In the world of poker, there are many things that can give your hand away, from the obvious, all the way through to the smallest subtle movements. These are called “poker tells” and they’re something that pretty much every poker player has. The key is to minimize the number of tells you have and maximize your ability to read people. Master these two skills and you’ll have a huge advantage whenever you sit down at a poker game.
You might think that tells only occur in offline games, when players can see and hear each other, however this isn’t the case. Online poker players can also exhibit tells, giving those with the skills an insight into the hand they might have. In this ultimate guide to poker tells, we’ll be exploring both online and offline tells, hopefully giving you the understanding needed to boost your poker game.
Firstly, what exactly are poker tells? Well, they’re small actions that give you an idea regarding what another player’s hand might be. Sometimes they can be visible pretty easily, such as a player starting to talk more, while other times they’ll be so subtle, such as a slight change in posture, that only the most observant player will pick up on them.
Tells are often physical actions, meaning that a part of the body, such as the corners of the mouth, moves when in a specific situation. What’s more, these physical actions can sometimes be involuntary and even unnoticed by the player with the tell. Players will, over time, become aware of most tells they have, which is why the top players in the world give away so little about their hands.
Essentially, poker tells are something you want everyone else on your table to have in abundance, but are something that you’ll personally try to keep to a minimum! So, keep a close eye on everyone sitting around your table, watching them as closely as you look at your own cards. Find even one small tell on another player and it could lead to you scooping a huge pot!
Poker tells can come in an almost infinite number of types, all of which give clues to other players around a table. Some are more common than others however, which is why we’ve presented 10 simple poker tells below, which can be used by even those newest to poker to get an advantage over others at their table. Please note that these are tells for live poker games – if you’re looking for common poker tells in online poker, scroll further down the page.
The first of the top 10 poker tells players exhibit is their posture. Many people will naturally straighten up their posture when they become interested in something, and an interested-looking poker player is usually interested for one reason: they have a good hand. So, if you see a player’s shoulders go back and their head lift up, there’s a good chance they’ve just been dealt a great starting hand or have hit big on the flop.
One of the most important things to be mindful of when trying to find tells is how often a player is speaking. There are generally two types of players at a table: quiet players and loud players. You should be listening to see if any of them change abruptly into the opposite. If a loud player suddenly becomes silent, or vice-versa, it often means that they’ve been dealt a decent hand.
It’s generally the case that once you’ve looked at your hole cards, you’ll be able to remember them for the rest of the hand. Then why do so many people like to glance again at their cards again before making a bet? This double checking of their cards is often a tell that they’re just making sure that they’ve hit the hand they think they’ve got, before making a bet. So, if you see a player checking their cards again, it’s often a sign that they’ve hit a big hand.
Looking to work out whether someone is bluffing you ? If so, one of the best signs is that they suddenly freeze after making their bet. They’re doing this in an attempt to minimize any tells they might give out, but don’t realize that the act of staying still in the first place is often the biggest giveaway of all. Many will even hold their breath and refuse to talk, which only adds to the likelihood that they’re trying to bluff.
This is a really obvious one that you’ll see many beginners exhibiting – they get ready to fold before it’s their turn to act. They might already have their cards gripped between their fingers and their wrist cocked, ready to muck their cards. This is perhaps the surest sign of all that they’re not planning on calling any bet.
In stressful situations, it often isn’t possible to control the lump in your throat. The more you concentrate on it, the worse it becomes, and eventually, you have to gulp. This is something you should be looking for in other players, especially when they’ve just made a big bet. The nerves that they’re exhibiting are often a sign that they’ve made a bluff and are now worrying about being called.
Ever seen a player trying to let everyone know how knowledgeable they are about poker? They’re trying to make you think that they’re experienced and should therefore be feared, however the truth is usually actually the opposite. Experienced players know not to talk about their strategy – those who do are often inexperienced and are trying to portray confidence, with the aim being to stop you from calling a bet they just made.
This is another tell that’s only found in inexperienced players. Some players choose to put a chip on top of their hole cards on every hand. Some, however, unwittingly only place a chip on top of their cards when they’re going to remain in the hand. So, if you see someone who usually protects their chips not doing so, it will often mean that they have a weak hand that they don’t want to play.
You’ll often find that newer poker players are incredibly bad actors. For example, they’ll sigh when they receive their hole cards, tut when the flop comes down or raise their eyebrows theatrically when a bet is made. Beware of this overacting, as it’s often a player trying to portray weakness, when in fact they have a strong hand.
