Stan’s Lists – WSOP Player of the Year


[SS] “Did any of you follow the WSOP Player of the Year1 race in Australia?” Stan the Stat asked the table.

[LL] “I actually streamed the last two events, so it was an interesting side story”, Leroy the Lion noted.

[RR] “Was it anyone I’ve heard of?” Roderick the Rock inquired.

[SS] “I doubt it. At least not before now.”

[LL] “A German named George Danzer was battling an American named Brandon Shack-Harris. They’d separated themselves from the pack over the summer then traded the lead a few times in Australia.”

[LL] “It came down to the last two WSOP APAC events. When Danzer busted out of the High Roller tournament, Shack-Harris was still alive in the APAC Main Event and could leapfrog to the title with a 2nd place finish.”

[LL] “Shack-Harris eventually got it all in with pocket Jacks ahead of Frank Kassela’s A♠9♦, but busted in 17th place when an Ace appeared on the board.”

[LL] “But late entry to the High Roller event was still open! The American jumped in but, alas, failed to cash, let alone make it to the 4th place finish he needed, crowning Danzer WSOP Player of the Year.”

[RR] “So, nobody in the November Nine is close to catching them?”

[SS] “Nope. The short stack, Bruno Politano, leads the November Niners with just 99.33 points, so the best he can do if he makes history by going from ninth to first is overtake John Hennigan for third place in the POY standings.”2

[SS] “Winning the Main Event is currently worth 500 points, but that hasn’t always been true. In fact, the POY formula has changed quite often through the years:

WSOP POY Formula Evolution

  • 2004: The WSOP Player of the Year race debuts, probably inspired by the WPT’s award, which began in 2003. Each event earns the same number of points based only on the players’ finish. The Main Event does not count.
  • 2005: Players earn one point for each dollar in prize money they win.
  • 2006: The new $50,000 HORSE tournament is also excluded from the rankings.
  • 2007: A new points system debuts but lacks any adjustment for the field size.
  • 2008: The $50,000 HORSE tournament starts counting.
  • 2009: The Main Event becomes eligible again, although POY Lisandro fails to cash in it.
  • 2010: Bluff Magazine takes over.
  • 2011: Field size and buy-in become factors in the formula so larger fields and higher buy-ins are worth more. WSOP Europe events count for the first time after being ignored for four years.
  • 2013: WSOP Asia Pacific debuts and counts in the standings.”

WSOP Player of the Year

Year Winner Points Runner-Up Points Margin
2004 Daniel Negreanu ? Ted Forrest ? ?
2005 Allen Cunningham 1,007,115 Mark Seif 799,950 25.9%
2006 Jeff Madsen 1,467,852 Phil Hellmuth 1,190,002 23.3%
2007 Tom Schneider 255 Jeff Lisandro 225 13.3%
2008 Erick Lindgren 245 Barry Greenstein 235 4.3%
2009 Jeff Lisandro 355 Ville Wahlbeck 320 10.9%
2010 Frank Kassela 290 Michael Mizrachi 240 20.8%
2011 Ben Lamb 909.05 Phil Hellmuth 755.25 20.4%
2012 Greg Merson 981.13 Phil Hellmuth 889.33 10.3%
2013 Daniel Negreanu 890.22 Matthew Ashton 665.75 33.7%
2014 George Danzer 923.50 Brandon Shack-Harris 806.70 14.5%

[SS] “The formula has changed too much over the year to compare point totals between years, but here are some other highlights:

  • Merson was the only POY to win the Main Event, and as a result he also won the most money ($9,785,354), dwarfing Lamb’s second best total of $5,352,970. Negreanu (2004) won the least money ($346,280), a record that is unlikely to get broken.
  • Lisandro and Danzer won the most bracelets, three.
  • Negreanu (2004) and Danzer reached the most final tables, five.
  • Negreanu (2013) and Danzer cashed the most times, ten.
  • Although it came down to the final event of the year, Negreanu’s margin of victory in 2013 was the largest ever percentage-wise, aided by bracelets in both Melbourne, Australia and Enghien-les-Bains, France.
  • In 2008, Lindgren’s 4th place finish in the $50,000 HORSE tournament, two spots better than Greenstein’s, made the difference in the closest-ever POY race.
  • In 2009, Lisandro failed to cash in the Main Event and had to hope that Wahlbeck didn’t go deep (he busted on Day 3).
  • The next three years came down to the Main Event Final Table. In 2010, Mizrachi needed to win the Main Event to tie Kassela but ended up placing fifth, two spots better than he started. In 2011, Lamb sealed WSOP POY honors with a third place finish in the Main Event, edging Hellmuth. In 2012, Merson needed to win the Main Event, which he did to leave Hellmuth second for a third time.”

