Zachary Elwood: The Art of Understanding Poker Tells

Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 051

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Today’s guest is author and teacher Zachary Elwood.

If you’ve ever been interested in diving deeper in the art of reading and interpreting physical tells, this is the show for you.

Zach is a former professional poker player and the author of the “Reading Poker Tells” trilogy (That has now been translated into 7 languages) as well as the man behind the uber popular and valuable Reading Poker Tells YouTube content.

In our conversation today we’re going to dive into Zach’s origin story, what it was like consulting for two WSOP Main Event final table participants, and how Zach has dealt with anxiety and depression while navigating a game well-known for emotional roller-coasters.

You’re also going to learn:

Why Zach felt compelled to to expand the information regarding poker tells..

Why Zach believes poker tells got so undervalued in the arsenal of poker players.

How to effectively think about and incorporate poker tells to your thought processes at the table.

And much, MUCH more!

So, without any further ado, I bring to you my conversation with the brilliant Zachary Elwood.

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Transcription of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 051: Zachary Elwood

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Brad: Yo, what is happening my friend? This is your host, Brad Wilson, the founder of enhanceyouredge.com and today’s guest is author and teacher, Zachary Elwood. If you’ve ever been interested in diving deeper into the art of reading and interpreting physical tells, this is the show for you. Zach is a former professional poker player and the author of The Reading and Tells trilogy that has now been translated into seven languages, as well as the man behind the ultra-popular and valuable Reading Poker Tells YouTube content. In our conversation today, we’re going to dive in Zach’s origin story, what it was like consulting for two WSOP Main Event Final Table participants, and how Zach has dealt with anxiety and depression while navigating a game well known for emotional roller coasters. You’re also going to learn why Zack felt compelled to expand the available information regarding poker tells, why Zach believes poker tells got so undervalued in the arsenal of live poker players, how to effectively think about and incorporate tells to your thought processes while you’re at the table, and much, much more. So, without any further ado, I bring to you my conversation with the brilliant Zachary Elwood.



Brad: Zach, welcome to the show my man. How we doing?



Zach: Good. Thanks for having me on, Brad.



Brad: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. I like starting these shows out by asking about your story. What is your story look like? How’d you get involved playing cards?

 

Zach: Sure. Yeah, a brief summary of my, of my story was probably like



Brad: We got time. You don’t, you don’t have to be brief.



Zach: Okay, well, not too long. Because I, it’s probably a little bit boring. But I started out, I loved poker when I was a kid. I played at my friend’s house and his parents would play and that’s how I got into it. And I also have always been interested in psychology, like, my dad had a bunch of psychology books laying around because he liked to read a lot of books. And so, I read Freud kind of books when I was a kid. So, I’ve always been interested in behavior stuff, too. So then, started playing in college, more like setting up games, I was organizing games and started playing higher stakes with people.



Brad: What year was that? How old were you?



Zach: This was like, yeah, I’m pretty old school old, so this was like, around 2000 when I was in college. And then after that, I moved shortly, after that, I moved to Albuquerque and started met some people who were playing professionally and semiprofessionally. This was around, like, when poker boom started, you know, like, 2003-2004. They got me into higher stakes games and made me feel comfortable playing higher the casino, because I saw the other people doing it, taking it seriously. And yeah, and then, you know, played for a living for like, four years. And then, since then on the side, but you know, even when I was playing for living in back then like, in the 2005 time period, I was thinking, you know, there are a lot of things I, I saw about with poker tells and poker behavior that I hadn’t seen written about and things I talked to with other people, talked about with other people that I hadn’t seen written about. And I thought, you know, somebody is going to write a better book, a book that tells them like heroes. And, you know, I didn’t have enough confidence back then for it, for me to think it would be me. But then, as the years went on, and I still didn’t see that, that that kind of content, that’s how I got into like, into digging, like, well, I might as well be me because I just don’t see anybody else making what I saw is a better resource for that stuff. Yeah.



Brad: Why do you think poker tells got so undervalued as a weapon in the arsenal of live poker players?



Zach: Yeah, I think it’s a combination of things. I mean, to an extent, I think some people do, overvalue them, like there’s a lot of you know, people on the less experienced side that that overvalue tells because they see it as you know, sexy, or they think that’s what a lot of poker is about. But then, you know, people from the more online world of poker, you know, they realize they know that you can be as very strong poker player, you know, fundamental strategy is like the most important thing you know, that’s, that’s most of the game. And I think for those people who come from that background, it’s, it’s very easy to be like, well, I know I can be a very strong player without even thinking about tells. And, you know, and that’s true, obviously, but I think, you know, there’s also, they also underestimate some of the, the clear benefit you can get just from even just a little bit of thinking about tells and studying, you can get some very clear boost to your win rate. So, I think it’s mainly that online background, I’d say.



Brad: It’s interesting to me that in a game where you’re always seeking an edge in one way or the other, that you would just dismiss one aspect of the game where you can get a significant edge. A lot of times it’s not going to be against the world class players that you’re battling against, it’s going to be against the less experienced type of players. But physical tells have always been a super important part of my life poker game. They just have been is something that I’ve thought about from day one was how are people acting. And I’ll never forget, there’s a guy, his name’s Joey, played with him for years at a home game in Chattanooga. And he always had the same towel. When I, we spoke about a little in the pre-show, but it’s the same tell where I go to bet. And as soon as I reach for my chips, he threateningly reaches for his. And if I had a value, type of hand in that situation, I would size way down. And if I had a bluff, I would just size up. And after two years, I remember that the culmination of that was one day, he did the towel. I bet large and he just slammed his fist on the table and said, how does he always know? And like, it’s just amazing how much money physical tells have made me over the years? Just giving me confidence in spots where I otherwise would not be sure.



Zach: Yeah, for sure. No, that’s, that’s great, when, it’s great when you can, especially when you can be on the more confident side. Getting back to your question, though, of why people, you know, tend to underestimate them or not even want to think about them. I think it relates to, I think, you know, the using any exploitative change to a strategy is it makes people feel uncomfortable, right? It’s kind of like why we see even for more strategic exploitative things, you know, people, some, a lot of people don’t feel comfortable, even with those strategic aspects, like, for example, knowing somebody is looser, it makes sense strategically to adjust and, and, you know, maybe three bet them more often, you know, call more often, things like that. Those kind of things, you know, that that’s on the same spectrum of exploitative use of life tells, and, and those things, you know, whenever you veer away from your set strategy, it can be a little bit more risky, because the information is a little bit more, you know, it’s a little bit more ambiguous, and you have to you have to use some, you know, critical thinking to, to try to try use it. I didn’t think that’s why but



Brad: It feels risky, right?



