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10 Simple Poker Tells You Can (Usually) Bank On
Tells and poker – a pseudo-science which sometimes seems to work and sometimes seems to not hit the mark at all.
Tells and poker – a pseudo-science which sometimes seems to work and sometimes seems to not hit the mark at all.
To start with, most amateur poker players have the wrong ideas about which tells to look out for.
Have you ever seen Rounders and Teddy KGB eating an Oreo? Well, Matt Damon obviously could tell by the way Teddy ate his cookie exactly how strong his hand was.
That's just one of the examples that just don't work outside of movies. In most cases tells are contradictory and inconsistent and do not reveal enough information to solely base a play on.
Many experts have written books and articles about tells. Most of them are too broad to actually be useful or they're too narrow and you'll rarely find an opponent exposing this specific tell.
Top 10 Poker Tells to Trust
PokerOlymp's Jan Meinert shares 10 tells which (at least in most cases) "work" -- if you're playing against weaker players who don't have a lot of live experience under their belt.
1. Weak Means Strong
This is one of the best known poker tells and it's seen very often among new players. Players that act weak usually have a strong hand.
Sighing, shrugging or a gloomy face very often indicate a very strong hand. It's a natural instinct when attempting to conceal a big hand to try and appear weak.
A player shrugging and raising usually has a strong hand, so don't fall for that trap!
2. Straightened Posture
A player who straightens his posture to play a hand or while in a hand usually has something he's at least interested in. More often than not he even has a very strong hand and is getting ready to pull out the big guns.
3. Abrupt Silence or Flood of Words
A player who normally talks a lot and suddenly becomes silent usually has been dealt a very good hand. The same holds true for players that usually don't talk but all of a sudden start to babble after getting dealt a hand.
4. Sound of the Voice
Players wearing hoodies or sunglasses might feel protected from giving away tells, but in fact they're not. Often the sound of their voice tells a lot about their hand.
Players holding a strong hand have an easier time talking and answering questions. Players that bluff are often scared to give away a tell and sound insecure.
A player suddenly waking up and getting impatient during a hand often indicates a strong holding. Asking questions like "who's turn is it" and prompting the dealer to continue indicate the player is in a hurry to rake in a nice pot.
6. Hole-Card Protection
This tell is really simple: Some players actually fall for the trap to protect their hole cards (by putting a chip on top of them) if and only if they are at least fairly strong.
This tell should by all means be exploited to the maximum.
7. Splashing Chips
A player pounding out a bet or splashing chips very often has a weak hand and is trying to cover up for this by acting extra strong.
If a player uses a little bit more force than he usually does when placing his chips, he's usually making a bluff.
8. Fumbling and Glancing
A player who, after seeing his hole cards, immediately glances at his chips or starts to fumble with them usually has a very strong hand. Right after seeing his hand he's thinking about the upcoming bet sizing and thus involuntarily looks at his chips.
The same holds true if a player looks at his chips right after the flop has been dealt. It means the flop has helped his hand and he's getting ready to fire up the action.
9. Bet Sizing
Here's a tell that works without looking at the other players: Weak players often have problems with bet sizing and their bets show exactly how strong their hand is.
Big cards mean big bets, small cards mean small bets. It's that simple.
If a player repeatedly bets a tiny fraction of the pot with his weak hands, you can be sure he has a monster when he suddenly pulls out the big guns.
A player who freezes after placing a bet is bluffing very often.
It's not easy to talk when you're bluffing. You're afraid to trigger a call by something you say or with a gesture. So a player who is bluffing often refrains from talking and moving, sometimes even breathing.
This tell also works the other way around: a player who is very talkative after placing a bet usually has it.
He's trying to lure in a call by any means possible and trying to keep you interested in your hand.
More "Soft" Poker Tells to Look For
While a lot of attention is given to using tells to catch your opponent on a monster bluff or trying to induce a call with the nuts there are a lot of "lighter reads" where valuable information is up for grabs.
We can call these "soft tells," and these are particularly valuable in ring games where you play against the same opponent for a long time and the blinds do not increase.