Multiple Top Ten Finishes

[SS] “Bluff Magazine has sponsored and tabulated the WSOP Player of the Year results since 2010. In those five years, besides Hellmuth, four other players have finished in the Top 10 twice: Daniel Negreanu (1st in 2013 and 4th or 5th this year), David “Bakes” Baker (4th in 2010 and 5th in 2013), Michael Mizrachi (2nd in 2010 and 6th in 2012), and Richard Ashby (8th in 2010 and 8th or 9th this year).”

[SS] “Going back to 20073 adds Brock Parker (6th in 2009 and 9th or 10th this year), Jeff Lisandro (2nd in 2007 and 1st in 2009), Phil Ivey (3rd in 2009 and 5th in 2012), and Tom Schneider (1st in 2007 and 10th in 2013).”

[SS] “Going back to 20054 adds Allen Cunningham (1st in 2005 and 10th in 2006). Hellmuth also placed 2nd in 2006 and 5th in 2007. Ivey also finished 6th in 2005.”

[SS] “Lastly, to go back to the beginning, in 2004 Negreanu was the first WSOP Player of the Year,5 making him the only two-time winner.”

Footnotes:

  1. Competing Player of the Year awards will be covered in future articles.
  2. Other players could end up fourth, supplanting Daniel Negreanu, or fifth, edging Ismael Bojang.
  3. WSOP.com has the final standings for 2007, 2008, and 2009.
  4. Final Standings from 2005 and 2006 were calculated by subtracting Main Event and $50,000 HORSE winnings from the 2005 and 2006 Money Leaders.
  5. Sorry, I have no final standings for 2004 (nor even the formula I’d need to calculate them), so I don’t know who else was in the Top 10 besides Negreanu and Forrest.

Related Links:

Stan’s Lists – WSOP Europe and WSOP Asia Pacific Final Hands


[SS] “Congratulations to Scott Davies, this year’s WSOP Asia Pacific Main Event champion”, Stan the Stat announced. “The American pro won $737,907 (850,136 Australian dollars) to nearly triple his career WSOP winnings.”

[LL] “Go USA!” Leroy the Lion interjected.

[SS] “Americans have now won five of the nine WSOP Europe and APAC Main Events, just one fewer than in the last nine WSOP Main Events.”

[LL] “Certainly an overachievement given the lower percentage of Americans at the non-U.S. events.”

[SS] “Here are the final hands they won with (well, all of the champs):”

WSOP Europe and Asia Pacific Main Event Winning Hands

Year Event Winner Hand Value Runner-Up Hand Value Board
2007 E Annette Obrestad 7♥7♠ Three Sevens John Tabatabai 6♦5♠ Two Pairs,
6s over 5s
6♣7♣5♥2♣Q♥
2008 E John Juanda K♠6♣ Four Sixes Stanislav Alekhin A♣9♠ Three Sixes 6♦6♠2♦Q♣6♥
2009 E Barry Shulman T♠T♣ Three Tens Daniel Negreanu 4♠4♦ Pair of Fours T♦2♣K♦3♣Q♦
2010 E James Bord T♦T♥ Two Pairs,
10s over 9s
Fabrizio Baldassari 5♠5♥ Two Pairs,
9s over 5s
9♠9♦8♦J♠A♦
2011 E Elio Fox A♦T♠ Pair of Sixes,
Ace-Ten kicker
Chris Moorman A♥7♠ Pair of Sixes,
Ace-Eight kicker
6♠4♠3♥6♦8♥
2012 E Phil Hellmuth A♥T♦ Pair of Aces,
Jack-Ten kicker
Sergii Baranov A♠4♣ Pair of Aces,
Jack-Nine kicker
J♦9♥5♥A♦3♣
2013 A Daniel Negreanu 2♠2♥ Pair of Twos Daniel Marton A♠7♠ Ace-high 6♦J♠K♥T♥4♦
2013 E Adrian Mateos A♠K♣ Pair of Kings Fabrice Soulier 9♦8♦ Pair of Nines J♥9♠4♣K♠5♣
2014 A Scott Davies 6♦6♠ Full House,
6s over Ts
Jack Salter Q♣T♣ Three Tens 6♥T♥T♠8♠3♠

[SS] “Some notes about the final hands:

  • Davies had the best winning hand of any champ, flopping sixes full of tens, while Salter, who had begun the six-player final table with the chip lead, had the best losing hand with three tens.
  • The money went all in pre-flop in every case except Obrestad-Tabatabai, Mateos-Soulier, and Davies-Salter, each of which saw a flop first.
  • The winners had significantly better pre-flop hands than the runners-up, unlike in the WSOP Main Event. Only Juanda got it all-in behind pre-flop. Mateos was only other player who was behind before the shove, as he fell behind on the flop.”

