by Shari Geller
To talk or not to talk, that is the question. This Hamlet-inspired question has nearly the same life or death meaning if you are all-in with your tournament life at stake. A recent episode on ESPN of the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event brought to mind the Shakespeare quote as an all-in player decided whether to engage her opponent in table talk while he considered his move. She decided to talk, and had what she said been picked up, she would have died right then. But sometimes, when you talk, your opponent doesn’t listen and you are given a new lease on life.
Texas amateur Beverly Lange was one of four women left in the field of about 150 players remaining on Day 5. Her opponent, 2010 Main Event bubble boy Brandon Steven, had bet 167,000 into a pot of 385,000, holding top pair on a 4s-Ks-7s-2d-2h board. She snap-raised all-in for an additional 260,000. Steven leapt from his seat when she made that bet, clearly surprised and irritated. If he called, it would be for one-third of his stack. What he didn’t know was Lange only had pocket Jacks, and if he called, she’d be knocked out of the tournament.
Steven immediately started engaging Lange in conversation. “Nice check on the turn,” he told her. She remained mum at first. He leaned forward and asked her, “What do you think I have?” Lange had three choices at this point – stay quiet, say something that you think is helpful whether or not true, tell the truth. She chose the latter, and said, “A busted flush draw.” I think that was a mistake. By saying he had no pair, Lange was representing that was the hand that she could beat. If he had more than that, she was in trouble.
But Steven didn’t read it that way and missed her clear verbal message. He focused not on what she said, but her demeanor. She was chatty and confident and didn’t show any concern when he asked her, “Would it surprise you if I had a King?” Knowing that if what he said were true she was beat, Lange remained calm and poised. But her words gave more information that was ignored. As Steven replayed the hand in his head and tried to figure out her moves, Lange volunteered, “I’m not really that good of a player, so don’t try to figure out what I should have done, because what you would expect me to do is probably not something I would do.”
Twice she gave verbal clues that she had not been playing a cagey game and actually thought she had the best hand, as all she put him on was a missed flush. Whether it was the presence of the ESPN cameras, or the tendency to think that everyone at the table is lying to you, Steven missed the clues. He eventually mucked, flashing his King, and then Lange, as promised, turned over her pocket Jacks. Steven summed up seeing the inferior hand with a well-timed, “Ouch.”
But lest one think Steven was the only one who missed her verbal clues, most of the men at the table expected her to turn over at least pocket sevens for sevens full, or to have another better hand such as Kings full. It’s always risky deciding to talk at the table and there is a genuine risk of giving away information by what you say as well as how you say it. I tend to believe the old saying that “Speech is silver, silence is golden.”