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Straight Talk: When Players Tell You What They Have

  • Martin HarrisMartin Harris
Straight Talk: When Players Tell You What They Have


  • Does talking about one's own hand -- even identifying it exactly -- generally represent strength?

  • A look at "straight talk" at the tables, or when players (seem to) tell the truth about their hands.

Toward the end of the European Poker Tour Dublin festival that wrapped up recently, Day 2 of the Main Event had ended early giving myself and a few dozen others a chance to participate in the media tournament that night. Many took part, as did PokerStars players Lex Veldhuis of Team PokerStars Pro Online) and Friend of Team PokerStars Felipe “Mojave” Ramos.

As such events typically go, much fun was had with the low buy-in and turbo-styled levels helping encourage a lot of loose play. During one of those first levels a hand took place that saw Ramos open with a raise from UTG and a player in middle position call. On the button, I looked down at {K-Spades}{J-Clubs} and called as well as did the big blind, meaning four of us saw a flop come {9-Clubs}{10-Spades}{J-Diamonds}.

Straight Talk: When Players Tell You What They Have 101
Felipe "Mojave" Ramos

It checked to Ramos who paused a moment to ask the dealer a question. “Does king-queen make a straight?” he asked while pointing at the community cards, and the table and dealer laughed in response.

Ramos then bet, the MP player called, and I called as well. The turn was the {6-Hearts} and he bet again, a little bigger this time, and only I stuck around, noting as I called that the pot was now bigger than my remaining stack.

The river brought the {J-Spades}, giving me trips, and this time Ramos decided to check. I considered betting, but after just a few seconds decided to check back, and was glad I did when I saw Ramos table {K-}{Q-} for a flopped straight. I showed my hand, earning some not-necessarily-deserved praise for having somehow managed not to lose more or even be eliminated.

It would be a lie to say that when contemplating a river bet I’d thoughtfully narrowed my opponent’s range down to hands that made betting seem incorrect. It did occur to me fleetingly that Ramos might not call me with worse, but if I’m going to be honest it was just caution — or passive timidity — that encouraged my check back.

Continuing with the honesty, it was only a minute or two later that I’d remembered what Ramos had said just before he c-bet the flop. He’d declared his hand!

Hey, You Guessed My Hand!

After the tournament, I thought back to a hand I’d watched play out earlier that day during the Main Event, probably the most interesting hand I’d seen on Day 2. The hand had come early in the afternoon during the 400/800/100 level and involved Christian Thiry who had raised from UTG and Nicholas Palma who called from the big blind.

Straight Talk: When Players Tell You What They Have 102
Nicholas Palma

“I’m either ahead or I’m not, am I right?” grinned the talkative Palma as he called, then the pair watched the flop come {9-Hearts}{5-Diamonds}{7-Clubs}. Palma checked, and Thiry continued for 2,400. Palma then check-raised to 6,000, and Thiry hesitated.

“You would have put it in already, so I’m not worried,” said Palma. Thiry responded “I’m a nit” as he called, then the turn brought the {4-Diamonds}.

At that Palma pushed out a big bet — larger than the pot, and a bit more than what Thiry had behind. Thiry immediately said “You probably got me crushed with a set of fours.”

“You see my cards?!?” said Palma in response, and the table laughed.

You might guess where this is going.

Thiry engaged in more table talk with Palma, at one point saying to him “You say one thing, I think you have it... you say another, I think you don’t.” Finally he decided to call, tabling {8-Diamonds}{8-Spades}.

Sure enough, Palma had {4-Clubs}{4-Hearts} — exactly what he’d said he had (or implied, anyway). Thiry shook his head and smiled, noting that at least he still had outs, but none came on the river and he was eliminated.

The Significance of “Straight Talk”

Both hands demonstrated players not quite saying exactly what they held, but jokingly indicating as much through their table talk.

Straight Talk: When Players Tell You What They Have 103
"Verbal Poker Tells" by Zachary Elwood

There definitely exists only a small percentage of players who are willing to volunteer such things amid their table talk — that is to say, not everyone is likely amid table chatter to verbalise precisely what he or she is holding, even indirectly, particularly if that hand is the nuts or near-nuts. (I know I’m not likely to do so, although I tend not to talk much at all during hands.)

But there are those who are comfortable enough with chatting during hands to include such statements (or implied statements) in their repertoire of table talk. And when playing against such a player, it probably is worth keeping in mind that a reference to a particularly strong hand — even made in jest — should not automatically remove that hand from the player’s possible range.

In fact, in some cases such references might even mean you should be more willing to include that hand in their range.

Zachary Elwood’s book Verbal Poker Tells compiles a comprehensive catalogue of table talk. The section titled “Discussing own range of hands” seems relevant here.

“When a player makes a significant bet and discusses what his own hand might be,” writes Elwood, “it’s usually a sign of relaxation and a strong hand.”

Elwood then presents a couple of examples of players happily discussing their own narrow range of hands postflop, including one in which the player starts by identifying exactly the very hand he’s holding.


In the media tournament hand, Ramos flopped a straight, then immediately joked about what was needed to make a straight. Of course, the relaxed atmosphere of that tournament was somewhat different from that of the EPT Dublin Main Event, with a lot of humorous table talk and less than “straight talk” happening.

But even in more serious events you’ll sometimes encounter certain players making direct references like this to particular hands. I would suggest at least paying attention when they do, and certainly avoiding the mistake of dismissing the possibility of players actually holding those hands by erroneously thinking “He’d never say he had it if I he really did.”

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