Common Poker Tells and Live Poker Tells
Winning at Texas hold’em poker is about more than good cards. It involves many things and one is working out what your opponents hand is likely to be from their unconscious behaviour. If you can read whether they have a good hand or not on the basis of actions which they are unaware of, you will have an advantage. Players often reveal information about the strength of their cards without knowing they are doing so. These unconscious actions are called ‘tells’. They give invaluable knowledge to experienced players who can detect ‘tells’ in poker. There are over 200 poker tells and knowing them is a great poker tip, and if you can learn how to spot common poker tells, it becomes an important poker strategy. Its great being able to spot poker tells, but, be careful, sometimes tricky players use tells as a deliberate means of deception.
There are two main areas that live poker tells become obvious in. One is the use of language, and the other is body language /physical actions. To understand these you need to become good at reading poker tells.
Common Poker Tells; Physical Poker Tells
Speed of play
The Chilled out player
Double-checking Hole Cards
1. Speed of Play
If you reach for chips to make a bet, and your opponent immediately reaches for his chips, it is a sign that they most likely don’t have a strong hand. If they have a strong hand they wouldn’t be reaching for chips so fast. They wouldn’t want to risk either stopping you betting or you betting less. Someone who does have a reasonable hand would want to take time to consider his action. They would want to make the most out of their bet and position. For instance if they do have the nuts, they will want to make sure they can milk as many chips out of you as possible. They will need time to work that out based on your playing behaviour and table position and who else is in the hand.
A player with a weak hand is likely to be using this type of behaviour to intimidate his opponent into not betting, not knowing that its a live poker tell. They may hope to see a free card on the next street. Or they may try to bluff bet over the top. Sometimes they will be trying to go to showdown hoping to win with a weaker hand. Many of these behaviours start unconsciously and come spontaneously. Hence fast movements aren’t likely to be reverse tells; that makes it a quite reliable common poker tell.
This tell can manifest itself in other ways too. Even a small out-of-the-ordinary movement from a waiting-to-act player means he isn’t at the top of his hand range. The trick here is to be paying attention to player behaviour at all times and look for those live poker tells. Some movements are random actions and some are repetitive indications of hand strength. Even if you are not in a hand, be observant of what is going on around you. Note players actions, looking for anything which might be a live poker tell, and then if there is a showdown relate it to their cards.
2. The chilled out player.
A really great live poker tell is when a player takes their time to make a big bet. In this situation it is probable that they have a strong hand. If they then sit back and put their hands behind their head, very relaxed, or casually look around the room, they will have the nuts. Being relaxed is one sign of a great hand. Looking around the room is a way of taking pressure off themselves. They are diverting awareness away from their play. It also helps to prevent the opponents looking in their eyes. An experienced player might see pupil dilation, which would let them know the bettor has a great hand. This is one of the reasons some people wear sunglasses- a great poker tip if you believe its possible.
Players betting with weak hands or bluffing will act without pauses in their play. They do not want to be studied by their opponents. They want to complete their action with as little scrutiny as possible. This is because the longer it takes to make the bet, the higher the chance that an opponent might see something. The opponent work out that the player has a weak hand, not the strong one they are representing, this is a common poker tell.
Players betting strong hands can have incentive to communicate or show doubt. They want to draw their opponent into the hand. They might shuffle their chips around, count them out a couple of times and sigh to themselves. They might then say something like, ‘Whatever,’ as the put their chips in. Players with strong hands are more likely to make the mistakes which give them away, exposing their live poker tell. They complete unusual actions or say out of sort statements. Bluffers try not to do or say anything that an experienced opponent could pick up on. Although this is a common poker tell of its own!
3. Double-checking Hole Cards
The meaning of this varies according to the situation. If a player who is waiting to act checks and double-checks their hole cards it usually indicates a weak hand. This would be the case if a player makes a pre-flop raise, sees the flop, and then double-checks their cards a couple of times before acting.
If a player flops a strong hand, like a set, they will be patient and try not to draw attention to themselves and not check their cards. If a three card flush flops on the board, any player who checks his cards at this point is very unlikely to have it. This is a good live poker tell to note. Most players can remember if their hole cards are double suited. If they flop the flush they will be trying to keep it quiet and again not be attracting attention to themselves.
Although a common poker tell, the situation is different if a player has made a big bet or raise on the table. Checking their cards at this point can be a sign of relaxation and of having a strong hand. Typically this would occur when a player makes a big bet on the river and immediately double-checks his cards. If the player was bluffing, they wouldn’t want to do something that could show weakness or doubt. Double-checking hole cards can, to many people, be a sign of weakness. A bluffer would not want to risk that interpretation.