Zach: It feels risky. Yeah. It feels risky. Yeah, it’s, you know, it shouldn’t be, that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It just means that it feels risky. I think that’s what people respond to, it’s like, obviously, we know somebody is more aggressive, we’re going to, you know, maybe three bet them more often. Call them more often, make adjustments like that, that that seems logical with people. But I think the fact that behavior is, is a more, it’s a softer field, it takes more, it takes more, you know, thinking to think about how to use it, I think that’s what scares people, you know, more than the, more than the other exploitative strategic adjustments if I’d say.



Brad: One of the, one of the more awesome adjustments that I’ve come across in this show was Fador Holtz, who sort of married both worlds like the emotional human element of the game, also with super high level theory in thinking about poker. He said that there’s a way people look when they’re actually thinking, when they’re actually like intense and the gears are turning. And you know how in like the high rollers, everybody decided to take 45 seconds for each decision to not give anything away with timing. And he said that basically, he could tell when people are just running out the 45 second clock, and when there, the gears are actually turning. And that to me was genius, and something that 100% gave him an edge in that specific field that he was playing against. I guess he was okay with talking about it after the fact because he’s not in those fields anymore. But, you got, you got to do what you got to do as a poker player to find an edge and exploitation is the name of the game. That’s what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to look at human behavior, find a counter and just act on it. And that’s how, that’s how people become a crusher. They don’t, they’re not crushers by sticking to a script of I’m going to play these number of hands from each position robotically.



Zach: Right. It’s, it’s, I mean, yeah, crushing is about exploiting, you know, when you get down to it, I mean, obviously, you can, we can debate how like, very strong, you know, very strong players play other very strong players and their, their GTO kind of approaches to that. But, you know, the bulk of, the bulk of poker money is made by exploiting people you know, exploiting bad players, exploiting players who don’t think they’re you know, who aren’t as good as they think they are, and who have obvious leaks.



Brad: And I think I tend so I’ve always trended towards the more I guess, dejan side of poker and that the more volatile side, we’ll put it that way, where it’s like Dara O’Kearney posted a hand where he lent blind versus blind with king, six off in a tournament. And he was asking feedback on the strategy on Twitter. And I look at that, and everybody’s like, well, the player in the big blind, super aggressive. And so, I’m going to fold the small blind because they’re going to, they’re going to raise too much to make it profitable for me to call and like, immediately, my volatile brain is thinking, oh, they’re raising too much out of the big blind, like, I’m going to limp raise the living shit out of them. Like, this is good. This is my strategy. I’m, I’m a fighter. Like, if you want to beat me, I’m going to go down swinging to the streets, we’re going to go to the streets. Exactly. And so like, that’s why I think tells and human behavior. I’m always looking for you know that, if you think about it, like if they’re over raising, what are they doing, they’re exploiting the fact that you’re limping too much. And so, by limp raise by over limp raising, you’re exploiting the fact that they’re raising too much, and it just becomes this game. And I’ve always trended on the side of aggression, more than passive.



Zach: Yeah, I think there’s a when you talk about those early spots in a hand, and I think that’s, honestly, for me, and I think for most people, that’s where a lot of the value of behavior comes in. Because I’ve written a lot about those little indicators of whether somebody is actually focused or not, sort of like getting back to the Fador Holtz points, it’s like, if you can get a sense that somebody is not really focused preflop and they’re raising, you know, I feel much better about re raising them, like, you know, those, those little spots where you can be like, well, if they had a good hand, they might be a little bit more stoic and actually focused on the situation instead of like, moving around a bit, you know, I’m much more likely to, to, you know, re raise somebody preflop, if they’re, if they’re moving around a bit and have some like ostentatious kind of movements. And, and that’s one of the things I talked about, I think it’s a lot of it boils down to these kind of like, spots, preflop, they could go either way or spots in the flat, they could go either way.



Brad: Yeah. You’re looking for some sort of edge, some sort of informational edge to guide you into making these exploits, which I think is, you know, poker is an emotional game, you get people in the pressure cooker, they’re going to act predictably. That’s just the nature of the beast, because especially if they’re more on the amateur side, they’re not used to being in a pressure cooker. They’re not used to this situation. And the fallback plan is just to act, the way that you’ve always acted, and that there’s a lot of patterns there for people to discern.



Zach: Yeah, for sure. And I think, I think a lot of that is due to, you know, people not thinking about the long term meta game, they’re just focused on the one hand, you know, and that explains a lot of, you know, for example, I was, why a player might not care about giving away that they’re folding or, you know, might not care about giving away that their relax, it’s because they’re just thinking about the one hand and thinking like, well, maybe it doesn’t matter how much this one hand if I, if I am a little looser, or give away something even purposely, but they’re not thinking about like, well, that that’s opening them up to, you know, have patterns over time, and people will find leaks over time, patterns over time.



Brad: That’s a very interesting point about the long term too, because I think that’s where you live the small blind. Like, if you just fold, you never know, anything. You never know how the big blinds going to react versus a limp. But if you limp, you can see, they check their option. Are they raising super often, like what tendencies does this player fall into, versus a limp and so basically, you can limp fold and that’s going to be fine, you lose half a big blind, but you’re gaining information that you can use later on, in this same tournament against the same player, just by limping in in the first place. So, you’re on your journey playing cards. You, we, we went way off track, you’re on your journey playing cards, you think there needs to be a better book than Caro’s book of tells. When did you start like in earnest and working on that project? And where were you at in your poker journey as far as like playing professionally, that sort of thing?



