EPT11 Prague: Harvesting information with Davidi Kitai
In his fascinating Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, Mike McDonald gets a question about tells. In response to a question about the importance of being able to read opponents at the table, McDonald says, "I think not being readable is more important, and I think just through experience you will get good at reading people."
I was reminded of McDonald's words at approximately the mid-point of level 20 at EPT Prague, while standing behind Davidi Kitai and watching what can only be described as a clinic from the Belgian player. He was busy putting together the first stack in the room of more than 2 million chips, and was in complete control of a table mainly comprising less experienced players.
Kitai plays almost every hand. It's just his style, especially with a big stack. But it seemed he was getting even more involved than usual on this particular table, surrounded by players whose demeanours were somewhat less than statuesque. I don't necessarily know exactly how Kitai was doing it, but I suspect his experience at reading opponents through their body language, while giving nothing away himself, had a great deal to do with his success today.
On the first hand I watched, Kitai raised to 27,000 from under the gun. Anton Bertilsson, two seats to Kitai's left, called and the action folded around to Roman Pavliuk in the small blind. Pavliuk is older than the average player in this tournament, and has short, greying hair and reading glasses. It's pretty easy to characterise a player of his generation as slightly tighter than your common or garden pyscho 19-year-old Swede, and his raise in this spot to 80,000 seemed to represent strength. Kitai, however, called in position and Bertilsson folded.
The flop came 4♥9♣7♥ and Pavliuk struck a pose. He planted both elbows on the rail in front of him and made a visor over his eyes with both his hands, fingers interlocking across his forehead. The position shielded his eyes from Kitai, but perhaps it also gave something away as to the strength of his holding. Kitai looked him up and down regardless.
Pavliuk temporarily abandoned his visor-like pose to check deliberately with his right hand. "Check," the dealer said. Kitai didn't need much more encouragement and slid from his mountains of chips a full tower of blues (worth 5,000 each; a 100,000 stack), with four reds on top, like a 4,000 chip cherry. "Bet," the dealer said. Pavliuk folded quickly.
Potential tells - Pavliuk: Older player. Visor-like pose. Checks a low board having three-bet out of position pre-flop.
On the next hand, the action folded to Nandor Solyom in the cut off. Solyom acts in a remarkably deliberate manner, waiting what seems to be a pre-established amount of time before any action, even if it's a pre-flop fold. One suspects the unforgiving viewers of EPT Live will have a few issues with this procedure now that he is on the webcast table, but I suspect he acts as he does for the very specific reason of not giving anything away.
In silence, he bet 26,000: five blue chips and one red. Pavliuk folded, but Georgios Vrakas, one seat around, seemed interested. He scratched his forehead and rubbed his eye. "Twenty-six?" he said to the dealer. He folded.
Kitai, in the big blind, made the call and they saw a flop of 8♠5♣J♥. Kitai checked and Solyom flicked out 28,000, comprising one gold chip and three red. Kitai rechecked his cards and called, taking them to a A♠ turn. Kitai checked with his left hand, before placing both of them in a cradle over his cards. Solyom riffled red chips in his right hand.
Eventually, after the pre-ordained time, he bet 47,000: one gold, four blue and two red chips. Kitai called.
The 3♠ came on the river and Kitai checked again. Solyom waited his customary period and checked back. Kitai flipped over J♦6♣ and Solyom showed his A♦5♠ to win the pot.
Potential tells -- Solyom: Long pauses before any action. Specific about chip denominations in bets.
Action folded around to Solyom on the next hand and he took his time before folding. The other players to Kitai's right also folded, which left it down to him, in the small blind, to open the action. He limped. Anirudh Seth in the big blind checked his option.
The flop came 9♥9♦8♣ and Kitai bet 14,000 almost instantly. Seth took very little time to fold.
Potential tells - Seth: Checks big blind when limped to? (Of dubious worth as a 'tell'.)
Action was folded to Vrakas in the cut off. He picked up a few chips in his right hand, about enough to make a standard sized raise, but as he was hovering above his many other towers of chips, he accidentally knocked the front tower of blues over, spilling them across the betting line. Everybody could see that it was an accident, and the bet was not binding, but Kitai had perhaps sensed something else behind the quivering hand.
Vrakas raised to 26,000 and Kitai, on the button, almost instantly three-bet to 65,000, using two gold chips and three blue. It was folded through the blinds and back to Vrakas, who looked mortified.
Vrakas took a fist full of blue chips from his stack and crunched them in his hand, as if popping bubble wrap. Then he put out enough to cover the raise, which took them to a flop. It came A♦6♣2♣. Vrakas, mindful of his pre-flop misdemeanour, counted out 55,000 in blue chips and placed them deliberately over the line. Kitai picked up two gold chips and one blue and called in a flash.
The [10s] came on the turn and Vrakas picked up another stack of blue chips. But this time he spilled them deliberately forward and they lay there like a spent domino run until the dealer stacked them into neat piles. It was a bet of 65,000, which Kitai called.
The J♥ came on the river and Vrakas said, "Check." It was a forcefully-articulated check at that, loud and not especially proud. Kitai said nothing in return, but flicked forward a bet of 55,000 - two gold chips and one blue. Vrakas sat up on the edge of his seat, peering over the flop from on high. He tugged at the skin on his neck, kinked his head to one side and closed one eye. He was, in short, pondering.
Eventually, Vrakas picked up the chips necessary to match Kitai's bet and tossed them forward. Kitai rolled over A♥9♠ and Vrakas mucked.
Potential tells - Vrakas: All sorts. Wobbling hands pre-flop; some bets placed over the line, others spilled; vocal checks; fidget in seat.
The next hand, with Kitai in the cut off, was folded to him. He raised to 27,000 and that was the end of that. Everyone else folded. On the next hand, it was folded to Vrakas in mid position and he limped. Kitai limped too. Seth fidgeted with his cards, flicking them one on top of the other, face down on the table in front of him. He then raised to 44,000.
Action folded back to Vrakas, who asked, "How much?" The dealer told him, "Forty-four" and Vrakas folded. Kitai peered around the dealer at Seth's stack, determining it to be in the region of 220,000. He folded too; the first time he had given up pre-flop for almost an entire orbit.
To return to Mike McDonald's words, Davidi Kitai gave away almost nothing of his own intentions at any time during this short spell of play. He has a scarf around his neck to protect against involuntary motions of the pulses there, and he wears pitch-black sunglasses to safeguard saying anything with his eyes.
At least three of his opponents seemed to be giving off some kind of information, however, although the non player writing this would not be able to know what to do with it. Kitai, a triple crown winner and tournament chip leader in this event, seems to have more than just a clue.