One of the first tells many poker players learn is to beware of a trembling hand. Often when a novice player picks up a big hand, he’s not able to control the adrenaline and his hands shake. But Shakes was different. Shakes always shook. Shakes shook when he put out his blinds. Shakes shook when he folded. Shakes shook when he was bluffing, when he wasn’t. Shakes’ shake was subtle, a bit like a vibration within his hands and arms. If you weren’t paying attention, you could miss it.
Shakes sat to my right at a $1-$2 no limit hold ‘em cash game and more than tripled his $200 buy-in in less than an hour. It was a high turnover table. Few players stayed long. They’d sit for a bit, lose or win something insignificant, or not so insignificant, and roll off to play slots or blackjack.
I was in the big blind and an obvious newbie raised to $10 in middle position. Shakes was on the button and he paused when the action came to him. He stared at Newbie until Newbie stared back. And, with his hand trembling, Shakes slid out a raise to $30.
I looked down at two rags and was happy to play spectator in Shakes’ game. It was back on Newbie who looked down at his cards and said, “If your hands didn’t shake I’d go all-in. But I’m going to fold.” Shakes’ hands shook as he raked in the pot.
A few hands later, Shakes limped in from middle position and I was on the button with Pocket 9s. I considered raising, glanced at Shakes and then at Newbie who was in the big blind waiting for me to act. He already looked at his cards, and I watched him finger his chips and lick his lips. Sensing his raise, I decided to play it safe and only call.
Newbie immediately tossed out a raise to $20 and Shakes went into his routine. Newbie fixated on Shakes’ hands. Shakes shook as usual, but only called Newbie’s raise. I called hoping to hit a set but ready to fold if the flop didn’t feel right.
The flop came down 2, 6, 8, rainbow. Newbie bet $40. Shakes counted out a raise to $100. Newbie’s eyes squinted when he saw Shakes shaking again. I folded my overpair without much thought.
“Again with the shaking,” Newbie mumbled his thoughts. “He limped then called. Then a nothing flop and he raises? Either Aces or he flopped a set? Ah, I fold.” He tossed his cards in the muck face up. Pocket Queens. Shakes flipped his cards in the muck but because of the way his arm shook, I saw that one was a deuce.
The next hand, Shakes and I both limped in, and it came to Newbie in the small blind. He was still thinking out loud trying to convince himself he made a good read and a good fold. “Raise it to $15,” Newbie announced. The rest of the table folded back to Shakes who called. I had King-Queen of hearts and called.
The flop came King-Queen-9, with two spades. Newbie bet $20 and Shakes calmly called. No shakes from Shakes, I thought. I didn’t like that, but I had to find out where I was in the hand. “Raise,” I said and put out $60. Newbie called with a sigh.
Shakes sat stone still. He slid out enough chips to put me all-in, easily covering Newbie as well. His hands were completely still. I wasn’t sure if he’d finally got me in his trap or if he was hunting Newbie on this hand. But something told me he wanted one or both of us to call. I folded my top two pair with more than a little reluctance.
“Ok, I’m all-in,” Newbie announced, “at least his hands didn’t shake this time, maybe I have a chance.” Newbie turned over King-Jack for top pair with a straight draw and flinched when Shakes turned over Jack-10 for the straight. Newbie could only tie with a 10, but when the turn and the river were both rags, Newbie stormed off, refusing to shake Shakes’ hand.