Zach: Yeah, I played for living, you know, full time, this was like 2003 to 2007 time period. And since then, just played on the side, I moved up to Portland around, let’s see, it was 2008, didn’t play too much after that. But it was around, I was playing some limit games, mainly 15/30, 20/40 kind of games limit. And it was around 2010, I got the idea to write the book because I, at that time I you know, just over the years, I’d been expecting to see better books and just honestly, I think you know, there was a Navarro book and I’ve written about how I don’t think Navarro’s book was good because Navarro wasn’t even a poker player. And he would admit that. And then there was some other crappy, in my opinion, poker tell books that came out. But yes, around 2010, when I had the idea to, you know, I’d been banging over the years and kind of organizing in my head and kind of had a mental framework for how I thought about tells, which was the main thing I thought was valuable, more of this like kind of framework more important than the specific tells, and that



Brad: What do you mean, what do you mean by framework?



Zach: It was a way to think about category, situational categories. And I think the, you know, basically, the thing I think, that people respond to with my book is a, was a framework of, mental framework for thinking about tells and not so much the tells themselves, so it was, it was about, you know, previous ways of talking about tells was about like, this means that, you know, kind of like a, this specific tell means this, what I, what I thought was lacking was like a breakdown by kind of various factors and categories of situations. You know, for example, behavior after somebody makes a large bet, a significant bet, is a much different situation than that same behavior displayed when that person is waiting to act or displayed when that person’s, you know, waiting, yeah, waiting for another person to act. Basically, aggressor behavior versus non-aggressor behavior, somebody, somebody who’s an aggressor is checking, or calling or whatever, those are very different situations, because there’s different psychological factors at play, right? Because, you know, for example, somebody’s making a big bet, when they’re, you know, when they’re bluffing, they’re going to feel a bit anxious, they’re going to, they’re going to have some polarized, potentially polarized behaviors, they’re related to being relaxed or anxious, whereas that’s not really a factor for somebody checking or calling. Also, like situational categories, like is it early in the hand where somebody, you know, people are with strong hands are focused on getting value and focused on that. And that’s a much different dynamic than later in the hand when somebody, you know, has nothing left to think about on the river and makes it bad and can be completely relaxed, because they have no, you know, the parts already built, and they are completely relaxed, they have no other actions and decisions to make. So, there’s just these various situational categories and trying to break it down by the situational categories. And as a means to explain why, you know, for example, a specific behavior, even though it could be completely the same, can mean completely different things in different situations. And I think that’s what people really responded to, it was like, nobody had really, from my knowledge, nobody had done that in that way, before breaking it down like that.



Brad: So, it’s more situational process oriented, coming to a conclusion as to what this physical tell means. Do you have any heuristics that you’ve come up with, to sort of help, help somebody who’s listening right now? That’s like, yeah, I noticed physical tells, I don’t always know exactly what they mean. Any process for guiding them to a good conclusion?



Zach: I mean, it’s hard to give a, you know, a brief synopsis, I would say, you know, it’s the kind of thing I talk about, in my books, basically, it’s like, I think, you know, and I tend to not try to give like a, you know, I also don’t want to give a one size fits all, it’s more about like, thinking about these situations, and, and with some guidance, trying to start notice that’s, noticing that stuff when you play, you know, it’s like, noticing that, for example. You know, ostentatious or attention-grabbing behavior early in a hand tends to equal is correlated with weakness. Whereas like ostentatious behavior later in a hand from somebody making a large bet is more correlated with strength, it’s actually opposite. It’s this kind of like, as the as the hand progresses, or as



Brad: The stakes grows too.



Zach: Yeah, the stakes of the of the pot, you know, that that sizing, it’s recognizing that there’s, there can be these switches from where one behavior actually becomes more correlated with, with another, you know, another hamstring. So yeah, it’s pretty hard for me to give like a summary of all that, because it’s related to, because it’s related to hand strength that’s related to, you know, the street of the street that we’re in how far along than the hand we are, it’s really 



Brad: The human being.



Zach: Yeah, sure. There’s player specific tells, you know, and one thing I like I try to, try to avoid doing is trying to ever say like, this means that it’s more like this. I believe this is correlated to be more likely this way. But, you know, to feel comfortable with it, you should start thinking about these things when you play.

 

Brad: Yeah, it’s funny that I’m not, I’m not a heuristic person, when it comes to coaching people and saying that, like always do X. I mean, I just said, like, if the situation were the big lines over raising, that I’ve limp raising with king six off, right, and I don’t think you’re going to hear many folks advocate that type of behavior, but it’s like, just thinking logically about a situation and what it might mean. One of my another early memory that just popped in my head playing poker. I can’t remember the exact hand. I can’t remember the exact board. I do remember the exact board but basically, I had a third pair, and it was like a 10-high flop. And everybody checked to the guy last to act and he looked like just, like he wanted to be anywhere else. Like just not engaged at all, just looking out the window, just snap checks back. And the turn was a nine. And I bet out, I bet out with like, third pair at this for like a pair of fives, and everybody folded to him. And he snapped raised me, like 3X And I remember, I was probably 22 years old. And I remember thinking in my head, like, okay, so the logic here is pocket nines would have been interested in betting the flop versus a bunch of checks, because there was like 250, or 300 in the pot. And the only thing that makes any rational sense to me is Queen Jack. Like it’s just always Queen Jack here, he just picks up an open tender with over cards. And so, I like, I call this big raise, and then the river break off, and he bent something like 1100. And like 1400. And I call that he just turns over the queen jack. And all he has to say about the hand is, well, if I knew you had that, I would have bet more. And I remember thinking to myself, great, like, great, like you got owned so hard that you don’t even know why you got owned and you wanted to give more money. But like stuff like that even as a 22-year-old, using logic and deductive reasoning, noticing he’s completely uninterested now he’s interested what changed? Oh, okay. And now you can you can put them on a hand.



Zach: Yeah, and I think that’s, that’s the best use, you know, when you can combine a little bit of behavior with the, you know, the, the line of the hand, how someone’s played a hand. And that’s when you arrive at some really specific, you can arrive at some really specific hands, you know, for example, like, yeah, that timing, you know, it’s not foolproof, but, but it tends, you know, quick bets like that tend to skew towards bluffs, especially for specific players, you know, especially if you’ve noticed, that’s more likely for them. But for example, like, noticing that somebody’s calling you quickly on a, on a coordinated board, like say, say a pretty decent, aggressive player calls you quickly when you bet a flop of two hearts in a straight draw possible out there. And you can roll out a lot of hands, right? You can, I mean, at least think of them as less likely because a decent player is at least going to think about call raising you with a flush draw most flush draws and is at least going to think about raising you with like, a straight draw with two overs or something. Right? So, it’s like, and then you, when you factor those kinds of little clues in with the way they’ve played the hand, like you said, you know, you can reach some very exact reads, and that stuff can seem surprising to people that aren’t clued into that kind of things. But it’s like, those are the kinds of things that add up to like, oh, I know, you know, I’m very certain that you have a very specific hand right now. And that, without that little bit of behavior, you wouldn’t have been able to put those pieces together.



