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How to Spot Poker Tells

I figured I would start off with how to spot tells. The best way and most reliable way that I have found, is to figure out your own tells. Pay attention to what you do with a big hand and on a bluff. Where do you look, what do your hands do, how is your breathing, and what are you saying? Pay particular attention to the differences between good and bad hands. Now not everything you do will be the same in other people but you will find that some people are exactly like you.

An off the topic place I have learned to find tells is from nature. If you have ever seen a good special on apes in the wild you will get a lot of good information about the natural instincts of people. Posture and eye movement has a lot to do with peoples inner emotions.

Its very important to remember is that spotting a tell on someone may save you money in only one or two hands. That’s usually about it when playing in a full game. Unless you are going to play against this person all the time. So keep this in mind, you don’t want to pay people off just to see if you have a good read on them, or their tell. That’s why its so important to pay attention to other players when you are not in the hand. I will often just stare at a player when I am not involved. Usually they don’t look at you so you can watch everything that they do with out feeling awkward. You then need to see the tell when someone else pays them off. That way you get your information for free. Its pointless work if it costs you several big bets to verify the tell and it only saves you a few big bets using the tell.

There are some books out there, the ultimate guide to poker tells and caros book of poker tells are two. I have not read either book mostly because I was already good at picking up tells when the book came out. But to be honest I have heard so many good things about Caros book of poker tells that I really should read it. The other reason is that

Usually the first step I like to take is to spot a pattern in another player. Sometimes people change their seat position, talk a lot, or take a drink. These are all things I like to look for. Now alone they usually mean nothing, but when someone always talks and then suddenly they have a hand where they are very quiet….That’s a tell. What kind of a tell will be different for everyone, but usually its an extreme, really good or really bad.

So what you are really looking for is differences in “normal” actions. You cant notice a difference if you don’t have a good idea on what their normal betting patterns are.

Now some tells are inherently confident and some are the result of no confidence or lack of concentration. An example of a confident tell would be when someone looks at you waiting for you to call and when you make eye contact with them they don’t look away. In nature that is a threat, and in poker you should be afraid. You also want to remember that some players are so confident in their game that they could have nothing but know you are going to fold. So that could also be the confidence that you see in their eyes.

An example of an unconfident tell is from playing with chips. Many players like to shuffle chips all day long. I am one of them. What you want to look for is when they mess up their shuffle when a scare card comes out. The second tell is when a person goes to grab chips out from their stack and they drop or knock over a bunch of chips. Both of these can be the result of lack of confidence and lack of concentration. They are not thinking about making the bet, but thinking about are you going to call the bet. Now it does not always mean that they are going to fold their hand to a raise, but they will think they are losing and make a crying call. Now one obvious disclaimer to this tell is for very new players. If they don’t know how to play with chips they may drop them all day. So you have to see how good they are at playing with chips when they are not in a hand to get a relative point for comparison.

Now here is a tell that could go either way. That is deep breathing or fast heart rate. Now its really tough to spot someone’s heart rate from across the table but it can be done. If you look at a person’s neck you can usually see if their jugular vein is pulsing. The breathing is much easier to spot and the information is the same. The only thing this means is that they are very nervous about something. But without past information you cant tell what. Some people get very nervous if they are on a bluff. Obviously they don’t want you to call or they will lose their money. Some people get nervous when they have a really good hand. That’s because they know they are going to put in a lot of money and could get out drawn and lose a lot of money. So as a general statement when someone is nervous preflop, on the flop or on the turn, they usually have a good hand. When someone is nervous on the river, they may be on a bluff.

Posture is very important in poker. Players should try to sit straight up in their chair for both health reasons and for poker reasons. When a player leans back in their chair its very easy to see how deep a person is breathing. Also when your shoulders are pulled in and your back is hunched over that can be a sign of weakness. You want to make sure that you look comfortable and not too stiff. Some people can give off a read by betting on each street and looking around the room after each bet. Then on the river they make their last bet and then freeze like a statue. Lots of times this is because they don’t want to do anything to make you call. Some good players do it to make you call.

Using the tell to your advantage is important. There are two uses to a poker tell. Calling someone when they are bluffing is the most common use. The other is out playing someone when they are bluffing. You may have nothing but they have a better nothing. Or they may just look so weak that you know they will fold their hand. You want to have enough confidence in your game and information that you can do either.

Forcing a tell out of someone. A method I like to do to acquire information from a player is to simply ask. I’ll say “what do you have” Make sure its not a yes or no question, you want them to have to say as many words as possible. Now I only like to do this on the river when I have to make a call. The reason for that is that it also gives him a lot of information about your hand. Now I only use it once, maybe twice a day. Its really the shock factor that gives you the best information. Once they have heard the question they can prepare an answer for the next time you ask.

Its also very important not to tell people at the table what tells you know or even that you are looking for tells. Once you do you can no longer rely on the information because other players could be giving you misinformation. In the reverse it can be very profitable if you can accomplish the art of making a tell with out looking like you are trying to make a tell. You have to be very careful with this one, because sometimes trying to make a tell can be a tell.

