Live poker strategy: Talking poker

Live poker is great fun but it can also be downright terrifying when you first start playing – conquer your fears and go for the win with our new regular strategy column

The one big difference between live and online poker is that when you’re playing with real people they can look at you and, gulp, talk to you. You can also talk back.

If you’ve been following this year’s WSOP coverage you’ll have noticed that a lot of the action centres around a talkative chap called William Kassouf. He doesn’t really stop talking and he usually does it with a smile on his face. But he’s not just doing it to be chatty, he’s doing it to get information from his opponents and put them on super monkey tilt.

Here’s the thing. If you’re nervous about playing live poker he’s your living, breathing (and talking) nightmare. Forget about sinking into the background. If you get into a hand with a player like William Kassouf you’ll be the centre of attention and you’ll have the entire table, and probably a few interested bystanders, staring at you while you try to play your game and fend off his advances.

Stop shaking. The good news is that you won’t meet many people like this at the poker table. And the even better news is that even if you, it’s actually dead easy to deal with them.

Don’t fight fire with fire

Table talkers are generally good at what they do. Don’t puff your chest out and think you’ve got to fight fire with fire – the very best way to counter what they’re doing is just to shut down. Do nothing – literally. Block them out and just stare at some imaginary point straight ahead of you. And breathe.

It might seem rude to ignore people if they speak directly to you, and it’s actually quite hard to do, but remember that you don’t have to answer back. Even if they ask you how many chips you’ve got. Just. Stay. Quiet. Even William Kassouf has said that if players shut down in the face of his verbal volleys he’ll just give it up. Build up a reputation as a statue and you’ll find that people will just leave you alone and start picking on someone else.

The really important thing is that if this is going to be your strategy, you need to do it all the time. You might find yourself feeling perky when you get dealt Aces and think you’re being really clever by suddenly starting to talk back, but you might as well have stuck those two Aces face up on your forehead. Stay quiet when you’ve got a good hand and stay quiet when you’ve got a bad hand.

Again, you might find this hard when you first start playing, and it’s amazing how much confidence a big hand can give you. But your aim is to not to give anything away, and if you’re a beginner you will. Lots of pros actually use this stoic approach at the table and it doesn’t make them miserable people. David Kitai is one of the most successful players in the world, with $7.6m in live winnings, and we’ve never heard him say a word at the table. He puts his chips in very deliberately, and in the same way every time. He doesn’t smile or yuk it up with his opponents, and if they talk to him he generally ignores them. It’s a strategy that definitely works for him.

You might have heard people complaining about players using headphones and sunglasses at the table, but if they make you feel more comfortable, don’t worry about it. People will be less likely to talk to you if it’s obvious you’re not listening. And it’s a lot harder to fix someone in the eye if you can’t tell where they’re looking.

Once you’re out of a hand you can do what you like. Get chatty and make some friends at the table, just be careful what you’re talking about – try and keep the chat away from poker, your (lack of) experience and get onto football, or films, or whatever else makes you happy. Once you realise that you hold the power to interact with others as much or as little as you want, you can start focusing on your game and those of the players sat round you at the table.

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