Brad: Yeah, I think it comes with trust with trust in yourself, too. And that’s I think that’s missing from a lot of online players, when they transition live poker, they don’t trust these clues. They think to themselves, well, balanced strategy, I can’t really, it’s not good putting somebody on their exact, inexact hands, they, I need to be giving them a range. And the reality is like in a lot of these spots in live poker, you can put people on a specific exact hand based on live reads and live information, especially versus inexperienced players. And to me, you get such a little volume playing live. You have to maximize every single decision and when you’re trying to maximize that that’s what it entails. It entails stop being on your phone, checking Twitter, pay attention to what’s happening at the table, because even in hands you’re not involved in you learn stuff that that can be used in the future.



Zach: Yeah, I just, I’ve never understood that I see so many good players, you know, just not paying attention. And you know, I don’t expect everybody to pay attention every second, that’s pretty tiring. But it’s just kind of amazed me when I’ve played, you know, the few times I’ve played with, like pretty well-known players. I just see them so often on their phones are just not paying attention. I just feel like yeah, that’s, that is a maybe, maybe the stakes were too low for them or something too. But it is surprising sometimes how people just even good players just don’t pay attention. And then I feel like there’s just often just so much information floating around.



Brad: Yeah, it’s an ROI Crusher, for sure. Like you’re there to play poker. So, let’s, let’s, if you’re going to try to play poker to the best of your ability, let’s be fully present and play cards, you know.



Zach: I mean, not even for the behavior. I mean, oftentimes, you’re just getting like tendencies of bet sizing and you know, strategic stuff, too. So, it’s



Brad: Exactly. There’s, again, more information to use in the future, like you get timing tells, like you said, you get betting patterns, you get sizing, sizing patterns, you get all sorts of all sorts of funky things. I mean, for instance, here’s like a super easy one that just came to me while I was playing in a 5/10 game. Guy limp raises huge, shows down aces, and then two hands later, or, you know, I guess the next orbit raises from under the gun. It’s like, oh, okay, you limp raise the top of your range, and now you’re raising from under the gun. So, it creates this amazing squeeze opportunity with a hand that normally I would never think about squeezing, but against this guy who’s likely not using a mixed strategy, let’s just squeeze and under the gun range, when typically, under the gun range should be it’s not a range you’re messing with lightly. But anyway,



Zach: Yeah, for sure. I think, you know, and also, just paying attention to behavior also can clue you in when maybe you shouldn’t be paying attention to behavior, like if you see a guy, you know, acting a little going against the what you would expect. And I think weird behavior really, and a bunch of, you know, a couple spots, you’re like, oh, well, I shouldn’t be applying the normal, you know, meanings of things to him, because I’ve seen him do unusual things, stuff like that, you know?



Brad: Exactly. Exactly. Attention matters in the life. Attention matters in all forms of poker, actually, because it’s a tough game.



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Brad: So, living in Portland, I know, are you friends with the, the poker guys? I think you on their live stream.



Zach: Yeah, Jonathan and Grant. Yeah, I went on there a couple times. And I’ve hung out with them and check out their book that they put out recently, too. Yeah, yeah, I don’t play much actually for I haven’t played much for, for years. I’m kind of burnout on Poker. But yeah, I still occasionally play it. But yeah, honestly, between playing a lot and working on Poker Tells and studying footage and stuff I, I’m pretty burnout.



Brad: What would you say is the most unexpected thing to come from your poker journey?



Zach: Oh, I would say, you know, when I wrote the first book, it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t like I assume that would be a huge hit. It was more like I wanted to, I had things I wanted to say. And you know, if people responded to it, that was cool. If not, you know, no big deal. So I was I’d say the thing that surprised me the most was just how many people responded to it, and which obviously incentivize me to keep working in that area and worked on verbal poker tells book and study. I worked for eight months on the second book, like full time just studying footage and playing and taking notes. So yeah, that was the biggest thing to me is just, I never expected to basically become like, the foremost expert in poker tells it was more like my path just kind of led me there’s people encouraging me to do more work in that area, you know, so, yeah, so that was that was cool and surprising. And then like, people will hire me to, you know, consult with them for the WSOP main event. You know, I was hired by Amir Allahabad, I was hired by Max Steinberg too during the final table for the main event, analyze their behavior and opponent behavior looking for patterns. So that was pretty awesome.



Brad: What did that look like? What did that process look like?



Zach: Yeah, that was interesting, because, you know, obviously, like, you know, I’ve never pretended to be like a super high stakes player or anything like that, and I haven’t even played many tournaments. I have just been a cash game player. So, it was interesting digging into, you know, how do I approach preparing for something like that, like looking at the available footage leading up to the final table, and then how do I approach it when the final table is going on through, you know, giving them information through, through their, you know, through their apps or friends or whatever. So, it was interesting, they gave me how to structure that. And basically, you know, I have a lot of a, lot of pride, a lot of processes for that. But basically, it involves, like looking at all the available footage I could find of those players, which wasn’t just the, the footage leading up to the final table, but because in those days, it was, you know, a few years ago was happening in November, right. So, I had time to look at the available footage. And also, but also looking at available footage of those players from other events, because it’s a good amount of those players had footage from other events. Previously, that was available, but you know that that was older footage, you had to take that into account. But all in all, those were kind of small sample sizes. But one thing I would do would look at, you know, I would categorize them by oh, this person, they’re making a large, a large bet here, a large bet with weekends, you know, with bluffs, a lot, a large bet with strong hands, and then try to compare the footage, that was one thing for bets and then looking at, you know, non-aggressor categories too like, oh, they’re, they’re checking with a, we can’t hear, let me look, let me compare this to the spots where they’re checking with strong hands or whatever, that just comparing these spots that are kind of polarized spots, and then seeing if I could find it anything interesting to look at. And then after preparing those kinds of notes of like, things that could potentially be patterns, because hard to say always, you know, small sample sizes, then I would go into the final table thinking about those things and looking for things that might be present. Now, obviously, it was that kind of stuffs always a long shot for something like that, where people have had months to prepare for and have hired, you know, set up simulations to run and hired really good players to help them prepare, etc. So, it was always a long shot that we’d find something obviously, that would jump out during the final table. But I think, you know, we, we did find a few things that were probably patterns. But, yeah, that’s obviously like a, it’s more of like, you’re thinking about that just in case you do find something. Because if you do find something really, you know, really, really reliable. That’s obviously theoretically worth a lot of money. And I found something really interesting from the web, the 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event where P is high and set a really what I believe was a really reliable tell. And it made sense, because he was pretty new to live poker play and generally was an online player.