[LL] “So, I was wrong, and the WSOP was right in having the Europe and Asia Pacific events alternate years?” Leroy the Lion inquired.

[SS] “Well, this year’s Asia Pacific Main Event field was the smallest turnout of the nine European and APAC Main Events with a significant twenty percent drop from last year’s 405 in Australia.”

[LL] “I know there’s two year’s worth of history now, but wouldn’t it make sense for the Asian Pacific events to be held in Macau1 instead of Australia? The Chinese ‘Special Administrative Region’ zoomed past Las Vegas to become the highest-grossing area in the world for legalized gambling in 2006.”2

[SS] “Yeah, Macau’s gambling industry is now seven times bigger than Vegas’s.3 I don’t know what the WSOP powers are thinking, but it seems like Macau could easily support an annual tournament series.”

[LL] “Maybe they think poker isn’t popular enough there yet. Baccarat, which is a boring4 and bad game for bettors unless you’re Phil Ivey, is surprisingly more popular, but poker is definitely growing.”

Footnotes:

  1. CNN, Wikipedia, and others spell it “Macau”, the modern Portuguese spelling, while the New York Times et al. have stuck with “Macao”, the original Portuguese spelling.
  2. The New York Times reported on Macau’s ascendence on January 23, 2007.
  3. CNN Money reported on January 6, 2014 that Macau had $45 billion in gambling revenue compared to about $6.5 billion for Vegas.
  4. From the subsequent baccarat link, you can get to this page that plays the game using Javascript and see for yourself.

Stan’s Lists – WSOP Europe and WSOP Asia Pacific


[SS] “Last year was the debut of the World Series of Poker Asia Pacific,” Stan the Stat began, “but it looks like it will be the only year with both a WSOP Europe and a WSOP Asia Pacific.1 Starting this year, the Asia Pacific event will take place only in even-numbered years, taking turns with the European event in odd-numbered years.”

[LL] “Sort of like how the Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same year from 1924 to 1992 before the International Olympic Committee offset the Winter games in 1994?” Leroy the Lion analogized.

[SS] “Yep. It make sense for those infrequent quadrennial games, but I don’t agree with the decision here.2 I’m not the one flying all over the world to play poker though.”

[LL] “I’d certainly like poker to grow, but the Big One for One Drop is a bit of a precedent. And that field shrunk despite the every-other-year schedule.”

[SS] “On the positive side, this justifies combining the short lists of the Europe and Asia Pacific Main Event winners into one:”

WSOP Europe and Asia Pacific Main Event Champions3

Year Event Winner Prize4 Entrants Cashed Runner-Up
2007 E Annette Obrestad $2,013,733 362 36 John Tabatabai
2008 E John Juanda $1,580,096 363 36 Stanislav Alekhin
2009 E Barry Shulman $1,321,534 334 36 Daniel Negreanu
2010 E James Bord $1,281,048 346 36 Fabrizio Baldassari
2011 E Elio Fox $1,870,208 593 64 Chris Moorman
2012 E Phil Hellmuth $1,333,841 420 48 Sergii Baranov
2013 A Daniel Negreanu $1,087,160 405 40 Daniel Marton
2013 E Adrian Mateos $1,351,661 375 40 Fabrice Soulier
2014 A Scott Davies $737,907 324 36 Jack Salter

[SS] “Some interesting tidbits:

  • Daniel Negreanu owns these Main Events. Three final tables in a span of six tournaments (5th place in 2008) is beyond impressive. Only Dan Harrington’s three final tables in ten WSOP Main Events from 1995 to 2004 can compare (his win was out of a slightly smaller field, while the back-to-back final tables were from much bigger fields).
  • Three other players have reached multiple final tables:5 Jason Mercier (4th in 2009 and 8th in 2012), Daniel Steinberg (6th in 2010 and 9th in 2013 Europe), and Benjamin Spindler (6th in both 2013 tourneys).
  • Norwegian Annette Obrestad was the youngest winner at 18 (one day shy of her 19th birthday and well under the legal age limit of 21 for Las Vegas) and the only woman to reach a final table until 2014, when Ang Italiano finished sixth.
  • Spaniard Adrian Mateos was the second youngest winner at 19 (just three and a half months older than Obrestad).
  • Barry Shulman was the oldest winner at age 63, while Phil Hellmuth was the second oldest at 48.”

