Verbal Poker Tells reveals how players use words to bluff, intimidate, and probe the minds of their opponents.
While watching 100 hours of poker videos to write "Verbal Poker Tells," his 2014 book aimed mostly at recreational players, Zachary Elwood saw players dropping linguistic clues left and right. One of his observations was that despite the perception of poker players as skilled deceivers, they prefer to be vague or skirt the truth. "Poker players will lie, but they like to get value for their lies when they decide to do them," Elwood said. He also found that language habits change over the course of the game. Later on in a hand, a player who is voluble and talkative can be signaling confidence in a hand; but in the first round of bets, players dealt strong cards often go silent, anxiously strategizing. "They're focused and they're being cagey in that moment, whereas a player with a less strong hand has less to lose and they blurt out something," he said.
As the nature of the game has changed, with older "feel" players pushed out by young, Internet-poker-trained, game-theory-savvy—and very quiet—pros, table talk has become less central. When Amarillo Slim went against up-and-coming pro Phil Ivey in the 2000 World Series of Poker, the aging star kept up a volley of chatter. Ivey, then only 23, ignored him and won, in a major upset. "That's his game, not mine, and I'm not going to play his game," Ivey said afterward. Today, only a few pros, like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth, are famous talkers. The player most notorious for talking in this year's World Series, Curtis Rystadt, was a loud amateur from Oregon who verbally harassed the other players at his table until finally, with silent glee, one of them dispatched him from action.