Brad: What’s the tell?



Zach: Oh, it was, I had a video about it. I don’t know if they got removed actually. It was about basically, I was, as I was watching the 2011 final table WSOP final table, I noticed that. You know, I wasn’t thinking much on pa times. But I was like, I think I think there’s got to be something there because he’s pretty new to the live play. And sure enough, like, at one hand, he had been he went from like basically staring at his opponents, you know, he had taken a strategy of basically always staring at his opponents in a very consistent manner. And then one hand when he raised preflop, like the three about preflop, because when he was heads up, this is this is the heads-up portion. So, when a three-way, three bet is preflop. He was just looking down, and I was like, oh, I bet he’s already strong here. Because, you know, obviously, strong hands are more rare than the weekends, especially preflop. So sure enough, he had pocket aces, and I was like, oh, that clued me and I was like, oh, he’s going to look down more when he has strong hands. And sure enough, like I put together a video of it, a compilation of it, it was like, it was kind of like clockwork, if he had anything decent, you know that you would develop, he categorizes a value bet. He was, he was looking down a lot more. And so not to say that this is everybody’s tell this is where the player specific kind of stuff comes in. And I talked about eye contact, eye contact tells of being like, it can be either, either, either opposite, the, it can fall into the two opposite categories like looking more at somebody when you’re, when you’re bluffing, and avoiding eye contact when you’re strong or completely vice versa. And not to say that everybody falls into those categories. Some people are very consistent. But if people have that kind of imbalances, they’re going to be on one of those sides. And PSI is actually what I view is the less consistent or less, less common behavior he was avoiding, avoiding eye contact when he was strong because he had taken the taking the approach of like I’m going to stare at them and be very consistent. But then he had a had a leak where he was just like, I don’t want to scare them off when I’m when I’m strong or something, you know. So, he was



Brad: Also, I think, like when you’re weak in that spot to your, you’re in full focus mode. You’re trying to, try to find any information, you can use this, it’ll let you win this pot. And when you’re strong, you don’t need to be in full focus mode because you’re trying to get max value. So maybe that, that can be taken into account as well.



Zach: I think you can justify it psychologically from both aspects because I actually think the opposite is more common for recreational players where they feel more comfortable when they’re, when they’re, you know, when they actually have strong hands. They like looking at their opponent and so and, and feeling like that shot and Freud of like, oh, I’ve got them right where I want them, you know, whereas when they’re bluffing, they’re a little bit more anxious. But, you know, so I think it depends on the player. But once you kind of key into those psychological reasons why you can go either way, it kind of helps you form a player’s specific read.



Brad: And I can see that being extremely valuable for somebody at a main event final table for handed and you picking up on that and letting them, letting them know



Zach: Yeah, exactly. It’s like, even if it’s rare to find that it’s like, if you can find that one little thing that you’re like, oh, I’m pretty certain this is a pattern. It’s like, you can obviously see how that would be huge.



Brad: Yeah, it’s worth millions and millions of dollars at that stage of the game. How many players during like the November 9, how many players were seeking out coaching and folks like you to come up with a game plan heading into that final table?



Zach: Well, I think a lot of people definitely sought out coaching and consulting, you know that, but mostly, it was on the strategic side. Like I don’t, as far as I know, I’m the only person. I’m sure other people didn’t, you know, and that didn’t talk about it. But as far as I know, it was though I was the only person like, actively like looking at footage for like behavioral type stuff.



Brad: That’s shocking.



Zach: Yeah, I mean, like I said, they could have been, you know, some of the people might have hired people that did both strategic and behavioral stuff. But I didn’t hear about anybody else. But I’m definitely, definitely on the strategic side. Like, obviously, a lot of people hired like, you know, really respected coaches and stuff, strategic coaches,



Brad: There’s, it’s also one of those things that you wouldn’t want to get out. Like, you wouldn’t want people to know that you’re doing it, because then as soon as it gets out, then all of a sudden, you’re finding spots, you’re looking for physical tells that you’ve given off in the past, historically, to sort of reverse it against specific players in the sector.



Zach: It definitely creates a confusion, it can create a confusing landscape of things you have to keep in mind for sure. Like, I don’t think that the people I work for, you know, Max in the mirror like, yeah, it’s not like they wanted to draw attention to it. But I kind of made per the terms of the agreement, because obviously, I wanted to talk about it. So yeah,



Brad: Yeah, it’s good for you. It’s good publicity, good, good, good publicity for you. But like, like PS high in for instance, he, if he picks up on that he’s got somebody like you that pointed out to him. Well, okay, now when he starts bluffing, he’s going to start looking down and then all of a sudden, we’re



Zach: Just for a while and then eventually move towards more, read more, completely read this or something, but try to take advantage of it for a little while or something.



Brad: Oh, for sure. It’s like, you get aces, and you just start staring at your guy. And it’s like, oh, god, there’s going to like it. He was he was ultra-aggressive too like, just the general, you. Just kind of



Zach: Interesting final table. It



Brad: That might be the last live one that I watch. But I also, my memories of that are he was insanely aggressive heads up and shorthanded. And secondly, every hand took like, 30 minutes excruciatingly long.



Zach: Yeah, it is. It’s like I can’t, I really did. Like, it’s hard for me to watch that stuff these days. And just like, this is taking forever.



Brad: Yeah, it’s, it’s absurd. What do you, what do you think about joy in your poker career? What’s the first memory that comes to mind?