Footnotes:

  1. In 2013 the WSOP Asia Pacific event was held in April and the Europe event in October, in early fall (or late summer) like every other event.
  2. WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart explained that alternating years “allows for better organization and more marketing in each region. We also want to do right by the players, and provide more value for their travel dollar. There is a glut of poker tournaments around the world, and our vision is to each year put on a single global showcase that can’t be missed.”
  3. Updated on October 18, 2014 to include 2014 event.
  4. Prizes are in approximate U.S. dollars (converted from the original pounds, euros, and Australian dollars). The 2007 first prize looks disproportionately large partly because the pound was worth over two dollars then (it has hovered around 1.6 dollars most of the time since).
  5. The “final table” is defined here as the last nine players, but the official final table is just six (by which definition only Negreanu and Spindler have reached multiple final tables).

Related Links:

Zachary Elwood’s “Reading Poker Tells” Review

[DD] “The final book on tells that I read was the best of the bunch: Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood. Mike Caro’s a poker pro who has written over a dozen books, only one of which was about tells. Joe Navarro was an FBI agent. And Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassarre earn their keep as writers. Elwood, on the other hand, is a poker player who has dedicated himself to studying tells since 2009. And it shows.”

[LL] “Well, it helps that his book is newer”, Leroy the Lion suggested.

[DD] “You’d think Elwood benefitted from having read the published literature, but he doesn’t really build upon what Caro and Navarro. He does occasionally point out spots where he agrees or disagrees with them, often the latter, backed by his own logic and evidence. He also takes some direct swipes at Dan Harrington’s chapter1 on poker tells.”

[LL] “So he isn’t standing on the shoulders of giants?”

[DD] “Not really. He contradicts a lot of Caro’s advice and likes Navarro’s book even less. In Elwood’s very first blog post on his Reading Poker Tells web site, he derided Read ‘Em and Reap as ‘useless’ except for one piece of advice that he later discovered dated back to Caro anyway.”

[DD] “But what I really like is that Elwood’s book is more usefully organized, splitting tells into ‘waiting-for-action’, ‘during-action’, and ‘post-bet’.”

[LL] “That pretty much covers everything… So the same behavior can mean different things at different times?”

[DD] “Yes, they really are three separate situations even when they relate to the same single poker action.”

[LL] “Except when post-bet and waiting-for-action coincide during heads-up action.”

[DD] “He means post-bet behavior that concerns the bet that was just made vs. waiting-for-action behavior when the player hasn’t bet on that street yet. Hopefully you’ll know the difference.”

[LL] “So, what are some of the good tells he describes?”

[DD] “There are so many that you really just need to read the book. In each of the three situations he gives about a dozen examples of weakness and a similar number of strength. A sampling:

  • Waiting-for-action weakness: getting ready to fold, especially in multiway pots, is usually for real, contrary to Caro’s claim.
  • Waiting-for-action strength: pre-loading chips is strong, not weak like Caro says (but then Caro seems to think almost everyone is an actor).
  • During-action weakness: slow check (pretending to be considering betting)
  • During-action strength: very strong betting motion is strong, since a bluffer wouldn’t want to call attention to themselves (again, contradicts Caro). In fact, most unusual during-action behavior is strong for this same reason.
  • Post-bet weakness: stillness, silence, and fake smiles.
  • Post-bet strength: shaking legs (indicated by shirt movement).

[DD] “Reading Poker Tells also has a short section on general verbal tells, but Elwood expands that to a whopping 438 pages in his next book, Verbal Poker Tells.”

[LL] “But you haven’t read that.”

[DD] “No, I don’t have a copy yet… But that’s a hint if you were thinking of getting me a Christmas present.”

Title Reading Poker Tells
Author Zachary Elwood
Year 2012
Skill Level Any
Pros Very well organized and researched. Uses No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em in most examples.
Cons Poor quality pictures.
Rating 4.0 (out of five)

Footnotes:

  1. The 2008 book is titled Harrington on Cash Games, Volume II: How to Play No-Limit Hold ‘em Cash Games.

“Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells” Review

[LL] “How about the Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells, which was published the same year as Navarro’s book?” Leroy the Lion prodded.

[DD] “I liked it just as much, partly because it covered different ground. My favorite section was right near the beginning, where they categorize players into five stages of tells:

  • Stage 1: no concealment of emotions – beginners
  • Stage 2: quiet with monsters but transparent with weakies
  • Stage 3: acting (reverse); most low-limit recreational players never get past this stage
  • Stage 4: minimizing tells – Vulcan poker (Navarro’s advice)
  • Stage 5: read opponents’ tells and give off only subtle reverse tells

[LL] “So now you have a goal beyond becoming a Nava-robot.”

