By: Kent Anderson


Much is made about bluffing in the annals of poker. The first thing most people who don’t play think of when discussing the game has something to do with bluffing and tells. The embellished and sometimes wholly inaccurate treatment the game has received over the years in television and film is undoubtedly one of the primary catalysts for this general misunderstanding. Many people believe the game to be dangerous and unpredictable owing to all that bluffing. Those of us who play, know this is not the case. Of course there is bluffing and it can be a very effective tool, but one does not bluff every hand. Think of the bluff as an elegant solution that when used properly at the right time can pay big dividends.


An equally misunderstood part of the game is the tell. It would be nice if people actually listened to their Oreos when they had it, but I have yet to run into Teddy KGB on the felt. Although I did have a near entanglement with a Russian limo driver several months back (more on that later), but he didn’t have a tray of cookies. Rather than some obvious facial tick, most players’ tells are revealed by Money and Drinkstheir betting patterns. I have, however noticed something that can be a dead give away. There’s no denying that the human body has definite reactions when placed under stress or when excited. Yes, the adrenaline pumps, heart rate elevates and body temperature rises (even if you use Degree).


Next time you’re in a big hand trying to figure out what your opponent is doing, take notice of their breathing and their neck. I’ve seen legions of players who in an attempt to regulate their breathing actually make their stress or excitement more obvious. Their shoulders may rise and fall noticeably. A glance at their neck may also reveal the jugular vein in their neck pulsating. What this means you’ll have to figure out, but let it be a red flag that something is a foot. Getting paid off by this tell may take some time, but you now have something to observe as that player gets involved in pots. Is your opponent visibly excited because they’re on a big bluff and stressed about getting called or are they excited by the prospect of a big payday from their made hand? When you determine which it is, know that they will probably react similarly in forthcoming hands. While it may be more glamorous to pick off a bluff and make a big move or a big call, picking off tells of strength and folding may actually make you more money in the long run by preserving your bankroll. When you expose someone’s bluff the entire table will see, which feeds your ego. Folding to the nuts or to a superior hand may starve the ego, but will keep more butter on your bread at the end of the day.


For a second opinion let’s consult Sun Tzu, the Chinese general, who wrote THE ART OF WAR 2500 years ago. His understanding of conflict and gaining the upper hand against your opponent translates very well to the felt.

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is superior in strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”


I’m going to chew on that. Until next time…

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