5) The Big Blind Peek
In a standard live ring game you should make a habit of casually observing the player positioned on the big blind - especially when you're sitting in the small blind. A surprising number of inexperienced or impatient players will peek at the cards almost as soon as they've left the dealer's hands.
Whenever you spot this you should make a conscious effort to gain as much information from this player before the action turns to him. Be sure not to let him notice that you are spying on him like a safari animal, because eventually even the wildebeest learns he has become the hunted.
If this player has any serious interest in participating in this hand then he's likely to let this be known through inadvertent body language. Since he's last to act there will be plenty of time to get a read on his demeanor.
If there are few (or no) limpers and it's your turn to act in the small blind you can either raise knowing that he seems displeased with his hand, or get out cheaply if you've noticed him tying on his poker dancing shoes getting ready to tango.
4) Sit Slanting
This soft tell is also easy to pick off before the flop. Players who suddenly awaken and lean forward after seeing their hole cards are most often getting ready for action and preparing themselves for battle.
Unless you have a big hand or a strong read on your opponent's overall game, it may be a good time to lay down your small pair or weak aces that you may otherwise have wanted to play.
3) Bouncy Eyes on Board
Make a habit of watching your opponent's eyes on every street when he looks at the board. The quantity of eye shifting is often staggering to a level that would concern even Three-Card Monty hustlers.
With practice, you'll be able to decipher just how likely it is your opponent is looking to fill in his gut-shot straight or how concerned he is that the third heart just fell on the turn. Remember: watch them while they're not watching you.
2) Rack Stacker and Castle Builder
There are three things to pick up on here. The first has become less common recently. With the increase in skill and experience in most poker rooms when you see this soft tell, your eyes should light up.
This is the elusive "awkward chip-rack dissembler." These players display unnecessarily sloppy transitions dismounting their chips from the rack to the felt.
New players often don't even realize this is a costly tell. (Note: Beware the bamboozler who fakes this move and also the Internet pro unfamiliar with live games.)
The second soft tell in this category is when a player grabs a rack and is clearly preparing to leave the table. He may be fond of round numbers and doesn't want to risk a late hit when he can already smell the cash in the cashier cage.
If you see this you can try to isolate this player or induce an easy fold. Again, beware any participation from this player because it most likely means he has two cards he's quite fond of.
Lastly, pay special attention to the player who's trying to stack the goodies from a monster pot he just took down and who hasn't had a chance to look at his cards on the next hand.
The balloons and confetti are still popping off in his head so his actions, should he decide to call or raise (once he finds his cards in his ocean of chips), may be difficult to accurately pinpoint. It may take a few extra minutes for his tendencies to return to normal.
Don't get caught in the party and the afterburn of a heater.
1) Frisbee Toss
The easiest of the soft tells to spot. This is a beauty of a tell that can win you pots with busted draws and bottom pairs as well as help to scoop the blinds from a disinterested big blind (see #5).
The Frisbee toss soft tell is when your opponent is so anxious to chuck his cards into the muck that he has his barrel cocked and loaded to fire.
For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone can be oblivious to these behaviors, but they do happen so look for them and prevent yourself from accidentally displaying them.
Top 5 Most Difficult Poker Tells to Hide
Regardless of the strength of your hand your body has autonomic responses in high-stress situations. Despite your best efforts, it may be difficult to control them.
The mind and body, as Bono would say, move in mysterious ways. Here are a few tells most poker players can't help but give off:
5) Twitchy Fingers If you're asked something like "how much do you have behind?" the higher degree of stress and increased blood flow may cause your fingers to tremble.
Not much can be done to prevent this other than training yourself to lower your heart rate and breathing frequency.
4) The Inadvertent Grin. When making a full or semi-bluff it can be hard to control the sides of your mouth and eyes. Any movement here may help your opponent glean extra information about your holdings.
If this happens to you the best solution is to act as if you meant to do it and give the guy the creepy Ronald McDonald stare. It's too late to retreat.
3) The Cracking Voice. Be sure to keep your words to a minimum and, if it's not absolutely necessary to speak, don't.
