How to Spot Poker “Tells”

First off, let’s let everyone know what a “tell” is. When use in the context of playing poker whether it be a home poker game, or live poker in a casino, or even a “just-for-fun” poker game during a casino night event, a “tell” is any kind of indication during the course of a hand that gives you insight into what a player may be holding. It could be a habit, physical reaction, talking, or just about anything that gives other players more information about their hand. Here are some tips that can be used to pick out players at any level of play.

Experienced players know all about “tells” and will intentionally put out false ones to try any fool other players.  If you notice a player that NEVER looks at his/her hole cards until it is their turn to act, you can be sure that they are attempting to read the “tells” of the other players at the table.

Here are the top 10 “tells” to look for.  pick out a player and see if you can spot any of these the next time you play.  If you thing you have spotted a “tell”, make sure to find out what the player was holding so you will know what the “tell” means.  If could be a sign of a BIG HAND or it could be the sign of a BLUFF.

  1. CHIP STACKING: When you first sit down at a table, study the way the players stack their chips. Although it is a generalization, loose aggressive players typically maintain unorganized/sloppy stacks, while tight conservative players keep well organized/neat stacks.
  2. THE EYES RARELY LIE: Many of the pros wear sunglasses, visors, caps, and other gimmicks when playing to hide their eyes, because they know that the eyes will tell the truth. Check yourself on a few of these points…many players can’t help but stare at a monster hand whether it be “Big Slick” or a pocket pair or even just a big hole cards, so their length of time peeking is longer. Conversely, if a player is looking to steal the pot, he may look to his left to see if the remaining players, who haven’t yet acted, have quickly glanced at their cards and are likely to fold.  Avoid engaging in any conversation in the middle of a hand, because if another player asks you a question designed to give them a clue, your answer will not be what you say, but what your EYES say.
  3. FACIAL EXPRESSIONS: Just like the eyes, many poker professionals will try to disguise their entire face by wearing a cap and looking downward. This is to avoid the classic “stare-down” that poker pros are famous for. They may try to study your face for nervousness, or even look for repetitive characteristics like a body “tic”. You may have obvious unhappiness in your face when your hand is weak, and conversely, you may show a contrasting show of confidence when your hand is strong.  A simple UP or DOWN of you eyebrows may be just the thing that another player has picked up about you and the relative strength of your hand.
  4. GOOD IS BAD & BAD IS GOOD: Players like to be actors, and when they have a monster hand they will tend to look disinterested. For example: “Oh, is it my turn” or “I don’t know why I’m playing these cards”. Alternatively, a player increasing the level of his voice while raising the pot, and trying to look intimidating.. may be running a bluff.  This is a common “tell” amongst novice players.  Experienced players will be more adepts at mixing it up to throw other players off of their scent.
  5. PHYSICAL REACTIONS TO HIGH STRESS: Otherwise known as ANXIETY, this typically occurs in people when they are in a high stress situation. Either you are subject to this type of thing or not, but it is not something you can control.  It is like a reflex.  Physical changes happen including flexing of muscles, eye pupil dilation, palpitating heart rate, dry throat. In poker, when someone has a big hand they are typically ready for confrontation and can exhibit some of these characteristics. You may see the chest expanding abnormally, or you may notice the players voice become slightly higher as he makes a comment. Some of the top players in the game will stare at the vein on the top-side of your face for blood pressure changes. During a bluff, the player may demonstrate anxiety, but if he knows he will fold the hand if re-raised (non-confrontational end) may look quite comfortable.
  6. TREMBLING HANDS: Similar to anxiety, beware of a player whose hands are shaking, this nervousness can represent a big hand.
  7. GLANCING AT CHIPS: Again, relating to the eyes. It is common for players to quickly glance at their chips if they connect with the board after a Flop. This may be a subconscious reaction, but the “tell” usually means that the player is already planning his attack!
  8. CHECKING HOLE CARDS AFTER THE FLOP: Some players will take another look at their hole cards when, the board flops a pair or a flush draw. Typically, the player is looking to see if one of his cards is hitting or connecting, Now you can contrast their pre-flop “tell” to the post-flop “tell” to see if they picked up a potential winner.
  9. REPETITIVE BETTING PATTERNS: The most revealing poker “tells” are based on the way a player habitually bets during particular situations. For example, maybe the player always checks when he has made the nuts, or a player may regularly fold after being re-raised.  An Ace high when acting fist may only produce a bet equal to the Big Blind, whereas if they connect with a 2nd pair the bet will be 2-times.  Top pair may be 3-times.  It’s a lot to remember and that’s why you’ll see players in the WSOP with notepads!
  10. BODY LANGUAGE: Some players show obvious changes in their posture based on their attitude/hand strength. For instance, you may notice their shoulders drop/slump when they are not confident (weak hand). Conversely, you may notice the player is very attentive and sitting in an erect position when he has strength. You may also notice that a player who bluffs a lot leans forward in a confrontational way.


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