Zach: I guess, joy in poker to two words, I don’t think of very often together, I’d say it’s the mastery, you know, it’s the enjoyment of the feeling like you’re moving along some spectrum of skill, even if, you know, with poker, it feels a lot of times, like, the more I know, the lesser, you know, the more I realized, the more I realized the, that I don’t know, much. You know, it’s that kind of Dunning Kruger kind of journey. But, I’d say, you know, for me, the enjoyment of poker is feeling like, knowing that I got better at something. And, you know, knowing that I have that capability. It gives you confidence. It gives you joy, I guess, if you if you want to put that name on it. But, yeah, I guess that’s it for me.



Brad: Why the antagonistic relationship with poker? This is this is, you know, this is what you do. Right? Like,



Zach: Well, not so much anymore. But I mean, I think you know, I’ve read what you’ve done. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’ve written about, you know, my kind of, I do have kind of a love hate relationship with poker. I think if I enjoyed it more, I would have spent less time writing about it and more time doing it, you know, and it was never, it was, it’s something that, you know, I think everybody who’s played a lot can feel sometimes like, oh, you know, what am I, what am I doing at this table with these people? I might not necessarily like that much or don’t, you know. There’s some, there’s some social weirdness there. And if you’re playing online, you’re feeling like, oh, what am I doing sitting in front of a computer, but then again, you can do that with a lot of jobs. And just the, just the enjoyment of winning doesn’t equal the mental hardships of going through hard stretches. You know, it’s a tough game. You know, it’s, I think there’s, there’s some truth to it, it’s especially tough if you’re prone to anxiety and depression as I’ve been, I think there’s some there’s some real psychological challenges there. I think some people are just more suited for the ups and downs of poker mentally than, than other people. You know, they have the so called the alligator blood kind of thing.



Brad: So, speaking of depression and poker, you know, poker is obviously an emotional game. It’s an emotional roller coaster. What, what, what have you done in your career to sort of get out of the depression?



Zach: Yeah, I mean, I, I’ve got a lot to say about that. Because I, you know, I had a pretty long struggle with anxiety, like I actually dropped out of first college I went to for anxiety, kind of reasons, psychological reasons. And I always struggle with that kind of stuff. I’d say, you know, for me, it’s just been, I mean, getting older kind of helps, I think for one thing, because I feel like the chemicals that are at work kind of like lose their, lose their strength over time. So even just like, age can help that stuff, but also just seeking out wisdom about why, you know, why you might be prone to anxiety, getting counseling, reading books, like cognitive, behavioral therapy kind of books, and working on that kind of stuff. I mean, that’s what’s helped me most of all, is just focusing on the, you know, the core of the why, you know, understanding and understanding the why, like, maybe I had some childhood things that that made that stuff more likely, you know, stuff like that.



Brad: What’s a good starting point, a good starting book, or a good starting resource for somebody that’s dealing with anxiety in poker?



Zach: Oh, I’d say,



Brad: Anxiety and depression, doesn’t have to be specifically to poker, but just in general.



Zach: Yeah, I would say I mean, I feel like it’s hard for me to give specific advice. But I would say, try to seek out a counselor who was, who was a specialist in anxiety, and they could recommend things to you. And I think, I think a lot of people, you know, I think a lot of intelligent people, especially, you know, tend to not seek out counseling, because they feel like, oh, I already know a lot about the issues or what, what could this person really tell me. But I think for me, a big realization was realizing it’s not about begging this person necessarily even knows more than you, it’s about them looking at it from a different perspective and giving you ideas that you can, you know, some novel ideas that that you can then use, you know. So, it’s not necessarily like they’re going to, they don’t have to be a genius, it just means they have to look at it from an outside perspective. And then you can, and just you thinking about it on your own, sometimes jogging your own thought processes, and thinking about things will, will put you in new directions. So that was a big realization for me that it made me get over that some of that, like, oh, I don’t need to know what are the what can these people tell me kind of thing, you know.



Brad: Yeah, and that, that’s a greatness bomb to me. Just finding a different lens to look at your, your problems, even if you do fancy yourself as being super intelligent person, like just understanding that different perspectives are important. And seeing life through a different lens can lead you onto a path that helps alleviate some of the issues that you currently have.



Zach: And I think that’s especially the case for that can be especially the case for poker players, because we do it does pre-select for like a more independent kind of mindset of like doing your own thing. So, I think, you know, that’s probably the more of a problem for poker players. They’re like, oh, I’ll, I’ll figure it out myself. You know, I don’t need anybody to help me.



Brad: And even in just like a pure poker strategy standpoint, like it’s good to have different perspectives, and different lenses from different people. Because, you know, it’s so cliché but like, one small thing that you can learn from somebody over time represents so much earned money and so much earned value, that it’s just worth it to seek out coaches and seek out people that even if they’re even if you think that they’re not better than you, but can are at least intelligent enough that can offer you a different perspective.



Zach: Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s, if I had to do my you know, poker career over again, I think that’s one thing that you know, not just in psychology also played a role for me for poker. It’s like I always, I always wanted to do everything myself, but I think and I was kind of anti-social. So I think if I could do it over again, I would have sought out people to talk about you know, actually sought out coaches and sought out people to talk about hands with like people do you know all the all the good players do that now that’s how the most of these people get a lot better is talking through things and reaching out, understand a better understanding by having multiple points of view. And that was something I didn’t really do much of. Yeah, I think it’s important.



Brad: Yeah, I think it goes hand in hand with Dunning Kruger and a lot of times it goes hand in hand with scarcity too. There’s not that many people who are like I was as a 20 year old kid that was hell bent on being the best player I can be, that had the fire you know, there’s, there’s people that think poker is a way out, and that they get to an easy way to make money and get kind of a get rich quick type of thing that don’t, don’t have the fire to be the best they can be and those those are not the guys you want in your inner circle. You know, you want people who are hungry, that are asking the questions on a daily basis. Like why am I doing this? Why is this happening? What, what can I do to get better? And you know, there’s just natural scarcity. There’s just not a ton of him.




Zach: Now true, it’s like it’s, it’s rare to find people in poker that you feel you can trust and that you respect a lot. Like it’s hard to run across those people and, and to make that investment in them to, you know, yeah mixed up.