[DD] “Not by much, but yes, for reading tells the co-authors say that exaggerated gestures are probably fake while subtle gestures are probably real. So we should obviously tone down our fake tells.”

[LL] “Doesn’t it matter how observant your opponents are?”

[DD] “Burgess and Baldassarre don’t cover that, but I think that’s important. Just like you need to know how deep your opponents are thinking.”

[LL] “Don’t waste a subtle tell on an opponent who isn’t paying attention to you?”

[DD] “Or maybe saying something may be more effective, since they’ll hear you even if they aren’t looking at you.”

[LL] “What else did you learn from what’s actually in the book?”

[DD] “Like Caro, B&B want you make your baseline assessment of a new player from their appearance. They agree that a messy chip stack means a loose player, but think you shouldn’t read into a neat chip stack anymore.”

[LL] “Because most players do that now as a matter of efficiency?”

[DD] “Something like that. They also disagree with Caro on what a number of tells mean. At least in limit poker, they think grabbing chips early means strength, not weakness, while prematurely starting to fold is weak, not strong (although later on, they say the opposite themselves).”

[LL] “Like a lot of poker, it usually depends on the player!”

[DD] “And the type of poker being played. The authors give long lists of specific tells for Limit Poker, High-Low Split Games, and No-Limit Hold ‘Em. Some great stuff, but unfortunately the real tells are mixed in with reverse tells, so it’s all very confusing.”

[LL] “That certainly doesn’t make it easy to learn.”

[DD] “Fortunately, they do spend on chapter on how to improve your reading ability. Like Navarro, they want you to become more observant. Their advice seems good, even though I hate that they use the terms ‘poker psychic’ and ‘intuition’.”

[LL] “So, you don’t believe in women’s intuition?”

[DD] “I guess it depends on the definition, but to me ‘intuition’ means ‘gut instinct based more on feelings than facts’. Yet B&B go on to tell you to build your ‘poker database’ of observations. Those are facts.”

[LL] “Maybe they didn’t have the guts to try to unravel the complicated deductive process, so they waved their hands and called it ‘intuition’.”

[DD] “Lastly, the book does have a decent chapter on hiding your tells where they recommend Vulcan poker. Sigh. And there’s an interesting bonus chapter on angle shooting,1 which was eye-opening, although I wouldn’t want to play in any game where I had to worry about that stuff.”

Title Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells
Author Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassarre
Year 2006
Skill Level Any
Pros Thorough coverage of tells, including the Stages of Tells and specific tells in various types of games.
Cons Occasional contradictory advice and intermingling of actual and fake tells. Low quality photos.
Rating 3.5 (out of five)

Footnotes:

  1. Angle shooting: the use of questionably legal tactics to one’s advantage. The difference between angle shooting and outright cheating can be razor thin and may even depend on the venue’s specific rules.

Joe Navarro’s “Read ‘Em and Reap” Review

[DD] “Navarro’s book was the most interesting of the four”, Deb the Duchess opined, “insofar as he’s not much of a poker player but rather a former FBI agent applying career skills from his profession.”

[LL] “Like interrogating suspects?” suggested Leroy the Lion.

[DD] “Yes, but without resorting to torture.”

[LL] “I think that’s more of a CIA thing.”

[DD] “There are non-poker books, some psychology books for example, that can improve your poker. Navarro’s poker book is the opposite; it’ll help you in real life.”

[LL] “To tell when people are lying to you?”

[DD] “Much more than that. Navarro actually trains you to be more observant… even before a single hand of poker has been dealt.”

[LL] “Sure, you need to know how a person normally acts, so you can detect a change in behavior.”

[DD] “You need to establish what he calls their ‘baseline behaviors': how they sit, where they place their hands, how their face looks, and even how fast they chew their gum.”

[LL] “Most players can’t chew gum and bluff at the same time.”

[DD] “While Caro briefly mentions some unconscious tells, Navarro bases most of his book on them. He believes that the limbic, or mammalian, part of our brains, betrays our emotions before we can stop ourselves a moment later.”

[LL] “So, player’s immediate reactions matter the most?”

[DD] “Exactly. An actor will likely then do the opposite, while other players will freeze and do nothing, a difference Burgess and Baldassarre explore in depth. But that immediate reaction is difficult to suppress.”

[DD] “A threatening board card or an opponent’s bet can invoke one of the three fear responses: freeze, flight, or fight.”

[LL] “Or as Tyrone the Telephone would say, ‘Hold on tight, take to flight, or boldly fight’?”

[DD] “Yep. Stay still like a deer in headlights, physically separate by leaning away, or go on the offensive by glaring at the bettor.”

[LL] “And how would I avoid making these automatic responses myself?”

