Identifying False Tells

Greg Meuller

The ability to read an opponent is one of the largest advantages you can gain over your opposition. When risking your stack, you should first be sure the tell you've picked up on is genuine.

False tells are just as common as true 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 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 me countless chips, keeping me from making a move against a monster.

It may seem odd that I'm classifying so strong a tell as possibly also being 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.

As I've said before, 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 has to be the false tell that has tricked me more often 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 foolhardy true tells and have no question that your read is correct; the player has a very big hand. If this is true, you might be wondering where the false tell lies. The problem with your read is best summed up in the words of Sir Albert Einstein: "Everything is relative."

Here's how this truism affects you in this case. 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. I've seen people 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. You wouldn't believe the hands I've folded to as a result of this false tell. As I always say, it's better to let yourself get bluffed than to be wrong and lose your whole stack.

Deliberate False Tells


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 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 felt, and often carry enough ego to rebuy after being felted, 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.

Action and 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.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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