Its important to remember that poker is a game of acquiring information and controlling the information that others acquire. After a hand is over don’t tell people what you really had. If they ask you its usually to acquire information about you. I don’t like to say that I wont tell them. Instead I control the information by lying about what I had. In the games I play it becomes funny how extreme everyone lies about their cards, especially when they get caught. I tend to lose respect for players who are honest about what they had all the time. Mostly because they don’t understand the consequences of doing so.

If anyone has read caros book of poker tells and this post would you please let me know how the two relate. Does he seem to agree with most of what I say or not. Also if you go out and use this information I would be very happy to hear how it helps you out. So come back and post a comment.

If you like this post on poker tells, could you please do a direct link to this post’s permalink page. That way others can find it and help me with traffic. I will be happy to make more posts if it gets a positive response.


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Comments (7)


Good post.

I remember one guy telling me ( after a few beers ) that he had a tell on me. Apparently everytime I had a good hand, I would take a swig of whatever I was drinking. Obviously the next time I was fortunate to play with this guy, I got in a hand where I was up down straight and flush drawing and kept raising to disguise this, after a major raise on the river, I made sure I took a drink, he folded, showing me his top pair in the process, asking if I had, 2 pair. Of course I responded, as the cards went face down in the muck, good read I congratulated him.

So very important, if youve got a tell on someone, dont tell them.

1st Rule, I'm usually a big fan and supporter, but I can't agree with the majority of this post. I've read Caro's Book of Poker Tells and its a great read. You MUST read it, because you have some of the fundamental tells wrong. I wrote extensively on tells involving the handling of chips at this URL: http://highonpoker.blogspot.com/2007/01/chips-speak.html

This is just one example, but one I think you and your readers will find useful. I'll go through some specifics in regards to your post.

1. Tells are a lot more valuable in NL than in limit, so that is probably why you don't find them to be as important as I do.

2. You mention watching nature shows. That's interesting and I'll check it out (I love nature shows anyway). I also recommend you read up or watch a special on FBI visual lie detection methods. These guys have studied how to spot a liar, which is very useful at the table. Also look up micro-emotions.

3. When someone is staring you down, it is usually NOT a sign of strength. Just the opposite. Caro explains that most people act strong when they are weak, and act weak when they are strong. That stare-down is an attempt to look strong, and usually it means they are weak. I have definitely used this one to my advantage.

4. You are correct that playing with chips is a sign of a lack of confidence, or more accurately, nerves. Players are trying to sooth their nerves by fidgeting with chips. If they knock over their chips and restack them neatly, they are even weaker, and are fixing their chips so that they look more "in control."

5. I don't know much about heart rate of breathing, other than if they are holding their breath, they are bluffing.

6. You are right that when a player goes into tell lockdown (tensing up) that's a sign of weakness. They are avoiding doing anything to incude a call or give off a tell (ironically, the act of reducing tells is often the tell).

Those are my major thoughts. The rest of it I agree with generally. Hope you take this as just another viewpoint. I mean no insult, but I definitely disagree with some of your specific analysis.

1st Rule:

In relation to the stare down, it really can go either way. In my personal experience from playing I have found that when they stare you down after the river that is a sign of strength. When they stare you down with cards to come that may be weak. My guess is that they are looking for a sign of weakness from you to figure out what they are going to do on the next street. I should have made it more clear in the first post. Over all, you don’t just need to spot a tell but you also need to find out what it means. If you ever say that one tell is always strong or weak it will bite you in the ass. One guy I know would fake tells only when he had the nuts. So it was still a tell, but the opposite of that the book said. Poker is so situational that you can never really read one thing and go by that. I am glad to hear other peoples point of views and if others ever disagree with me feel free to put in their two cents, I wont be offended. I just try to write honest about what works for me.

I do remember someone telling me about how if someone tries to fix their chips nice that that is the tell. In my experience its just when they go to grab a stack and knock some over in the process. I know the way people bet is a little different in nl then in limit so that may make a difference in us understanding each other. Because of the structure in limit you always bet the same size stacks. So people get very good at it. That’s why when they make a mistake, it’s a tell.

As for thinking that you don’t use tells in limit that’s not true at all. Its just that I play with people who all know all the fundamental tells. Sometimes you have to ignore their original meaning.

There are a lot of other tells, its just that I didn’t have enough time to think of them or write them out in one post. By the way Jordan your link does not work. Ill fix it if you give me the correct one.

1st rule:

never mind i found the page and fixed it.

I got your comment. It's true that the first step is making sure that the tell means what you think it means. Any tell can potentially cut either way. I HIGHLY recommend that you read Caro's book. I found it invaluable, and its in my top 3 poker books for any player to read/own.

1st Rule:

Yea, I have head nothing but good things about Caro’s book, that’s why I mentioned it. Ill read it one day. Usually I try not to read books while I am playing well. You know don’t fix what isn’t broken kind of thing.

Dave Huff:

1st rule asked me if I had any posts on tells on my poker blog. It turns out that I just wrote two articles on this topic for cardschat.com. The first is about using tells to your advantage and the second is about using and avoiding false tells. Hopefully they will add a little something to the discussion. Here are the links:



I've been a poker pro for 4 years now, but I'm just getting into the poker article game, so I'd love to hear any feedback, positive or negative.

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