A common criticism levied against the young generation of Internet-trained poker players is they are often oblivious to the physical and human element of the game. This isn't surprising, considering most of the players who developed their skills online had little reason to invest time or thought into how to read physical tells or behavioral patterns, and it wasn't until they put their pants on and attempted to transfer their poker skills to major live tournaments that they realized they were lacking something.
When more and more online players began infesting the live-tournament scene, the old school believed them to be inferior, partially due to their failure to give the human element merit. Over time, players on both sides of the generation gap began to understand the advantage of acquiring the skills and information the other side specialized in, and a lot of online players began paying attention to what people were sub-communicating with their behavior.
A well-known "classic tell" is sighing. Players generally emit sighs for one of two reasons: Either they're genuinely confused and exasperated by the situation they've been put in, or they're trying to communicate those emotions because they're actually holding a huge hand and want action. As players who have been at it a while can attest, the fake sigh to induce action is a common tell, often delivered quite poorly and conspicuously.
And when you fall for the fake sigh, you pretty much want to kill yourself.
At January's $10,000 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure event in the Bahamas, online player Kyle Julius made it to the final three along with relative amateur John Dibella and savvy pro Faraz Jaka. After Jaka raised the button to $625,000, Dibella made it $1.8 million from the small blind while holding 7c 7h. Dibella began the hand with about $9 million in chips, and behind him Julius was holding about $20 million along with Ac Ah. Julius merely called the re-raise to trap Dibella, and Jaka folded.
Julius' decision to slow-play backfired when the flop came 8d 7d 3d, leading to a check from Dibella, who was now holding a set. Julius bet $1.1 million, and Dibella called.
The turn paired the top card with the 8h, and when Dibella checked, Julius again bet $1.1 million. Dibella let out a sigh of frustration audible enough that the reporter covering the event made note of it. However, Julius either didn't take notice of the theatrics or didn't read it as a fake sigh. He moved all in, leading to an instant call from Dibella and a double-up when the river came Ks.
Without having seen Dibella conduct himself at the table, it's hard to know how to interpret that sort of a sigh when you're a mere observer of the action. With so much in the pot, and the improbability that Dibella is holding a huge hand after three-betting pre-flop, I would almost never suggest that Julius should have folded. Yet in my experience, I've come to the conclusion that if someone first sighs, then raises me, I'm almost certainly dead unless I'm holding the nuts.
Tony Dunst is a poker pro and host of "Raw Deal" on World Poker Tour telecasts. Catch him every Sunday night on FSN. Poker Pros will appear every week.