Last week we discussed how to spot a bluff in poker. That coin has a flipside – spotting a player who has a monster hand. In many respects, this is even more important. Calling a bluff is a nice bonus, as it can add tremendously both to your poker chip stack and your poker confidence. However, getting bluffed is unlikely to ruin you in any particular moment. On the other hand, when you call someone with a monster hand, this is likely to put a big dent in your bankroll. Knowing when to fold in the face of a monster is crucial.
Now, remember the basics of last week – when someone is trying to look strong, he is most probably weak. Now flip that and you get the other side of the equation – when a player tries to look weak, he is probably strong.
As in the looking strong case, looking weak is often unintentional, although it is somewhat easier to feign weakness on purpose. It is usually just a natural mechanism kicking in because the player wants to conceal the strength of his hand.
The main sign of weakness is a player acting disinterested, like he doesn’t care much about this hand. Hitting a monster doesn’t happen very often and is thus a rare opportunity to win significant chips in one go. That’s why a player who hit one will desperately want to keep the secret by avoiding attention and remaining low key, like a spy behind enemy lines. A player who has a strong hand will generally avoid eye contact and look away quickly when stared at.
This poker sign is most obvious when the flop is dealt. It is always a good idea to look at your opponents when the cards hit the table. It is natural for you to want to look at the cards right away to measure the strength of your hand, but the flop will still be there in a few seconds while your opponents’ initial reactions will be gone. Those initial reactions are usually the most telling. A player looking away quickly after she sees the flop is usually one who has caught something big on it. Again, this is a natural reaction of wanting to remain low key and seem disinterested in the hand.
Another common reaction that shows strength is a player suddenly getting very quiet. When a player talks, he naturally draws attention to himself, and a monster hand will definitely try to avoid that attention as they wait for people to get sucked into the hand. Now, if you are at a table that has seen very little talk it may be hard to tell, but if there has been active conversation and suddenly someone stops talking, this is usually a tell. The sudden-non-talker is probably praying that you will call.
Also be very alert to players who very obviously try to show they are nervous. For instance, a player whose hands start shaking is probably acting to make you think they are bluffing and nervous. Such antics, however, are more likely a sign of strength.
When you detect one of these signs of strength, alarm bells better be ringing in your head. Don’t hesitate to fold your hand and avoid a major disaster. Getting no chips on a monster hand very often puts players on tilt, which you can subsequently exploit.