[DD] “Navarro recommends a robotic approach. Do everything the same way every time: how you arrange your chips, look at your cards, hold your body and hands between actions, push your chips forward, etc. Don’t talk. Heck, don’t even move if you don’t have to.”

[LL] “Phil Ivey must be his favorite player.”

[DD] “But he also advocates wearing a hat and sunglasses.”

[LL] “So he must really dig Phil Laak’s Unabomber look. I’m surprised secret agent man doesn’t tell you to wear a scarf to hide your pulse and a surgeon’s mask to hide your nose and mouth.”

[DD] “Oh, and your feet, which he calls ‘the most honest part of your body’… Don’t tap them, wrap them around the chair legs, or move them at all.”

[LL] “If everyone followed all the advice in this book, poker players would die of boredom.”

[DD] “No, but it would make it more like playing online poker.”

[LL] “Without the chat box. And much slower. Yawn.”

[DD] “Believe it or not, I actually liked the book. Even if I never intend to follow some of his more extreme advice.”

[LL] “That does surprise me.”

[DD] “Well, that was just the section on hiding your own tells. His information about other people’s tells is excellent: Tells of Engagement and Disengagement, High and Low Confidence Tells, Gravity-Defying Tells (which indicate strength), Territorial Tells, and Pacifying Behaviors (which indicate weakness).”

[LL] “For example?”

[DD] “Like these:

  • Engagement: a nose flare indicates the player is going to play the hand (e.g., preflop).
  • Disengagement: unprotecting the cards is weak.
  • High-confidence: steepled hands are strong.
  • Low-confidence: wringing hands is weak.
  • Gravity-defying: raising heels or bouncing feet or legs are strong.
  • Territorial: spreading out is strong.
  • Pacifying: touching the neck or face is weak.”

[LL] “But what if they’re false tells?”

[DD] “He says those will appear ‘stilted or unnatural’. Also, you should note which players are actors so you can just ignore them. In the end though, I think you just need to give much more weight to their initial responses.”

Title Read ‘Em and Reap”
Author Joe Navarro
Year 2006
Skill Level Any
Pros Unique perspective on tells. Focuses on subconscious tells that are difficult to hide.
Cons Many of the tells may be difficult to detect or fake.
Rating 3.5 (out of five)

“Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” Review

After a tournament in which Leroy the Lion just missed the money and Deb the Duchess just made it, the two friends continue their discussion on tells.

[LL] “So, did you spot any new tells tonight?” Leroy asked.

[DD] “I did, but it definitely took a lot of concentration. It wasn’t easy.”

[LL] “Figaro the Fish is a fount of information.”

[DD] “You said new tells.”

[LL] “And you don’t need any tells to take his chips anyway. He’s very generous.”

[DD] “They say to start by focusing on the loosest player in the game, since you’ll be in the most hands with them.”

[LL] “Carlos the Crazy!”

[DD] “He’s practically straight out of first book I read, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells.”

[LL] “Everything he does is loud.”

[DD] “Caro has him pegged — his flamboyant personality matches his loose aggressive playing style. And he’s the perfect bad actor.”

[LL] “Strong means weak, and weak means strong.”

[DD] “Precisely what Caro says. Carlos will try to talk you into a call when he’s got the goods and try to get you to fold when he’s bluffing.”

[LL] “Which is most of the time.”

[DD] “Caro lists 58 specific tells in his book, half of which are acting tells, and I’ll bet that crazy guy has most of those. I’ll have to recheck the book to see what I missed.”

[LL] “What are the other half?”

[DD] “Subconscious tells, which Navarro explains much more thoroughly, and general tells, which didn’t seem that useful to me.”

[LL] “But despite the fact that the original material was published before you were born, you still found it useful?”

[DD] “Yes, beginners don’t know to hide their tells, and I guess even some intermediate players like Carlos are able to fool enough people with their acting that they keep doing it.”

[DD] “Caro is a bit repetitive though, which is the only way he was able to fill out a 300+ page book. The 58 tells fall under 25 general Laws of Tells, which he lists both with their specific instances and in a separate chapter. He spends another two chapters on Important Tells Revisited and a Play Along Photo Quiz.”

[LL] “At least all the repetition helped you learn the tells though, right?”

[DD] “I suppose I have to admit that.”

Title Caro’s Book of Poker Tells
Author Mike Caro
Year 2003 (originally published as The Book of Tells in 1984)
Skill Level Any
Pros The original book on poker tells.
Cons Many of the tells no longer apply, except from beginners and some stronger players who like to act. Photos are poor quality.
Rating 3.0 (out of five)

Tells


[DD] “Leroy, do you think I have any tells?” Deb the Duchess asked.

