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Lose The Music

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Apr 18, 2012


Matt LessingerOnce again I’ll address my column to former online players who are now switching to brick-and-mortar (B&M) poker. I can understand why you listened to music while playing online. It was enjoyable, helped put you in the right frame of mind, and drowned out any extraneous distractions. Plus, you didn’t have to be listening for anything coming from the tables.

But that’s not the case with B&M poker. Verbal tells are everywhere. People give away so much information that I think anyone who wears headphones while playing B&M poker is an idiot. If you’re new to cardrooms, you may not pick up too many subtle tells right away, but over time you will definitely see patterns. For example, when a player who is normally quiet starts babbling incessantly, he has polarized his range. He probably has either a monster hand or a total bluff, and eventually you’ll learn what it means for that particular opponent.

There are even more obvious verbal tells. After the flop, a player asks the dealer what it takes to qualify for the bad-beat jackpot, and you can assume he has either a strong made hand or a monster draw. A different player asks the dealer how soon he is going on break, and you know the flop missed him completely. As long as you’re paying attention and not wearing headphones, you will often get this type of free information.

Believe it or not, your opponents will occasionally give away information in an even more obvious manner. The hand I am about to describe took place eleven years ago, but I truly remember it like it was yesterday. If you make it to the end and still insist on wearing headphones, then I have to admit defeat and declare you as being beyond help.

The game was $10-$20 limit hold’em. Preflop, everyone folded to the professional-looking player in seat number 6, who open-raised in late position. He had the whole “look” about him. His sunglasses were mirrored, his baseball cap was pulled down a bit, and yes, he was wearing headphones and listening to loud music.

The tourist in seat number 9 was the small blind (SB). His girlfriend, who had just come from playing the slots, was sitting behind him. It was fairly obvious that she didn’t know much about poker. He’d show her his cards every hand, and her joking response each time was, “Raise!” Technically, she wasn’t supposed to be sitting there, but no one objected, since he was losing heavily and still having fun.

In this particular hand, the SB showed his cards to his girlfriend and asked, “What should I do?” For once, instead of saying “Raise!” she said “double down!” He laughed and called the “pro’s” raise. Her simple comment pretty much defined his hand. It was safe to say that his hand totaled 11, so he had either 9-2, 8-3, 7-4, or 6-5. I was in the BB with 6Spade Suit 5Spade Suit, a hand with which I might normally call a raise. But since the SB either had the same two cards as me, or else had cards that reduced my straight possibilities, I mucked my hand and left them heads-up.

The flop came 4Club Suit 4Heart Suit JHeart Suit and the girlfriend let out an audible giggle. Now it was pretty clear which two cards the tourist held. He checked, the preflop raiser bet, and he promptly check-raised. The pro immediately called.

The turn was the 8Heart Suit. The SB bet and the pro raised. I was kind of surprised, since it was pretty obvious that the SB had 7-4, and I had put the pro on a high pair. The SB started to reraise, then reconsidered and flat-called.

The river was the 7Diamond Suit. In my mind a voice yelled “Bingo!” The SB checked, the pro fired, the SB immediately check-raised, and when he was called he slammed down his 7-4 offsuit, high-fived his girlfriend, and cheered “double down, baby!” Meanwhile the pro turned up his AHeart Suit KHeart Suit and disgustedly mucked it.

Forget about whether the SB should have played 7-4 offsuit for a raise. The point is that the pro could have saved two small bets and two big bets if he had been listening to the table talk instead of his precious music. Consider these three points:

1. If he heard the girlfriend say “double down,” then he would have been able to narrow the SB’s range to four specific hands.

2. If he heard the girlfriend giggle after the 4Club Suit 4Heart Suit JHeart Suit flop, then he would have known exactly what the SB held. Even though the pro had two overcards and a flush draw, he would have taken the free card, knowing that he was drawing against trips, thus saving two small bets.

3. When the 7Diamond Suit hit he would have known that the SB just filled up, and would have checked the river and saved two big bets.

Instead, in his mind he’s going to remember this hand as a bad beat. He’ll never learn from his mistake, but I sure did. From that day forward, I swore to myself that I would never wear headphones while playing poker. Maybe I’ve had to endure some annoying conversations, but I’ve never missed an opportunity to pick up free information.

Speaking of free information, here’s another hand that took place a few years back. A good friend of mine was playing limit hold’em and picked up pocket aces. His new girlfriend, who had never played poker in her life, was sitting behind him. As he had done every other hand, he showed her his cards so that she could follow along. Except this time, she said a little too loudly “split ‘em!” Apparently, even though she had never played poker, she had played an occasional hand of blackjack.

He couldn’t believe what she had done, but he tried to keep his composure. Alas, the action was folded to him, he raised, and his remaining opponents couldn’t fold fast enough. He was so disgusted by what happened that he picked up his chips and quit the game. Maybe his opponents all had bad hands and would have folded anyway. But since none of them was wearing headphones and several of them chuckled after the hand was over, it’s pretty clear that they had heard what she said.

Clearly there’s a second lesson to be learned here. Don’t let anyone sit behind you while you’re playing unless they can keep their mouths shut. ♠

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find Matt’s other articles at