When playing, many players treasure their higher value chips. This means that they often won’t bet with them when bluffing, instead preferring to place a large pile of smaller value chips into the pot. However, they have no problem betting their big chips when they have a strong hand. So, if they use their low value chips to make a big bet, it’s often the case that they are not entirely confident that their hand will be a winner.
As you might have realized, all the tells listed above are for live games. They won’t work during online games, as you can’t see the way your opponents are acting, or hear their voices. So, is it possible to use tells when playing online? The answer is yes, however there are far less of them to watch out for.
The biggest online poker tell players make is with their bet sizing . It’s often the case that a stronger player might be placing a lower bet size, in order to make others think that they are scared to bet too much. In reality, however, they’re value betting, which is when they’re just betting the most they possibly can in order to elicit a call. Conversely, a player with a weak hand will sometimes make an oversized bet, as they’re looking to represent strength and don’t want to be called. Of course, the best players will be able to manipulate their bet sizes to double bluff you at times, however.
The speed in which a player calls or raises can also give an indication over how strong their hand is. Players who snap call are often trying to show that they’re not bothered about putting money into the middle, as they want you to believe they have a strong hand. The reverse is often true however, and their fast bets are actually because they’re weak. The opposite can also be true, with those with strong hands taking a long time to bet, as they want it to look like they’re nervous about risking any money.
In some cases, you can also use the chat box to work out if a player is betting. Most won’t ever bother using the chat feature online, however some, especially new players, will get themselves into trouble using it, giving away details of their hand. For example, if you’re facing a big bet and they’re suddenly sending loads of messages, could this be a hint that they’re nervous? The more you play against a specific player online, the more you’ll work out how to read them via the chat, if they are one of the rare players who use it.
Overall, however, you’ll need to rely on tells much less when playing poker online. Instead, you should have a proper grasp of the mathematics of poker, to ensure you’re only playing the hands that are mathematically worth it for you. This means that you should concentrate more on pot odds and probability than honing the intuitive side of your game.
There is a big problem with tells in poker: the best players know exactly how to manipulate them and use them to their advantage. You might find an expert betting huge, for example, trying to look like they’re attempting to scare you off. In reality, they have a big hand and are hoping you think that they’re weak. Call them and you will find a huge chunk of your money disappearing. Another example would be a player being overly dramatic when a card comes down. They want you to think that they’re weak, but in fact are double bluffing you, as they are in fact strong.
False poker tells are tough to guard against. Perhaps the best way to work out whether someone is trying to trick you is to know their game before you start playing. For example, if you know that someone is a top player, you can also assume that they won’t be inexperienced enough to exhibit any major tells at the table. So, if one does pop up, it’s likely it’s there on purpose, and not because the player hasn’t got full control over themselves.
If you’re in a position where you really can’t work out if a tell is deliberate or not, you need to instead ignore the tell completely, and decide whether to call using other facets of the game, such as your chances of hitting a winning card and the pot odds. Often the confusion caused by not knowing if a tell is genuine or not is enough to cause players to make poor judgements.
There are two very important things to learn about understanding poker tells. The first is how to spot tells from other players, and that’s already been covered on this page. The second is equally as important however, and it’s how to stop yourself from exhibiting tells to other players sat around a poker table. There are a few ways to go about this.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is this: you need to keep a consistent personality throughout your time playing. We’ve just said that some players go still when they have a good hand, but nobody will be able to tell if this is a sign of strength if you make a conscious effort to stay still on every hand, regardless of whether you have a huge hand or absolutely nothing. The same is true of how much you talk – if you talk a lot, or not at all, consistently, it can’t be used against you as a tell.
You should also constantly analyze your own play. This is something you can do especially easily online, as it’s possible to review hands and see exactly what happened. Are you getting called a lot when you’ve got a weak hand? Perhaps you’re over-betting and opponents are seeing this sign of weakness? Are you seeing people fold every time you have a monster hand? Perhaps you’re placing bets that are too low, causing others to become suspicious of you. Don’t just analyze the hands you lost either, as you should also look at the hands you won, to see what you did differently and whether you can incorporate it into your game more. You’ll find plenty of tools online that help with analyzing your play.
There will, of course, be times when you’ll exhibit a tell, as it’s not possible to guard against one on every hand. Hit pocket aces and your mouth might curl upwards on one side ever so slightly, for the merest of seconds, or flop nothing and make a bluff and that lump in your throat will make it impossible not to swallow. In these situations, you simply need to hope other players won’t notice, or you’ll need to hide them with some other action.
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