[LL] “Why would I tell you if I knew?” the Lion countered.

[DD] “Because I have a tell on you that I can trade it for.”

[LL] “Well, in that case…”

[DD] “Do tell.”

[LL] “Your new card protector gave you a tell. You’re actually pretty good about using it all the time, but you vary the position of the protector on your cards.”

[DD] “Ah! I know what you’re going to say. I put the guard closer to the middle of the table when my cards are good.”

[LL] “Exactly. If you think that’s a safer place, then just do it all the time, and you’ll be good to go.”

[DD] “Thanks!”

[LL] “You’re welcome.”

[DD] “Your tell is probably something you already know about, but you still need to fix it.”

[LL] “What’s that?”

[DD] “You’re much too obvious about counting the pot when you’re on a draw.”

[LL] “Agreed. But what can I do about that? I need to know if I’m getting the right odds to call.”

[DD] “The best solution is a bit of work but will have other benefits — keep track of the pot size all the time.”

[LL] “I used to do that a little bit, but when online poker became my main game, I got quite lazy since the total was always right on the screen. I really should get back to doing it.”

[DD] “There is an easier solution though…, just blatantly count the pot occasionally when you’re not on a draw.”

[LL] “Hiding my real tell amid false tells! A bit devious, but I like it. Thanks!”

[DD] “You’re welcome. Fair trade, right?”

[LL] “Absolutely. Why did you bring this up now though? Did you just notice my tell?”

[DD] “Heh, no. I’ve known about it for a while. But I’ve been reading a bunch of books on tells, and they talk about getting rid of your own tells. I thought the best way to find out if I have any tells is just to ask someone observant.”

[LL] “Thanks for the compliment. What books have you been reading?”

[DD] “I’ve read these four so far:”

Year Author[s] Book Rating Summary
2003 Mike Caro Caro’s Book of Poker Tells 3.0 The original poker tells bible [as "The Book of Tells" in 1984]; still has some great advice but many suggestions are dated.
2006 Joe Navarro Read ‘Em and Reap” 3.5 FBI interrogator’s point of view, focusing on the limbic (mammalian) part of the human brain.
2006 Randy Burgess
Carl Baldassarre
Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells 3.5 How to read tells and use them to advantage.
2012 Zachary Elwood Reading Poker Tells 4.0 Well-organized pre-, in-, and post-action tells, mostly using No Limit Hold ‘Em for examples.

[DD] “But the tournament’s about to start, so we’ll have to talk more later…”

Stan’s Lists – Poker Movie Scenes


[LL] “Pretty much every poker game in the world is now played with table stakes1“, Leroy the Lion commented. “So why do all these stupid movie scenes go the Wild West ‘bet-your-life-savings-if-you-want’ route?”2 [Casino Royale works around this cutely with the car keys] [Movies set in the Wild West get a pass, I guess]

[RR] “Too many scenes with cheating,3 too”, Roderick the Rock added.

[SS] “It’s pretty sad for Hollywood that ridiculously unlikely monster hands4 only rank as their third biggest poker sin”,5 suggested Stan the Stat.

[LL] “I understand that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public, but it truly is insulting…”

[RR] “But in Hollywood, every car that crashes explodes, too.”

[SS] “After disqualifying all the hands that had non-table stakes, cheating, or monster hands (and sometimes all three), it was fairly easy to select my top ten movie poker scenes (although I limited Rounders to two scenes, when it could have had more):”

The Best Poker Movie Scenes (in alphabetical order)

Movie Scene (video link) Year (IMDB) Scene Description6
California Split 1974 The movie starts with an explanation of some poker etiquette as they play 5-card draw lowball in a casino.
Casino Royale 2006 James Bond (Daniel Craig) plays Texas Hold ‘Em in a Bahamas casino.
The Cincinnati Kid 1965 The title character Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen) plays 5-card stud.
Cool Hand Luke 1967 The title character (Paul Newman) plays dollar-limit 5-card stud against other prisoners.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story 2003 No Limit Hold ‘Em is explained and played as a savvy pro makes some moves.
In Time 2011 Texas Hold ‘Em players bet a portion of time from their lives instead of money.
Lucky You 2007 L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall) gives his son Huck (Eric Bana) a Texas Hold ‘Em lesson in a diner.
Maverick 1994 Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) meets and plays poker with Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) for the first time; says he’ll lose for the first hour to get Angel (Alfred Molina) to let him play.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) reads all the hands in the judges’ game of 7-card stud.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott and some of his fellow grinders feast on the tourists and businessmen in Atlantic City.

