Most professionals won’t look at their hole cards until it’s their turn to act. There are smart reasons for this, and it’s definitely something you should do yourself. Why? Because there’s simply no upside to looking at your hole cards before it’s your turn to act.
You see, most poker players, especially men, like to think that they have faces of stone. They believe that they’re incapable of revealing any physical tells.
Well, they’re just plain wrong.
Everyone has tells, even professionals, and if you observe carefully, you’ll spot them. Pros are just better at masking them. The tells that they do reveal are often very subtle.
I’m often asked how I’m able to get solid reads on others players. It’s a skill that takes discipline. I watch my opponents as they look at their cards before the flop. Depending on how they study their cards, I can often figure out if they’re planning to call or fold. That single bit of information can determine how I play a hand, and if I win or lose.
The main reason you shouldn’t look at your own cards right away is that there’s so much to be learned by watching your opponents look at their own cards instead. Why cheat yourself out of this valuable learning opportunity?
It’s also important not to look at your own hole cards until it’s your turn to act because you’ll conceal tells that your opponents might be picking up on you.
I recall playing in a $20-$40 Hold’em game at the Mirage in Las Vegas when I was in my early 20’s. I played a guy who always looked at his hole cards as soon as they were dealt. If he liked what he saw and planned to play the hand, he’d put a chip on his cards to protect them.
He wouldn’t bother to protect his cards at all when he had a junk hand.
Knowing this, if I planned to steal the blinds from late position, but noticed that he had placed a chip on his cards — telling me he had a hand he liked — I’d simply abort mission and save myself a probable loss. On the other hand, if he didn’t protect his cards, I’d push in my chips and follow through with my original plan.
Obviously, tells aren’t always that easy to read. Nor do tells have to be that transparent in order to give away useful information about a hand.
Many novices, for example, will glance at their chips immediately after they look at their hole cards and see a playable hand. They’re on the receiving end of a subconscious message telling them to get ready to grab those chips and fire them into the pot.
Remember, too, that tells aren’t exclusive to pre-flop play. Stay observant and you’ll be surprised just how much free post-flop information is out there ready to be exploited.
For example, when a player misses his flush draw on the river, he might literally jump out of his chair and curse his bad luck. You don’t ever want to be that guy but you certainly want to play against him!
More likely though, he won’t launch out of his chair. Rather, he’ll stare at the felt, crack his knuckles, stand a chip on its side — pretty much any physical act that might reveal something important, or might mean nothing at all.
If you observe some random behavior that you’ve only seen rarely, it probably means nothing. If, however, you observe repetitive behaviors throughout a long game, you’re likely onto a meaningful tell.
One final comment: Remember to stay alert as it’s always possible that you’re being set up by a false tell. This is poker after all.
Visit www.cardsharkmedia.com/book.html for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.
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