Giving off tells is a very common worry for live poker
players, and with good reason. If you are unaware of what signs
you are giving off, a lot of your opponents will find it quite
easy to make solid reads on you. As legitimate of a concern as
this is, there’s little reason why you can’t be more protective
of any tells that you might be giving off. Some players try so
hard to be calm and stoic that they end up giving away even more
information than they otherwise would have. Keeping your hand a
mystery is largely up to whether or not you have absolute focus
on the hand in front of you.
There’s a big difference between giving off
false tells and simply doing your best to give off no tells
whatsoever. Creating believable false tells will take a lot of
time, practice, and most importantly, experience. Remaining
deceptive and free of tells is much easier to do. There’s a
big, sensationalized deal made out of “poker faces” and other
similar terms, but the truth is that it’s not really a big deal.
Have you ever watched a player like Chris Ferguson or Phil Ivey?
They keep their hand strength deceptive because they don’t do
anything that could be read as meaning one thing or another. As
mentioned earlier, the most important element is found in a
player’s ability to remain focused, and that’s what this
article aims to teach.
Two Main Approaches
There are two different ways that you can best defend against
giving away tells to your opponents. The first thing that you can do is to practice in
the same manner each and every time. This could mean waiting
five seconds before each action, then placing chips in the same
manner, holding your hands/head in the same place, and so on and
The other option is to (knowingly) mix up your actions
so much that it’s impossible for someone to associate one action
with a specific hand strength. The only flaw to this approach is
that you may subconsciously do one thing or another depending
upon where you stand without really thinking about it. You might
not realize it, but maybe you tend to hold your cards when you
are strong, or maybe you shuffle chips when you are weak. There
are positives and negatives to each approach, that
much is certain.
Consistent actions may very well draw the ire of your
opponents, especially if you are taking a long time with each
decision that you make. There are also some other problems with
this strategy. Let’s say that you have stuck to waiting five
seconds before you make any pre-flop decision. What if you are
in a spot where the player immediately before you has made a
three bet and you have a pretty good hand. Acting in five
seconds exactly would be detrimental because this isn’t an apt
amount of time to make a sound decision. Instead you would like
to mull over your options in an attempt to make the best play.
When you put yourself in a spot like this, you are inadvertently
giving away your hand strength.
An alternate way to keep consistent with your play at the
table is to use the same mannerisms alone. You don’t necessarily
have to act in the same time frame in every hand, and in fact,
this wouldn’t even be advisable. What you can do instead is to
make sure you keep your hands in the same place each hand, sit
in the same way, think with the same head tilt, etc. These are
the types of things that people will be able to pick up on.
Now, if you are going to try and be perfectly steady with how you are
behaving, you are going to also need to pay attention to even
the smallest of details. Things like how fast you chew gum,
whether you take a sip of your drink, smiling at a joke at the
table, these are all pieces of information that can be used
against you. If you think that staying consistent is your best
chance at making yourself as unreadable as possible, you need to
be sure that you have every base covered, as one slip up could
negate everything else you worked on.
Varied actions are the easiest way to keep your opponents
thinking and off guard. For example, when you are dealt your
pocket cards pre-flop, you’ll check them and then either let
them sit, put a card protector on them, or maybe hold or cover
them. In many cases, a player who is holding their cards is
leaning towards a fold. Likewise, a player who sets his cards
down or puts a card protector over them is probably looking to
see a flop. If you start to hold your cards as if you were going
to fold, but then make some calls or raises, you are going to
eliminate the tell that exists within this particular action.
One of my personal favorite ways to confuse players with your
tells is through shuffling chips. If you shuffle chips at
totally inordinate times, you are going to lose your opponent.
They’ll be trying to read into what your shuffles mean, but if
they contradict themselves, this type of insight will be
Look at it this way: if you can shuffle your
chips so randomly that even you don’t know what it means, you
are probably doing a good job. This is truly the key with
preserving all tells at the table. Any experienced player is
likely to have noticed that they had some sort of tell, but the
key is to correct it. Many players won’t even be able to pick up
on tells even if they are incredibly obvious, but you don’t want
to take a chance that someone will. Find what tells you have and
then act in a way that this old tell now can mean anything under
An example of an action at the table that gives away tons of
information is the way that chips are bet. A clean stack, a
counted out stack, tossed mess of chips, these are all different
ways that you can place your chips into the pot. While acting
very consistently can be a challenge, you should try and place
bets in the same way each and every time. There’s always going
to be an instinctual, comfortable way in which you go to grab
your chips for a bet. If you steer clear of this particular
instinct, you are going to be much better off in the long run.
When someone is trying to piece together a read, they think
about what they would do. Use this strategy to counter your
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