By: Jason Lake
If you play home games regularly, you're probably used to a lot of banter at the poker table. Live tournament poker is a different animal. In the wise words of Daryl Hall and John Oates, some things are better left unsaid. Opening your mouth can really mess up your poker game; it's dangerous enough that some people refuse to talk at all, lest they give off “tells” or otherwise harm themselves.
This can be a good strategy. If you're a beginner, or if you’re easily read, it makes sense to adopt a “conceal, don't reveal” attitude at the table. But with that being said, poker is a social game. At the very least, you'll want to learn the rules for what you can and cannot say. Then you can consider using your words to help you win more money.
Here's the Golden Rule of table talk: Don't say anything about the hand being played. As with most rules, there are exceptions. If you're one of the players in the hand, you're allowed to talk about certain things. First and foremost, you can verbalize which action you're taking, so you can say “raise” and declare a specific amount. Once you verbalize, the action is binding.
Declaring your actions first can help you avoid getting in trouble. For example, if you say “Raise,” you don't have to worry about the dreaded one-chip rule, or making a string bet. If you declare how much you're raising, you won't ever make the mistake of putting too few or too many chips in the middle. The drawback, of course, is that you might give off a tell with your voice. If you're bluffing, and you don't sound confident (or you sound over-confident), your opponent might catch on.
Angling for Dollars
Beyond these verbal declarations, you're allowed to talk about anything in the hand that is public knowledge, like which community cards are on the board. You can also ask the dealer for clarification about rules and procedures. However, you have to do these things when it's your turn, not before.
Things get tricky when you get into the world of “angle shooting.” Players like Daniel Negreanu are experts at knowing what they're allowed to talk about (or at least what they can get away with), and communicating in such a way that they get you to reveal information – or even get you to fold or call, depending on what they want. This is a whole other level of poker. It's esoteric, and it takes a while to learn, but if you're at least aware of it, you can defend yourself from angle shooters.