Brad: It really is. When you think of pain in your poker career, what’s the first memory that comes to mind?



Zach: That one’s probably easy. It’s when I was playing PLO. And I was bluffing the whole way with, I had like a pair of, pair of deuces and PLO and like, got two colors the whole way. And then on the river, they both checked, and I just marked my hand and turned out a pair of deuces were good. And it was like a, you know, 15 $100 pot and I just was like, kind of on, you know, kind of life tailed for a couple days where I was like, I got to stop playing because that’s, that was like the stupidest thing I’ve done in a while. But you know, that’s like winning with like, you know, seven iron hold’em. It’s kind of ridiculous.



Brad: Right.



Zach: But they were both, they were both on the exact same like combo straight drawl or whatever. That was an eye-opening thing. But it also was like one of the most painful, you know, it wasn’t that big in the big scheme of things. But at the time, it was like, I really felt like total garbage. And



Brad: I feel, I feel your pain. Because I mocked a winning hand. It was like a $900 pot down in Florida. And I had, I had an over pair and the board is like 445. And the turn was like a three. And somebody had ace deuce. And like, I didn’t even look at the river and like the river trip the board. Like they just started over there straight. And they even said out loud, which was hilarious. In hindsight, they even said, I have a straight but I guess you have a full house. And I remember thinking, why the fuck would I have a full house on this board? And like just throwing my hand in the mud. And like, as it hit the mock was like, I looked down at the board and saw the trip. And I was like, no, but too late. That was a painful $900 mistake.



Zach: Yeah, those are ,those are the moments that really teach you though. You’re like, I got to, I got to be more careful, careful out here. You know?



Brad: Yeah, like, just what, what am I doing? Well, yeah, just lose, lose your train of thought for a few seconds. And, but it’s a good lesson.



Zach: It is. Yeah. And when it’s, and when it’s fairly cheap, you know, like, you could maybe that happens to you in a much higher stakes situation, then you really hurting. So, you know, it might seem like it hurts, but you’re being educated, potentially, on the lower side of steaks, too. So



Brad: I hope that in 16 years, that’s the only time it’s happened, but I can’t know for sure. Because if it has happened, I wouldn’t know. 



Zach: Right. I’ve done some other dumb things too. But that yeah, that that one definitely stands out.



Brad: Actually, there are videos of like, I think Phil Ivey for getting his hand and folding.




Zach: Yeah, like, it happened to us, eights or something one time or something like that.



Brad: Yeah. It just happens.



Zach: Yeah, it just hurts flush. Yeah, definitely happen soon.



Brad: If you could gift all poker players one book, what would it be? And why?



Zach: I may be biased on this one. Oh, no, I wouldn’t gift it right. I wouldn’t gift my own book. Right. I wanted to, I wanted to buy it now. That’s a tough one, gift it, I would say I mean, if we’re considering like all poker players, that might just be The Theory of Poker by Sklansky. Just for a fundamental like, you know, if we’re talking about people that don’t know much about fundamental theories, because I feel like a lot of people would be just getting into poker would be benefited by reading that very basic, you know, understanding the basic underlying theories. Yeah, other than that, its hard to say, yeah, I’d probably be my choice if we’re talking about all poker players.



Brad: Yeah, doesn’t have to be necessarily related to poker, either. Just something, any book that you think would be valuable to poker players.



Zach: It’s like one of the most wise books I’ve read recently was specifically related to poker players, but they might benefit is this book called Existential Psychotherapy by Yalom. His name is Irvin Yalom. He is a therapist, but it was like the most wise book I’ve ever read. And it kind of, kind of changed my worldview. It talks about how a lot of our issues, psychological issues, or it can be boiled down to fears, a very existential basic things like fear of death and fear of being alone. And, you know, fear of freedom, because freedom is scary, making choices and scary, you know, I just thought it was a great book.



Brad: Sounds, sounds awesome. I’m always all about looking at my fears, and understanding the why, what’s driving this fear, especially when it feels irrational. It’s like, why am I afraid of this thing?



Zach: Yeah, why do I feel this? It doesn’t make sense to me, you know. And that was the great thing about his book, it really actually put a name and logic to why we sometimes feel these ways. It’s like, oh, it makes sense that we’re afraid of making choices because making choices is scary. It means that we’re independent, and no one’s looking out for us, you know, it kind of put a name to these things that are kind of hard to define.



Brad: Yeah. And typically like, getting at the root of these things. Thinking back to my conversation with Elliott Roe, always getting to the root of your fears is, is one of the major things you can do to sort of move, move past them. If you could erect a billboard that every poker players got to drive past on the way to the casino, what does that billboard say?



Zach: Remember, you’re not as good as you think you are.



Brad: And why is that?



Zach: Well, I think, we all, it’s very easy to overestimate our abilities. And I think humility, and humility is a great place to come from. And I think that’s something you know, that’s that would make, what makes poker so profitable is that it is that Dunning Kruger thing of like, people, it’s so easy to think that you’re good at something and not realize how complex that something is. I think it’s you know, poker, you go on that journey of real thinking, like, oh, this is pretty simple, I got this, there’s only a few factors involved. And the more you learn, you’re like, oh, there’s so much depth to this game. It’s, it’s so complex, you know, and there’s so many factors. And I think, the bad for the poker community, or the poker ability to make money in poker, obviously, but like, good for people who lose a lot of money in gambling, and poker is to, is to realize, like, oh, there are a lot of factors here. And I should, you know, I’d be, I’d be doing myself a favor to recognize that.



Brad: And arrogance and poker greatness, in my opinion, have never gone hand in hand. All the folks that, even the folks with lots of talent that I’ve played with over the years who are arrogant about what they’re doing, always, always flame out. They always go broke. And humility is such an important part of the recipe of maximizing your poker skill, because to say that you have absolute certainty in all the decisions you make is dishonest, 100% dishonest to yourself and doing yourself a disservice. Because even today, I’ve mentioned these many times on my show, but I make many decisions when I’m playing poker that I am categorically unsure of. My level of certainty is very, very low. And this is after millions and millions of hands, and having humility to dive in and say, okay, why am I feeling unsure? How can I feel more sure? How can I learn? How can I improve? And just accepting the fact that this is how it’s going to be forever, you’re always going to, you’re always going to encounter these situations where you have a low degree of certainty and just rolling with the punches.



