End-over-end chip-flipping from a 3-bettor at 2021 WSOP final table
Lara Eisenberg won the 2021 World Series of Poker Ladies Event. I'd occasionally corresponded with Lara. I knew she was a serious player and a voracious learner of all things poker, and I knew she’d read and watched some of my poker tells content in the past. After winning that event, she sent me the following message:
Guess what? On the first hand of my live streamed final table at the WSOP in October, I opened 88 from the button and got three bet by an aggressive player in the small blind. We both only started the hand with 24 big blinds and in general I should be shoving all in here. But the speed and confidence by which she placed the bet and the small sizing made me think she was very strong.
And then she started flipping a chip, just like in one of your videos! That was the kicker and I folded. Later found out she had AA! Went on to win the bracelet but that would have been the end for me! So money spent on all of your books and videos paid off in spades (so to speak!). Thought you would appreciate the feedback!
Later, Lara said that with a little more thought about that hand, she thought this should have been a fold, regardless of tells/reads. But those were her in-game thoughts.
You can watch this hand below. It’s the first hand that starts the stream, and starts at 2 minutes 35 seconds.
I’m also going to talk to Lara for my podcast and I’ll add a link to that talk here when that happens.
Lara’s Twitter is @eisen009.
A note about strategy
First, before talking about the behavior, let’s quickly discuss strategy. I talked to Chris “Fox” Wallace (his coaching, his Twitter), who is an experienced poker player and coach, and who also knew a bit about the villain involved and said that, in that situation, he’d likely be folding the 8s himself because while this player is quite aggressive, this situation (3-betting from the small blind with 24 BBs) means she likely would have something she was willing to go all in with. He didn’t say it was bad for Lara to shove, and the more maniacal someone perceived the villain to be, the more a shove would make sense. He just didn’t think the villain was that maniacal and would usually have something pretty good with that three-bet. (He also said that he would be comfortable calling the 3-bet and playing a flop but said not many people would or necessarily should take that approach.)
But this is an important segue for starting this newsletter (and is generally true of my work): My goal is not to talk about optimal strategy here. The reasons for this are:
I don’t pretend to be a very strong strategist (and that’s especially true for tournaments, of which I’ve played very few). Basically, because I’m far from expert on that side of things, I don’t want to run the risk of giving bad advice, and so I want to focus on behavior.
And the poker behavior concepts we’ll discuss can be discussed no matter what your opinions are about strategy in any specific spot. For example, if you don’t think a shove with 88 would be good here, then think about a slightly stronger hand where you would’ve almost certainly been shoving (maybe pocket 99 or TT) and then think about the behavior we’ll discuss and how it might play a role in other borderline, or not so borderline, spots.
I wanted to make my approach on this clear. For the most part, I’ll try to be strategy-agnostic in these analyses and focus on how behavior can shift our perceptions of likely hand ranges in one direction or the other.
A few interesting things
I’ll give some thoughts on this without knowing anything about the villain’s usual behaviors. It’s entirely possible she often does these things and is balanced, but, I’m going to analyze these things “in a vacuum,” as they say, just focusing on a single hand and what it will generally mean with a general population.
Let’s start with something Lara said: “the speed and confidence” with which the villain 3-bet made her suspect strength. I can’t speak to Lara’s exact reasoning there, and I may address this in another post, but I think it’s possible what Lara was sensing was that: all things considered, the villain’s 3-bet timing was abnormally quick for her and/or the general speed of the game; it just struck her as out-of-the-ordinary. And maybe that was especially the case first sitting down at the final table, when you’d expect people to be more thoughtful. Abnormal things from bettors tend to mean strength (as shown in diagram below), because players with weaker hands like to do things more normally, so this was probably one reason Lara was already put on guard.
I’ll leave aside also talking about the villain’s several times staring directly at Lara, which I thought was interesting, as in general that kind of confrontational behavior (however subtle) will tend to make strong hands more likely.
I’ll also leave aside talking about the villains very loose, back-and-forth, “let me check the chips several times” chip gathering when she put the raise in (in general a player who’d prefer a fold here would likely put out the bet with a single, less-delayed placement, wanting to appear more confident).
Let’s talk about the chip flipping that Lara noticed. The villain does it at 3:26, 3:33, and then, once Lara starts playing with her own chips, the villain does it again several time at 3:38.
Long story short: a player who’s made a significant bet who flips their chips end over end like this will have a high likelihood of having a strong hand. (And keep in mind we’re not talking about more common chip playing behavior like just riffling your chips.) There are I think a few factors here:
Most unusual, ostentatious, attention-grabbing behaviors from bettors will tend to mean relaxation. People who’d prefer you to fold act more stoic and restrained.
It is what is sometimes called a “gravity-defying” behavior, meaning it is an upward, “light” behavior. And people have said that such light, buoyant behaviors are likely to mean relaxation. (I’m not sure who first tied this to poker, but the first place I remember seeing it was in Joe Navarro’s book Read ‘Em and Reap.)
I’ve got many examples of this in the database and it’s a very strong indicator. The one caveat I’d make (as with all behavior) is that if someone is always or often doing it, it won’t mean much. If this is going to mean something, it’ll be from someone who you rarely see doing it.
One interesting thing here is that the villain seems to start doing it more when Lara starts playing with her chips right next to her hand. So this to me suggests the idea that we can maybe try to induce this behavior by doing a similar behavior. There is something interesting about the energy of sitting right next to someone. I don’t think Lara did this on purpose but it’d be an interesting approach to try to play with your chips to see if someone might start flipping their chips in this way. If they don’t, that doesn’t tell you anything, but if they do, that’s a warning.
And one more speculative thing. Remember I said the villain was doing a lot of glancing for several seconds at Lara, which struck me as a bit confrontational and possibly a sign of someone being a bit goading. Related to that, I think the villain’s flipping chips right next to Lara’s hand felt kind of confrontational also. Almost like her saying, "I’m not afraid of you, I’m gonna flip my chips right next to your hand.” But that’s getting a bit speculative. It was at the very least pretty relaxed though, but that’s just true for the chip-flipping in general.
Thank you to Lara Eisenberg (Twitter: @eisen009) and Chris “Fox” Wallace (Twitter: @foxpokerfox).
Have ideas for recent interesting hands? If I use one that you submit I’ll give you a shout-out in here (if you want one).
And another note for subscribers: I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way so that only subscribers can read comments, so it’s more like a private community. I’m not sure I can do that on Substack, so I’ll think about other options. If anyone has any ideas, much appreciated.