If you're trying to disguise a bluff, one or two wrong words or changes in your inflection can tip off a strong player. On the contrary, if you're trying to induce a call sometimes too much talk can unveil your confidence.
Normally it's best to stay silent and let the opponent know nothing about what you're thinking or, more importantly, how you're feeling.
2) The Shifty Eyes. For players who don't wear shades at the table it should be clear that even if you keep your head/body still your eyes may be running rampant.
Depending on the player you are, if you try to force a fold by staring at someone you may find that your actions are actually enticing the player to call.
Whether your bet was a huge bluff or for value, you should keep your gaze calm and stationary. Eye contact with the opponent may trigger the aforementioned "Inadvertent Grin."
1) The Gulp/Swallow. Even if it's just your weekly $5 sit-and-go the tension in these situations can make it feel like your whole body is being suffocated by the largest boa constrictor on the planet.
It comes down to a one-on-one psychological battle and all you can think about is how, suddenly, you feel like you've been stranded in the Sahara without water for three days.
Then it happens: the Gulp. It's inevitable; just hope no one notices.
Beware of False Poker Tells!
False poker tells are just as common as true poker tells at a poker table so differentiating between the two is just as important as spotting tells in the first place. There are two different types of false tells you will come across, the first of which is inadvertent.
Unconscious Poker Tells - Shaking Hands
When a player's hands shake, it's a great tell that they have a very strong hand. People get so excited and nervous when they have the nuts that they can't control the shaking of their hands.
This tell has saved many a player countless chips and kept them from making a move against a monster.
It may seem odd that so strong a tell is possibly also a false one but, more often than not, that's exactly what this tell is.
Players' hands will shake for a wide variety of reasons aside from having the best hand.
Nerve damage, the yips, muscle strain, a variety of issues stemming from old age and countless other mental and physical conditions can cause this. There are also players who get so nervous while playing any hand that their hands shake.
To get a read from a tell you have to observe a change from that player's state of normal. Does the player's hand shake when he's not even in a hand? Or is he solid and calm as a rock?
So, this tell is only actually a tell for the one type of player - the person who's normally steady-handed. If this is the first hand you've seen her play in you should take note of the shake but don't make any choices based purely on that.
They Might Just Suck at Poker
This may be the false tell that has tricked more players than any other.
It happens when you're in a pot with a player about whom you know very little. The way they play and the plethora of tells they bleed leaves you 100% certain that this player has a very large hand.
You've read multiple articles true tells and have no question that your read is correct; the player has a very big hand. But the problem with your read is best summed up in the words of Sir Albert Einstein: "Everything is relative."
If your opponent is brand-new to the game, or just really sucks at it, what they truly believe is a monster might be as little as a single pair. Some new players are convinced they have a huge hand holding a pair of aces with four to a straight and flush on the board.
Just because they think they have a huge hand doesn't mean they actually do. So it's better to let yourself get bluffed than to be wrong and lose your whole stack.
Deliberate False Poker Tells
Watch Out for Poker Actors
The second type of false tells come from the actors. Every table has at least one Doc Hollywood. Usually these players are easy to spot.
Any obviously strong player with large amounts of poker experience who suddenly exhibits obvious tells from the first half of Caro's famous Book of Tells is suspect.
If you can label a player as an actor you just have to do the opposite of what you would if you took the tell at face value. If an actor starts showing a tell that would normally induce you to fold, then that's exactly what they want you to do.
Make it your mission to disappoint them. Actors are always the players who think that they're the boss of the table and that no one can read them. They think they can fool all other players into believing whatever they want them to believe.
These players are the most fun to bust and often carry enough ego to rebuy due to an absolute need to get back their money. Take them down once and they'll set their sights on you, setting themselves up to get knocked over repeatedly.
Choose the Best Reaction
If the false tell is the action it's imperative you choose the best reaction. The simplest solution is to always use the betting story as your ground zero.
If the tell you're getting deviates from the theme of the betting story, you have to decide which one is telling the truth. When in doubt, go with the betting story.
The betting actions people make are almost always done accurately and with a purpose. It's how they perform those actions that can be misleading.
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