4. Quick calls
Quick calls signify weak or medium strength hands. This is because when a player calls a bet immediately, it expresses that they have ruled out a raise. A good poker tip is that players with strong hands are usually thinking of maximizing value. It is unlikely that a player with strong hand will make a call immediately. Even if they do call and not raise, it will be after they have considered how to make the most of the hand. If they think the other player is likely to fold to a raise, but that they might bet on the next card, the player with the strong hand would flat call. They would hope that the other player does bet again on the next card, putting more chips in the middle and giving the strong player the chance to raise.
While this is a common poker tell you do need to consider what has occurred before a players action. Its different if a player has time to think about their action. For example when a player acting before them is tanking, they could have worked out what they are going to do, and call without delay.
People respond to stress in different way, and also depending on experience. Those factors aside, breathing is a common poker tell to be aware of. A player who is bluffing generally doesn’t get too excited about what they are doing, because they don’t know what the outcome is likely to be. A person who has the absolute nuts, and knows that they are going to win the hand, will get very excited if there are a lot of chips in the middle of the table. And when they do that, they can’t control their breathing or heart rate. If you are in the middle of a hand, and a player makes a big bet and their chest is rising and falling, be careful. A poker tip; If they are trying hard not to breathe through their mouth, get out of the hand because they will have a monster! If you have good eyes you might also see the arteries in their neck throbbing. Danger signs and time to exit!
Common Poker Tells; Verbal Poker Tells
Reverse verbal tells
Goading the opponent
1. Reverse verbal tells
If a player makes a large bet on the flop, it represents strength in their hand, but a representation is all it may be. If they bet and say ‘I am just playing for a draw,’ you know that is not the truth. In this situation they already have a good hand and are trying to entice you to call, a common poker tell. If they were trying to bluff you at this point, they wouldn’t say that, even as a joke, because if they are bluffing they don’t want you in the hand. Someone who is bluffing wouldn’t want to risk changing the action so that it goes against them. They will generally stick to neutral statements or say things which suggest they are representing a strong hand. There is a classic statement in poker, ‘weak means strong’. It means that if you are weak you act strong (to get people out of the hand) and if you are strong you act weak (to induce betting).
Here is an example of a verbal live poker tell. A hand goes down to the river and a player looks his opponent in the eye and says, ‘I don’t think you have anything,’ then goes all in. By saying that his opponent doesn’t have anything, he is saying that he himself does not need a strong hand to bet. If you are aware of this and do have a decent hand, you can call and expect to win.
Another example is when a player goes all in on the river. When his opponent doesn’t call immediately, the player says “Whew, I was afraid you’d snap-call!” This simple meaning of this is: “I have a strong hand, but I don’t have the nuts.” It is a statement that removes the strongest hands from his range, and that is something a bluffer would roughly ever want to do.
2. Goading the opponent
If a player has a good hand, they may try and encourage their opponent to either make a big bet against them. Or induce them to call a big bet that they have made themselves. The more relaxed a person is who is doing this the stronger their hand will be. They might say, ‘I’ve got nothing’. Or, ‘Now is your chance to get me back for that last hand’.
Sometimes they will use reverse psychology and say, ‘You can’t call me unless you have XX.’
3. Verbal aggression
Rudeness from a player making a big bet is a hint that they are relaxed and have a great hand. Another great live poker tell. If someone is bluffing they wouldn’t express irritation or anger because they wouldn’t want to agitate an opponent and make them call. An example of irritated behaviour is when a player shoves all in on the river. They might say to the other player, who is thinking about it, “What’s taking you so long?’
Or, when a player shoves on the river and aggressively calls the clock on their opponent. Because it’s a well-known indicator of relaxation, on a few occasions this can be a reverse tell.
Common Poker Tells; Conclusion
The way a player behaves at the table can give their hand away. Their unconscious actions will tell you a great deal. Deep breathing for example. Their conscious actions, like trying to intimidate another player, also tells you a lot about the cards they might have. Generally if they are take their time to act and are relaxed they will have a great hand. If they act quickly and try not to engage, they will have a poor hand. These common poker tells are most significant when you know the normal for a player. Study each players’ behaviour when you are not in a hand and work out what is their normal. See what they do repetitively. When you understand their normal behaviour you can look out for behaviour out of the norm, and the live poker tells they might have. Good luck.