Arts & Entertainment

Negreanu on Poker: Interrogating an Opponent

Table talk is a part of the game, and frankly, it’s the part of the game that I enjoy most. How players react to questions that you ask can give definitive information as to the strength of their hand. Even an opponent who says nothing at all might be sending a silent signal. A mere shrug, an awkward smile, or even a frozen stare can be meaningful.

To begin your interrogation, make sure that your line of questioning makes sense. And be prepared to use different approaches because not all opponents will respond in the same manner.

One approach is to try to catch your opponent off guard, hoping to get him to relax and give a genuine reaction. Try asking a question that is non-confrontational. Here’s one that I like: “From the way you’re playing this hand, you must be from Sweden. Swedish players are nuts and so is this hand! You didn’t take lessons from Gus Hansen, did you?”

You see, Gus Hansen is known for his wild and aggressive style of play, but more apropos to your question, he’s actually from Denmark, not Sweden. If your opponent knows this, his reaction may give up some information as to the strength of his hand. He may answer, “Gus is not Swedish, he’s Danish”, and follow that up with a chuckle. He might say, “Swedish players are even crazier than Danish players!”

The ease in which he responds, and of course, what he actually says, will help you gauge his comfort level. The more comfortable he appears, the more likely he’s got a strong hand. The less comfortable he seems, the more likely he’s bluffing. It’s really that simple. The key point is that your questioning doesn’t need to have much to do with poker; it’s just about a guy named Gus who’s from Denmark, not from Sweden.

You can also recite a short spiel designed to elicit a telling response from your opponent.

For example, after an opponent bets, say something like, “I’m such an idiot. Why in the world did I bet the flop if I couldn’t call a raise? Man, I do this so often (while laughing out loud) it’s not even funny. I must really be a terrible player.”

This kind of table talk takes the focus off your opponent and places it squarely back on you. Your goal is to get your opponent to lower his guard so you can gauge his reaction to your self-mocking tirade. By making it seem as though you aren’t the least bit interested in him, he might relax, loosen his shoulders, or laugh out loud. But if he’s bluffing, he may not move a muscle. Remember, every player reacts differently. It’s your job to figure out the meaning behind his reaction or lack thereof.

You can also try asking a specific question looking for a specific response. For example, there’s always the classic, “If I fold will you show me your hand?”

Once you ask this question, concentrate on how your opponent answers. Does his response indicate that he’s enticing you to fold? Does he seem completely disinterested in what you do? Believe me, if he is indeed bluffing, he’ll certainly be interested in what you do. If he has a monster hand, however, he’ll probably show less interest in whatever decision you make.

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