Zach: Right. And I think that’s the I mean, that is the great thing about poker too, is that’s why poker, you know, is so interesting in so many people, because it is a lifelong journey. Really, I mean, you could spend your whole life, you know, learning and progressing on that, on that skill level. And, you know, the great thing is, it’s not like athletics, either where you can keep, you can keep progressing for quite a long time on like, you know, sports or whatever. There’s just so much to learn. And I think that is, you know, when it, when it gets back to the joy and of poker, it is that sense that, like, you’re embarking on some kind of lifelong improvement mission, you know, that that does make it awesome.



Brad: And the amazing thing, too, is that the information there, right like that, this is why humility is important, because the information is there. Circling back to that guy with the queen jack on the 9-10 board that, you know, I caught a towel and then use deductive reasoning to figure out oh, he picked up a straight draw. He could reverse engineer what happened in that hand. He could think about what he was doing on the flop, what led me to that conclusion, but his immediate assumption is, I’m an idiot who’s just never folding. And he should have bet more. The right thing was just betting more



Zach: Wrong conclusions.



Brad: It’s wrong conclusion, right? There, there’s an arrogance there and a lack of humility, you go back, you reverse engineer it. And there’s a level of, there’s a level of paranoia when it comes to playing poker, live poker especially. There are many times where guys have done things against me and I’m thinking like, what on God’s earth were they thinking? And I’m like, okay, I need to, I need to, like really investigate and internally what, what went down in these hands so that I can, you know, a figure out did I do something wrong? Like, did I make a mistake? And how do I, how do I improve it in the future?



Zach: Right, right. Yeah, it is easy to, it is easy to be a bit paranoid. It’s like oh, they did they get a read on me. I’m scared now. Yeah.



Brad: That, I don’t know. Maybe I just go through life paranoid, but like, this is always my thought is like



Zach: It’s a good way to you know, it’s that it’s that humility. It’s like, am I at fault here, you know.



Brad: Right. And if I am, I want to know. I don’t want to be the, I don’t want to be that guy that’s punting away money not knowing why.Think having the arrogance that he’s not making a mistake forever and ever. I want to make that mistake one time, learn from it and move on and be better in the future.



Zach: Yeah. It’s interesting thinking about that spectrum of like confidence, moving into humility, and then like, extreme humility is like, unmanageable paranoia. But you want you want to be, you want to be somewhere above the unmanageable, you know. I’m completely at fault for everything. But you still want to be humble enough to improve. Yeah.



Brad: It’s a weird dynamic that poker players, it’s a tightrope that they have to walk and be confident in their ability to make decisions. But also, you know, trust but verify. Like, trust, trust, what they did is right, but also verify it after the fact to make sure. So, a couple more questions and we’ll get you out of here. What’s a project you’re currently working on that’s near and dear to your heart?



Zach: Yeah, actually, it’s related to kind of the psychological stuff we were talking about. I actually want to write a book about my experiences with dropping out of college due to anxiety and having some of those issues and mainly, you know, mainly as a way to help people that have experienced similar things. Now that that not to say that I have the answers, but more just to share my, my story and to say, like, oh, you can feel, you’ll feel better later. I didn’t think I would feel better later. But I did, you know. So that’s, that’s,



Brad: That’s giving people a lens, right? A different lens.



Zach: Yeah. And, you know, it’s something that I would have liked to read back then when I went through that, you know, just a more personal detailed account, as opposed to like, some of the more generic stuff you get. Like, I think a lot of people are afraid to share that stuff for obvious, like stigma reasons or whatever. But I feel like I’m not afraid to share it. So that’s what I feel like I have to offer people who go through that, that’s what I work on. In terms of poker stuff, I do want to, I continually add to my video series, it just takes me a while to add videos, like I only have like, a couple of years, because it takes so long for me to, to create those videos. But that’s, that’s something I don’t want to do anything I work on.



Brad: What is some wisdom you’d like to share to somebody who’s maybe embarrassed to the stigma?



Zach: I would say, you know, it’s probably, probably to say that don’t, don’t be defined by things that you think are, are wrong, but wrong with you. You know, I think there’s a tendency for people to try to classify themselves or to classify conditions, you know, like, but psychology, psychiatry is a very ambiguous area where they’re just trying to put names on things that are often things that we all go through at certain points in our lives, and to not be demoralized by getting a specific label, like, you know, anxiety disorder, or major depression. It’s like, these are things that some of us go through and then overcome. You know, that’s one thing I would say. And then the other thing is just, you know, there’s often reasons based in for, you know, whether that be things we can never know, like genetics or upbringing. There’s certain reasons that are probably there for why you feel that way. And it’s not a, it’s not a, it’s not a, it’s not a coincidence, or a random thing that happened to you. But there are probably reasons and if you can understand those reasons, you can probably, you know, it might take time, and it might take a lot of a good amount of suffering, but to keep hope alive and say, you know, these things often do get better for people.



Brad: I love it. I love it. Final question. Where can the chasing poker greatness audience find you on the world wide web?



Zach: I’m on Twitter, at, my handle is apokerplayer. And then you can find my website yet, readingpokertells.com. And readingpokertells.video. And I have a podcast too. It’s called People Who Read People, and that’s just general psychology related, not poker related. But occasionally we talk about poker when it comes up, but it’s about you know, people who are good at reading other people and their jobs or their pastimes or whatever. So, if you like, general psychology stuff, you might like that.



Brad: Awesome, man. It’s been an absolute pleasure and honor having you on the show. I’m very grateful for your time and energy. And when you, when you get done with your project that’s near and dear to your heart, your book, let me know come back on and we’ll talk about it.



Zach: Thanks, Brad. It’s been a great talk. I appreciate your time.



Brad: My pleasure.



Thank you so much for listening to this episode of chasing poker greatness. If you have yet to subscribe to the show, please take a second to do so on Apple podcasts or wherever your favorite place to listen to podcasts may be. For more content from me, Coach Brad, please visit our YouTube channel, at youtube.com/enhanceyouredge and I’ll see you next time.

Thanks for reading this transcript of Chasing Poker Greatness Podcast Episode 051: Zachary Elwood

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