Poker Actions Speak Louder Than Words – So Listen up!

I truly believe the old maxim, “Actions speak louder than words.” And that's no more true anywhere than in poker.

I believe that most players tell me what they have about 99% of the time (but that doesn’t mean I listen 99% of the time 😬).

In this post (with video and podcast below), I help you learn to finally listen to what your opponents are telling you.

Watch me play a few hands of poker as I help you listen to your opponents:

Click here to download this podcast episode #420 and listen as you do the yardwork this weekend!

 

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.”

I love this quote from Byron Katie, an American speaker and author who wrote an incredible book called, Loving What Is.

A lot of pain in life, and in poker, comes from non-acceptance of reality.

You’re late for work for the 10th time and get written up. “My boss is such a jerk! It’s just 5 minutes!” Reality check: it was your choice to stay up too late bingeing your show on Netflix and hitting snooze 7 times on your alarm.

Your dog pooped on the rug, again, and you’re forced to clean it up… again. “Darn dog! When’s he going to learn to poop outside!?” Reality check: you’re the one who hasn’t trained your dog to poop outside yet.

These same things happen in poker.

The normally passive player suddenly wakes up and raises your AA when the 3rd spade comes on the river. “My AA can’t be beat! Maybe this fish is bluffing… I call.” Reality check: passive players only raise on rivers with the nuts.

The TAG player, who NEVER limps, limps into the pot. You hold 88 and decide to iso raise, then you’re surprised when he raises you 4x your bet. “What kinda jerk limp/raises? Maybe I’m still ahead… I call.” Reality check: limp/raises from TAG’s is a play to sucker more chips out of you with their KK or AA.

Every action that your opponents take should speak to their potential hand strength. You just need to listen to what they’re actions are telling you.

 

Denying Denny

I reviewed a hand the other day with a student I’ll call “Denying Denny”. He’s getting much better, but still has had a hard time listening to what his opponent’s actions are telling him, and this hand illustrates that perfectly.

Denny open-raised UTG with JhJs. A very passive player, Fishy Frank, called in the BB.

It’s heads-up on a flop of Th 6h 4h, giving Denny an overpair + 4th nut flush draw. Fishy Frank donk bets 5bb’s into the 6.5bb pot.

Reality check: Fishy, passive players betting near pot into the preflop raiser on a 3-flush board = flush or nut flush draw. Sets, 2p, TP and 2nd nut flush draws are just check-calling.

Denny ignored this sign of strength and raised to 15bb’s, Fishy Frank called.

Reality check: calling a large 3x raise after making a large almost pot-sized bet means Fishy Frank isn’t scared of Denny’s holding on this super wet board.

The turn brings the 8h, putting 4 hearts on the board.

Reality check: the 4th heart means that Fishy Frank has a flush, potentially the nut flush, based on his flop play.

Fishy Frank checks and Denny bets ¾ pot with the 4th nut flush. Fishy Frank makes a min-check-raise, leaving behind only 27bb’s in a 118bb pot.

Reality check: A fish would only check-raise on a 4-heart board with the nut flush, especially against a large ¾ pot sized bet. The 2nd, 3rd or 5th nut flush would just check-call in hopes that Denny didn’t have the Ah.

Denny shoves in his remaining stack, putting Fishy Frank all-in. The river is a 6d and Fishy Frank tables the Ah4s for the turned nut flush.

Reality check: Denying Denny lost his full 100bb stack due to his inability to listen to what Fishy Frank’s actions were telling him. If Denying Denny had just called on the flop then folded on the turn when the 4th heart hit, he would’ve saved himself 92bb’s and a lot of heartache.

 

River Bluffing Example

Here's a hand of my own where I used “Actions speak louder than words” and exploited what my opponent was telling me.

I open-raised with A7s in the EP and noticed the BB was a fish.

I color coded his HUD green and I also read one of the auto-generated notes that said, [F] Donks flop with top pair or better (1)”. This is useful info.

He’s the only caller and the flop comes J28 with 2 hearts. No help to me at all.

Action speak louder than words, his non-donk means he doesn't have a pair.

He doesn’t donk, so I doubt he has a TP hand here.

He checked to me and I cbet bluffed half pot, and he calls.

The turn comes the 3d, putting two hearts and two diamonds out there. So, now he donk bets but for only ¼ pot. I suspected this was a weak bluff or blocking bet.

Action speak louder than words, his tiny 3bb bet = bluff or draw.

I could’ve bluff raised on the turn, but he’s a fish and fish don’t fold draws. So, I called with the plan of bluffing the river if the flush draws do not complete.

The river is the Tc making the final board a rainbow J283T. Lovely, the flush draws didn’t complete. So,  he makes another tiny 3bb bet into the 19bb pot. I knew he was bluffing so I bluff raised him to 14bb’s and he folded.

Action speak louder than words, and a second 3bb bet = weak so I made a successful bluff-raise to 14bb.

My listening to his actions AND his history told me he was weak and I found a way to exploit my read.

 

Become a Better Poker Listener

I believe that most players tell me what they have about 99% of the time. That doesn’t mean I listen 99% of the time, but when I review a hand, it’s normally quite obvious what they held.

I’ve had to develop my listening skills over the years and I want to help you do the same. Action is the greatest teacher, so I have 3 action steps to improve your poker listening skills right now.

  1. Begin a daily hand reading practice. Hand reading is the #1 skill in poker because it forces you to put your opponent on a range of hands then logically narrow that range through the streets based on their actions. This consistent, daily focus on analyzing your opponent’s actions off-the-felt will translate into better in-game decision making.
  2. “What are they doing this with?” This is Poker’s Ultimate Question and you must ask/answer it with every play your opponent makes. He check-raises on the 4-flush board… what’s he doing this with? He 3bet shoves with 22bb’s preflop… what’s he doing this with? Your answer to this question will guide your response.
  3. Replay the action of the hand. Any time a player gets aggressive with bets and raises, replay the action of the hand. Realizing that, “Oh, this is a 3bet pot” might save you a lot of money with your weaker top pair hands versus multi-street aggression from the 3bettor.

Good luck and have fun learning how to listen to your opponent’s actions.

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Sky Matsuhashi