10 Poker Tells You Can Use in The Casino
One of the things that makes live poker so much fun is trying to spot players’ tells. A tell is a mannerism that you can use as a clue to put your opponent on a hand or tell if he’s bluffing. Some players use these mannerisms accidentally, but some try to be actors and fool you into thinking what they want you to think.
If you watch a lot of televised poker, or a lot of movies about poker, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 90% of poker is bluffing and spotting tells. The game’s actually more complicated than that, and those things play a smaller role than you might think.
But they still play a role.
This post lists 10 poker tells that a lot of people might not know about—especially if they’re new to the game. If you’re interested in learning more about poker tells, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells is still the definitive work on the subject—it was written by Mike Caro. Read ‘Em and Reap by Joe Navarro is also worth your time, and it’s a little newer.
Here are 10 easy poker tells to spot, and what they mean:
1. Strong Means Weak. Weak Means Strong.
When a poker player acts like he has a strong hand, that almost always means he doesn’t. When a poker player acts like he has a weak hand, that almost always means he has a strong hand. Most players try to act the opposite of what they intend regardless of their intention.
This isn’t true 100% of the time. No poker tell is true 100% of the time, in fact. But it’s true most of the time, maybe even 80% of the time or more.
What are some examples of poker players trying to act strong?
If a player bets or raises into you then tries to stare you down, he’s acting strong. Chances are, he wants you to fold. He probably doesn’t have such a great hand.
On the other hand, if a player bets or raises, but then tries to act nonchalant about it, he probably has a strong hand and hopes you’ll call. He’ll often pretend to watch television or stare into space. Sometimes he’ll even make a production out of whether he should bet. These are all signs that your opponent has a strong hand and feels good about it.
2. If His Hands Are Shaking, He Probably Has Good Cards
You’d be forgiven if you thought that someone whose hands are shaking when he puts money into the pot was nervous because his cards weren’t good. Most people assume that a player whose hands are shaking is bluffing.
That’s the opposite of what’s really going on.
In fact, this is one of the most consistent tells in poker. Shaking hands almost always indicate a strong hand. In fact, if his hands are shaking, he thinks his hand can’t be beat. If it’s preflop in a Texas holdem game, you’re probably looking at a guy with pocket aces or pocket kings.
Shaking hands indicate a release of nervous energy. But in this case, the player isn’t nervous because he’s afraid you’ll call. He’s nervous because he’s excited about how strong his hand is.
3. If He’s Acting Like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, He Probably Has a Strong Hand
Players who are acting like they’re sad or depressed are doing just that—acting. This is closely related to the first tell on the list. Someone who’s pretending to be sad at the poker table is actually really happy about his hand.
What does someone who’s trying to look sad do?
He shrugs. He looks downward. He frowns. He talks in a soft voice, often in a monotone.
Don’t let him fool you. The “sad clown” is holding some great cards, and it’s time for you to get out of the hand. That’ll make him sad for real.
4. Is He Holding His Breath?
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that most tells indicate the opposite of what you would think they’d mean. So what does it mean if he slows down his breathing, or if he stops breathing entirely?
This usually means a player has weak cards but doesn’t want you to know it. He’s trying extra hard to look calm, cool, and in control. But really he’s scared you’re going to call him.
On the other hand, if someone starts breathing faster, it’s usually involuntary. This is often a player with a strong hand. You’d be forgiven for thinking that someone who starts breathing rapidly is nervous about bluffing.
But the opposite is almost always the case.
5. How Does He Stack His Chips?
Some players stack their chips in a meticulous, orderly fashion. They’re organized precisely, all in the same size stacks, with the same denominations in each stack. This way the player knows exactly how much money he has at any given moment during the game.
Other players, like Minneapolis Jim Meehan, stack their chips haphazardly. The stacks are all different heights. The denominations aren’t the same throughout a stack. He might even just have some piles in front of him instead of stacks.
These habits don’t give you a clue about what a player is holding in his hand at the moment, but they do give you a hint as to that player’s general tendencies. In this instance, the way the chips are stacked usually indicate what you think they mean:
The player with the neat, well-organized stacks of chips is a careful, cautious, conservative player. If he’s playing a hand aggressively, you’d do well to take his bets and raises seriously.
The player with the messy stacks of chips is careless, reckless, and loose. If he’s playing aggressively, it might mean he has a good hand. But it’s just as likely he has a lousy hand.
6. A Blushing Opponent Isn’t Bluffing
Another sign that your opponent might have a strong hand is a blush. If his face turns red, that often means his blood pressure is up because he’s excited. And the only time most people get that excited about a poker hand is when it’s a MONSTER.
This is a clue that your opponent’s blood pressure is raised. Now, having high blood pressure doesn’t always mean your opponent has a strong hand. He might just suffer from hypertension.
But usually, someone’s blood pressure goes up at the poker table when he has a huge hand. You might look for this poker tell in conjunction with some of the other tells for a strong hand.
7. How Is Your Opponent Dressed?
This clue is similar to the clue related to how the chips are stacked. If someone is dressed neatly and conservatively, then he probably plays poker neatly and conservatively. Well-dressed players are often ABC players.
An ABC player bets when he has good cards and folds when his cards are bad.
On the other hand, sloppily dressed players often play loose and aggressive.
These aren’t 100% accurate 100% of the time, but if you combine them with the other tells on this list, they might be more accurate.
8. If They’re Looking at Chip Stacks, They Usually Want to Bet or Raise
Players who are looking at your chip stack or their chip stack are trying to figure out how much to bet or raise. This usually means they have a strong hand. They want to know how much they can win from you. Make sure you have a premium hand yourself before calling someone who’s taking a look at his chip stack and/or your chip stack.
9. Staring Off into Space Is a Sign of a Strong Hand
I’m guilty of this tell myself. When I have cards I like, and I bet or raise with them, I stare off into space instead of looking at my opponents. This means that I have a strong hand, but I’m trying to look weak and nonchalant.
If a person were really this disinterested in the action on the table, he probably would have folded instead of bet. This tell is so easy that it almost amounts to common sense.
10. What Does Your Opponent Do When He Looks at His Cards?
When everyone else is looking at their hole cards, you should be looking at them. You don’t need to look at your hole cards until it’s your turn to act. If you’re not watching your opponents when they look at their cards, you’re missing out on a lot of potentially profitable information.
Most players aren’t aware enough to put on an act when they look at their cards. So any reaction you spot is usually a genuine reaction. If they look happy, they have good cards. If they look disappointed, they probably got lousy cards.
If a player looks at his hand and then immediately looks at his chips, he almost definitely has a good hand. He’s sizing up how strongly he can play this hand.
You should also watch your opponents when the flop comes out. They’ll react to that, too, and you can often tell if the flop hit their hand or missed it.
These poker tells can all give you just a slight edge over someone who doesn’t know what they mean. By themelves, they can’t win a game of poker for you. Their lack won’t lose a poker game for you, either.
But in gambling, it’s the accumulation of small edges that make the difference between profitable players and unprofitable players.
Just remember that none of these poker tells, nor any others that you read about online, are 100% accurate 100% of the time.