Footnotes:

  1. Table stakes mean that players can only bet the chips and money they have visible on the table.
  2. Non-table stakes examples: The Cincinnati Kid and Honeymoon in Vegas.
  3. Cheating examples: The Lady Eve, Lucky You (collusion), Shade, The Sting, and Trinity Is Still My Name (hilarious though).
  4. Monster hand examples: Casino Royale, Dreamgirls, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Parent Trap.
  5. Other Hollywood annoyances: string bets and raises, splashing the pot, discussing the current hand out loud, and slowrolling.
  6. Some scene spoilers (highlight to see): : in the Casino Royale scene, Bond wins his famous car (Aston Martin) as the car keys on the table are allowed to be bet, cleverly working around the table stakes rule. The Cincinnati Kid makes a great read, calling an overbet with just a pair of Eights, beating a pair of Sixes. The Cool Hand Luke scene is the one that gave the movie its title, as the hero bluffs out the winning hand. In the Stu Ungar scene, the veteran cleverly agrees to show one of his hole cards for a chip on a 7332 board (he has 72, so the young guy assumes he has a full house). In the In Time scene, Salas gambles on an inside straight draw and hits on the river to get paid off just before his time expires. In the Maverick scene, the title character keeps to his word, using the hour to spot everyone’s tells.

Related Links:

Stan’s Lists – Poker Movies


[RR] “You guys want to join us for Gutshot Straight?”1 Roderick the Rock asked.

[FF] “The new Steven Seagal poker movie?” Figaro the Fish inquired.

[LL] “Yeah”, Leroy the Lion confirmed. “We’re going to catch the midnight showing at the cineplex on Sunday night.”

[FF] “Sure. I can always sleep at work.”

[RR] “Isn’t that technically Monday at midnight?”

[LL] “I consider it the same day until I’ve gone to sleep and woken up.”

[SS] “I’m in”, Stan the Stat volunteered. “Haven’t seen a good poker movie in a while.”

[RR] “What do you consider to be a good poker movie?”

[SS] “Pretty much anything that revolves around poker, as opposed to a movie with just have a random poker scene or two.”

[LL] “And of course, you have a list?”

[SS] “You know me too well. It wasn’t much of a list a decade ago, but we’re in the prime of poker movies. My ten favorite poker movies, sorted alphabetically rather than ranked; Rounders would be number one by far:”2

The Best Poker Movies

Movie (IMDB link) Year Poker Summary
California Split 1974 Bill Denny (George Segal) and Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) team up to gamble and have fun but go broke; pawning all their possessions, they head for the big poker game in Reno.
Casino Royale 2006 James Bond (Daniel Craig) plays in a $10,000,000 buy-in Texas Hold ‘Em tournament with the terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).
The Cincinnati Kid 1965 The title character Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen) plays high stakes stud against the old master Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson).
Deal 2008 Retired poker pro Tommy Vinson (Burt Reynolds) trains hotshot Alex Stillman (Bret Harrison) then unretires and faces him in the WPT championship.
The Grand 2007 One Eyed Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) and others improv their way through a poker tournament.
Lucky You 2007 Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) tries to beg, borrow, and steal $10,000 to play in the WSOP Main Event. Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore) is a love interest and victim.
Maverick 1994 The title character (Mel Gibson) tries to win a $25,000 buy-in, winner-take-all, 5-card draw poker tournament in the Wild West.
Poker Night 2014 Policeman Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) plays poker with other cops, gets locked in a basement with a young girl by a psychopath (Ron Perlman), and needs to use what he learned at the poker table to escape.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is studying to become a lawyer, but his heart belongs to poker. He and buddy Lester Murphy (Edward Norton) play in a variety of games to try to settle the Worm’s poker debts.
Shade 2003 A group of small-time con artists try for a big score in a poker game.

[SS] “The past decade has also seen the release of a number of poker documentaries:”

The Best Poker Documentaries

Documentary (IMDB link) Year Summary
All In: The Poker Movie 2009 The post-Moneymaker poker boom with interviews of many poker pros.
Bet Raise Fold 2013 Online poker from the early 2000s through Black Friday as seen through three poker players.
Drawing Dead: The Highs & Lows of Online Poker 2013 Poker perspectives from a successful online pro and a struggling gambling addict.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story 2003 The story of the 3-time WSOP Main Event champion, flashing back from his death bed.
No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail 2006 The real-life story of a young couple trying to make it playing high-stakes tournament poker.3

Footnotes:

  1. Gutshot Straight is rumored to be debuting in U.S. theaters on September 1, 2014. {Update 9/1/14: alas, the release didn’t happen, so the wait continues.}
  2. At least until Rounders 2 comes out.
  3. This film also deserves a footnote in the Poker Reality Television Shows post.