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Joe Navarro: Poker tells of the neck

Joe NavarroRe-published courtesy of our content partner Ante Up Magazine.

As I often say there are poker faces, but there is no such thing as a poker body. Somewhere on our body we reflect precisely and in real time what we think, feel, desire or intend. The neck is such an area for poker players, full of clues as to whether a player is strong, marginal or weak.

Seven years ago, when I first started writing about poker tells (Read ’em and Reap), the feet were not on the radar screen. Here was an area of the body unrecognized in the poker world. Since then many players have wisely folded in time when seeing “happy feet” on their opponents who had monster hands. To a certain extent, like the feet, behaviors of the neck also have been off the radar screen to many players, so let me shed some light on this often-ignored area of the body.

The neck is critical for survival (it’s architecturally necessary for food, water, air, chemical and electrical signals) and as such, the brain treats the neck differently than the rest of the body. Because it’s such a vital area, whenever we feel threatened or insecure the brain compels us to do certain things to protect or pacify the neck.
Watch any tournament and you’ll see players when they’re having doubts or feel some action on the board will hurt them begin to touch or rub their neck. This is an accurate indicator that something is bothering them. This is a legacy behavior from when humans routinely saw large felines bring down prey by biting down on their necks. Though large threats don’t remain, we still do this behavior when things bother us.

Neck touching is probably one of the most often used behaviors to calm us. Some people rub the back of their neck with their fingers; others stroke the sides of their neck or just under the chin above the Adam’s apple, tugging at the fleshy area of the neck.This area is rich with nerve endings that, when stroked, reduce blood pressure, lower the heart rate and calm the individual. This action usually is seen when players are marginal or weak and are deliberating their next move.

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Don't be afraid to take them to Valuetown

Mike WolfRe-published courtesy of our content partner Ante Up Magazine.

I often see players my age crafting elaborate lines of action for the sake of balance. I would argue that balancing your perceived range of hands at $1-$2 NLHE is about as awful as it gets. The most crucial aspect of being a successful live cash-game player is betting hands for value. Sounds reasonable right?

You’d be surprised just how many low-limit players bluff way too often or miss extra bets. The primary way we make money in small games, such as $1-$2 and $1-$3 no-limit hold’em, is by betting our strong hands and getting weaker players to call with weaker hands.

I often see players my age crafting elaborate lines of action for the sake of balance. I would argue that balancing your perceived range of hands at $1-$2 NLHE is about as awful as it gets.

The reason online players balance the percentage of bluffs to strong hands in their ranges is so they won’t be exploitable when playing against good regulars. You probably won’t play the same players much if you play $1-$2 in large poker rooms. So why not just wait for a strong hand and bet it all the way against players who are going to call anyway?

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A perfect poker bluff that loses

Lee Childs, courtesy of Ante Up Magazine

Re-printed courtesy of our content partner Ante Up Magazine.

During a recent online session, I pulled the trigger on what I would call the perfect bluff.

I was in the early stages of an online tournament with blinds at 15-30 and most of the players at my table were hovering around the 3,000-chip starting stack. I had 2,950 to start the hand and my opponent was the small blind with 3,145. Normally I play a conservative, relatively tight, straightforward game in the early stages of a tournament. I will mix it up on occasion, but for the most part, nothing too fancy.

In this hand, I was in middle position with the {7-Hearts}-{9-Hearts} and raised to 75. The small blind reraised to 240 and I decided to play a pot in position. My opponent was representing a big hand, so if I happened to hit the board hard, or sense an opportunity to take the pot away by utilizing my position then I would do so. Otherwise I planned to play a small pot.

I called and the flop was {10-Spades}-{7-Clubs}-{a-Hearts}, giving me bottom pair with backdoor flush and straight draws. Not the flop I was looking for, but if my opponent had just an ace, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, 9-9 or worse, I might be able to take this pot away if he showed any weakness. If he showed any resistance I would just fold. I also started my wheels spinning on how I would play the hand if I did have the nuts and proceed from there.

My opponent checked the flop and I checked behind, as I would do whether I hit it or not. In this case, I definitely would check a super-strong hand to induce a bluff from my opponent on a later street. The turn was the {a-Clubs} and my opponent bet 250. I thought my opponent would make this bet with pretty much his entire range since I checked the flop.
Sure, he could have a monster, but I was looking for an opportunity to get to showdown if he checked the river, or represent a monster to try to take the pot away on the river if a good card came for me. So, I called.

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