Tom told me a story about second-guessing himself on a player's tell. "I was in there with a pretty weak hand, an A-5, which I had raised with from a middle position before the flop. I'd been catching some hands and my table image was strong. Freddy Deeb called my raise. The flop came J-J-5.1 bet the flop and Deeb called. A nothing-card came off on the turn and I checked. So did he. Another blank came on the river and I checked again. Then Freddy made a big bet at the pot. I looked at him and his hand was trembling. My first instinct was to muck my hand, but I thought that he looked awfully nervous and might be putting a play on me. I called and he turned up a J-6 suited. So, detecting nervousness doesn't necessarily mean weakness; it could mean strength, too. As it turns out, he was nervous that I might not call him!"
I have an opinion on those types of hands. When it comes J-J-5 like that, if you have raised going in and the man stood the raise, you don't have anything. He could have two sixes in the hole and have you beat. Once you make your little cursory bet at this pot, you're through with this hand if you get called. You're completely through with it: You cannot lose any more money to this hand, I don't care what the opponent has. Tom admits that his gut instinct was, "OK, I'm done with it." But trying to pick off the tell, he second-guessed himself.
Your first instincts are better than 95 percent correct if you're a poker player. That's because your first instinct comes from all the training and practice and skills that you've learned over the years. What you think after your first instinct is the type of thinking that goes, "What hands can I beat?" You never think about what hands you can beat. "Do I have the best hand?" is what you should be thinking. Remember, a bettor be, a caller never. If you're calling in a poker game, you're calling because you've set a man up and you want him to bet
you. You have two chances at the pot by betting: Either he'll muck his hand, or you have the best hand. When you're calling, your chances are slim and none unless you've set things up for a call.
My wife Joy was sitting on the sidelines watching us play at Binion's in 1994 when I won the pot-limit hold'em tournament at the World Series. She heard the people around her saying, "What's happening? T. J.'s not playing any pots. He's got chips, but he's just sitting there." A fella who had watched me play a lot of tournaments said, "You watch what happens when they get down to three players. The money's in the top three positions ... just watch him open up and get aggressive then." And that's exactly what happened. When you're playing tournament poker, the money's in the top three spots and you've got to get there. Sure, you're going to play marginal hands sometimes, and you're going to play different situations. But you cannot do that all of the time. You have to use correct timing.
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