Q&A: Reading Poker Tells author Zachary Elwood
We recently sat down with author and poker player Zachary Elwood to discuss his recently released book, Reading Poker Tells. Elwood is the owner of the website www.readingpokertells.com, a comprehensive website focusing on Elwood’s passion for the behavioral side of poker.
You can read our review of Elwood’s book HERE: http://pokernewsboy.com/reviews/book-review-reading-poker-tells/13304
PokerNewsBoy.com: Could you give people unfamiliar with you a little bit of information on your poker background?
Zachary Elwood: I used to play in college poker games back around 2000; that’s how I really got into it. I used to keep notes on the basic strategies and poker tells of the guys in our game and review them before our games.
Then, starting in 2004, I played for a living for three years, primarily live mid-stakes limit and no-limit in Albuquerque, NM, but also some limit games on Party Poker back when the games were super soft (I miss those days). For the past five years, I’ve played poker as a supplemental form of income.
PNB: Have poker tells always been a fascination to you, or is it a part of the game that you discovered you were innately talented at?
ZE: I have always been interested in the psych-behavioral side of poker, even while knowing it was a much less important facet of the game than learning great fundamentals. It’s definitely not something I am innately talented at. I’ve often thought I was rather autistic at reading people’s emotions; I’ve never had much “feel” when it comes to playing poker. This might be the reason why I was so interested in studying it from a very logical perspective, trying to pick out common patterns. I was interested in the subject, while feeling like I wasn’t innately good at it, so that might account for my higher-than-average inspiration to study it.
PNB: What made you decide to write a book on poker tells; a part of the game that is generally considered a “closed” topic? And what do you feel you are bringing to the conversation that other authors may have missed?
ZE: I was moved to write the book mainly because I knew a lot of things that I’d never seen covered before. And I’d talked with enough experienced live players to know that these were not just things I knew, but that other players looked for, too. I’d always been surprised that I’d never seen some of these things talked about anywhere, so eventually I felt like if nobody else was going to cover poker tells in a better way, it might as well be me.
I think the main thing that is new about my book is that it stresses the situational importance of behavior in poker. A behavior is rarely going to mean one single thing whenever a player exhibits that behavior; instead, it will fit into certain situational categories. For example, a player avoiding eye contact with you can mean entirely different things depending on whether he’s waiting for you to bet or has just bet himself.
Also, I believe the tells I describe themselves are more accurate and more practical than those written about in other books. I think they’re more likely to apply to players at a mediocre level of skill, whereas I think some of the other books have concentrated on some of the most basic tells that would only be exhibited by very beginner-level players. I also think that other books out there are just simple collections of basic human behavioral patterns, without any real application at the poker table.
PNB: If you could impart one nugget of wisdom when it comes to observing your opponents what would it be?
ZE: Don’t act on a tell unless you’re quite sure it’s reliable. That might sound obvious, but I think many players try to apply common general tell knowledge out-of-the-box, without studying the player first. I recommend looking for some of the common tells on a per-person basis to see if those behaviors are actually present; then you can act on them.
PNB: You maintain a poker site, www.readingpokertells.com, where along with written content you use videos to describe and discuss certain tells. Do you think video is the future of poker tells, or will written content continue to be the best way to convey these principles?
ZE: Video is by far the better teacher than the written word for any behavior-related subject. I’m currently working on a video version of my book that I think will be much stronger than my book. I also think there’s potentially more practical value in my blog than my book, just because I am talking about real hands (although my book discusses my overall philosophy of tells, which I think is important.)
The only downside with a lot of televised poker is that they cut away from players after they have bet and focus on the player who is thinking of calling. This is too bad because it’s often the post-bet behavior of a player that communicates the most information. That has been the thing that has stymied me the most about analyzing a lot of televised poker.
PNB: What has been the hardest part of writing a poker book? Is it the writing, the publishing phase, or the marketing phase where you have to answer screwball questions like “What is the hardest part of writing a poker book?”
ZE: The hardest part was definitely just writing and editing it. It took me 2.5 years once from starting to publishing (although I’d been working the idea in my head for many years). After a few months of work, I had all the information I wanted in the book, but I really struggled over how to organize it. The book underwent many changes; it was originally much longer, much more bloated, and I worked at trimming it down to what I thought were the most relevant observations and at organizing it into a cohesive whole. It kind of drove me crazy, because you get so close to something like that and it’s so hard to tell from an outside perspective how it seems. I was lucky in that I got some really good feedback from some experienced players and they gave me some valuable feedback and edits.
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