on the hand and even calling him an “idiot.”

Everyone folded to Lindgren on the button, who raised with Jd 9d to 400, and Jennifer Tilly folded to Antonius, who called his big blind with 6c 5c. The flop came Th 4d Td and  Antonius checked. Lindgren bet 500, but Antonius check-raised back to 1400 with 6 high, and Lindgren called.

The turn of 5h gave Antonius the lead with his middle pair, and he bet 2,500 into the 3,700 pot and Lindgren’s flush draw. Lindgren called with about a 24% chance of hitting his flush.

With the Kh on the river, Antonius apparently put Lindgren on a missed diamond flush draw – not a heart flush – and checked to induce Lindgren’s bluff of 5,700. Which he called, taking down the 20,100 pot, with Lindgren mucking his losing hand.

When Phil Gordon commented on Antonius’ good call and asked what he thought Lindgren had, Antonius confirmed he felt it was a busted flush draw and Gordon agreed. Which set off a bit of a tirade from Lindgren, who called Gordon “a complete idiot.” It seemed all in good fun at first, but when Gordon responded that he thought being called an idiot was a bit harsh, the jabs from Lindgren continued into the next hand, with Lindgren telling Gordon “no one cares what you think,” and taunting him about being used to looking at a hole cards camera – “apparently you always know what the hole cards are.”


When Lindgren finally stopped the verbal assault,  Phil Ivey broke the silent tension at the table by commenting, “I might need some cocktails.” To which Gordon laughed and responded, “Order me whatever you get.”

“You probably already know what he wants,” responded Lindgren.


Hansen’s Quads Sink Negreanu’s Boat

What can be worse than set over set? When set over set becomes quads over full house. At least for the poor guy with the boat, and that poor guy this time was Daniel Negreanu.

Gus Hansen caught 5d 5c under the gun and raised to 2,100. The hand was folded around to Negreanu who probably thought his High Stakes Poker luck was finally changing for the better when he saw his 6s 6h, and re-raised to 5,000. That was enough to scare off Antonio Esfandiari’s Ad Qc in the big blind and isolate Hansen, who called.

The flop hit 9c 6d 5h and it looked like Negreanu was well on his way to a big payoff, firing an 8,000 bet into the 11,700 pot after Hansen checked. But Hansen check-raised back to 26,000, prompting a smooth call from Negreanu, who correctly presumed he had the best of it at that point.

But then came the turn, and turn the hand it did – especially Negreanu’s luck. The 5s gave Hansen quads and Negreanu sixes full of fives, and sealed his fate on this hand – his boat went from battleship to Titanic.

Hansen lead with a 24,000 bet on the turn, and Negreanu, oblivious to the iceberg in his path, smooth called.

The river came 8s, and Hansen played dead in the water, checking again, and provoking a please-call-me-bet of 65,000 by Negreanu. But Hansen, of course, did more than call, shoving his stack to the surprise of Negreanu – and creating the biggest pot in High Stakes Poker history even before Negreanu’s decision. Credit to Negreanu for not making the insta-call and contemplating the possibility Hansen had 99, 55 or 88, but ultimately, he couldn’t get away from the hand and went down with the ship, losing a pot of over 575,000.