Poker Tournament Strategy – Understanding Table Talk

Part of the fun of watching the World Series of Poker is enjoying the table talk. Many players seem to love to talk at the table. Some seem to be trying to get information, others might be looking for camera time, some want to be social, and others just can’t help saying what’s on their mind. 2006 WSOP champion Jamie Gold talked a fair number of players into calling off chips against him when he had the best of it. If you are playing in a poker tournament, there are a number of things you can learn about table talk to help your game.

The first thing you should know is something you might not expect if you have only watched tournament poker on television. Technically, table talk is not allowed in tournaments. If you are saying anything other than “check,” “raise,” “bet,” “fold,” or the amount of chips you are betting, another player at the table can ask you to refrain. If an opponent asks you what you have, you are actually technically not allowed to tell them in most tournaments. The specific reason for this is that “a player may not do anything to induce or discourage action from another player.” Of course on one level this is ridiculous, since poker is all about trying to get action when you have a good hand and discourage it when you don’t. However the idea behind the rule is to prevent collusion that hurts other players in the tournament who are not benefiting from the discussion. In other words, if I say something to get you to fold when you might have called and eliminated me, a player on the money bubble who gets eliminated on the next hand may feel that he has been the victim of unfair cooperation between opponents.

Although no table talk is technically the rule, most skilled players recognize it is to their advantage to allow talk at the table when they play poker, and so there is some leniency as to how this rule is applied. In addition, table talk makes much better television, so you will rarely see this rule enforced at a major television tournament.

That having been said, what can you learn about table talk? Generally, what is being said is not so important as how it is being said. Just as a betting pattern can be detected to your benefit, so can a talking pattern. Does a player who talks a mile a minute suddenly clam up when the flop comes? It probably means something. When you ask him if he has a good hand, does he usually answer right away but this time suddenly stumbles? If in a poker game you can discern a pattern in the way a player talks, you can use it to your advantage.

Table talk is just another element that you can use to improve your chances in a poker tournament. You should not rely on it too heavily since it is not always tolerated. However, any edge you can get in a poker tournament will get you that much closer to the final table, and therefore should not be overlooked.

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