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Gavin Griffin -- Poker Questions Asked And Answered

Griffin Takes On Questions Of All Kinds


Gavin GriffinPeople in the poker community often come up to me and ask about whatever is on their mind. Some of these questions are good questions, and some are bad beat stories in disguise. I’ve been through quite a few things in my poker career and I like to help whenever possible, and in this new Card Player series, I’d like to share my experiences and knowledge. Feel free to ask any poker-related question, and I’ll do my best to answer it in the space below.

Question: The poker room I play at has a lot of televisions, which can be quite distracting for our game. The end result is a lot less hands per hour and disinterested players. What can I do to make the players pay attention when it’s their turn, and more importantly, take a greater interest in the game? Nothing is more frustrating than losing value to a player who folded simply because he wanted to see the next play of the ball game.

Gavin: Thanks for your question. I have one for you too. Besides the pace of play issue, why do you want your opponents paying more attention? I find playing with players who are disinterested to be pretty profitable. You get much more information from them. In fact, where I play, there is a gentleman who is always watching different sporting events on TV. He gives away tons of information when he does so. If he’s focused on the game and not on the flop, he’s probably going to fold. If he’s paying more attention to the game, he probably got a piece of the board. It makes it much easier for me to get an idea of what he has and whether or not he’s interested in seeing the next street.

In addition to that, if he’s paying attention to the TV, he can’t be paying that much attention to the game, so he’ll miss game flow information and make mistakes that way.

The distracting game on the TV is just as much a bonus to you as it is a detriment to him. If everyone in the game is distracted, that can certainly be frustrating, but if it’s just one or two guys, you should be able to exploit it for some extra value.

Question: What are some of your most reliable live tells and how much faith do you put in them when you are making your decisions at the table?

Gavin: I rely less and less on live tells while playing these days. Most people seem to be aware of their physical actions to an extent and some of the people I play with, even give off false tells. There are, however, some pretty reliable tells that most people can’t control.

The first one is the pulse in a player’s neck. You can usually spot it right around the collar bone on the right side. Unless the person is quite overweight, you should be able to spot it relatively easily. Most people can’t control this one and if you’re playing with people who can, they’re probably pretty dangerous, so don’t beat them too badly. Really though, a fast pulse in the neck is almost always an indicator of a really big hand. Do some experiments when you have a really big hand next time and try to take stock of how your body is reacting. You’ll probably notice that your pulse is unnaturally elevated.

Secondly, it’s pretty easy to spot a big hand when their hands are shaking as they bet. The two tells are very coordinated. It makes sense, when your blood is pumping faster and your adrenaline picks up a bit, your hands and feet might start going and trying to keep it under control only makes them shake worse. You have to be careful with this one though to see if your opponent is someone whose hands just shake naturally. This tell is much less reliable on people who are more advanced in age as people tend to lose a bit of control of these types of things as they get older.

Question: Some players skip the early levels of a poker tournament, claiming that they aren’t very valuable when the blinds are so low compared with the starting stack. Phil Hellmuth even famously waits until the last possible minute before entering a tournament. Where do you stand on this argument?

Gavin: I absolutely understand the feeling these players have because it can feel quite foolish to play the 25-25 level in a tournament for an hour and realize that everyone has traded around 200-500 chips without really accumulating anything. There are sometimes where getting an extra hour of sleep might be worth missing the first level of a tournament.

That being said, I almost always show up on time for a few reasons. First of all, the vast majority of the tournaments I play in are run by the World Series of Poker or Matt Savage. Both of these tournament entities have created a structure that makes the first few levels more meaningful while still having plenty of play later in the tournament. This gives everyone an opportunity to do what they want. If you like to show up on time, the first few levels mean something. If you want to wait to register later, you can come in without much of a penalty from the structure.

The penalty you do receive for showing up late is twofold. First, you have the chance of being seated at a late registration table. These are usually extremely tough because the people who are playing for recreation want to get there on time and get as much from their experience as possible and the ones who are willing to show up late are the types that know they’re going to play another tournament the next day. I don’t like being stuck at these tough tables and would much rather get to play with the recreational players a couple tables away. Second, the recreational players that enter the tournament are less likely to make it deep in the tournament, so it’s useful to get there on time to be able to play with them.

The final thing that I like about registering on time is the chance of getting seated at a table that will last through most of the day without breaking. I like these tables because you get to play with your opponents for a while, so you have the chance to learn more about how they play. The alternative is being at a table that breaks early and when you are at one of those, you have a much greater chance of being moved several times throughout the day and not really getting a chance to get in a rhythm.

There are definitely valid arguments to either side of this argument, but I prefer to get to tournaments on time.

If you have a question for Gavin, send it to



almost 5 years ago

Great answers to all the questions. I can definitely attest to playing better when I don't have an interest in the 'atmosphere' around the poker room. You will lose out on a few hands per session, but the opportunity to steal a few extra pots with overbets or min raises should make up for it.

Eliminate the hand shaking in your own game by always pushing the chips out for the bet. I can pick up live tells from how someone puts chips into the pot. This also is a very easy one to make a false tell, but it is an area I watch. Also the pace of chips being riffled or how many chips are being riffled is another decent tell sometimes.

Perfect tournament answer, especially the 'no-break' potential (other than who you bust!!). Another small point might be that if you get to the tournament earlier, you have more time to recover from a potential bad beat and the beats wont hurt your stack as much unless someone goes all-in. There is also the re-entry aspect of today's tournament world ... you had mentioned pros entering late since they know there is another tournament tomorrow. They also know that they can re-enter today. Which might be a reason to get there early and 'catch' an aggressive player who brought 2 or 3 bullets with them.