At the poker table, players often show physical traits which can indicate the type of hand they are holding. These are known as tells.
New poker players often overestimate the value of a potential tell. But at the same time, we shouldn’t ignore them completely. In this article, we’re going to discuss several common tells and learn exactly what they mean.
Common Poker Tells
The word “tell” is fairly vague, as it describes any kind of subtle, unconscious clue as to how our opponent might be thinking or feeling. Generally, they can be broken into three more specific categories.
Some tells concern behavioural aspects, such as betting patterns, while other tells can be detected in the way an opponent speaks. However, the first set of poker tells that we’re going to look at are physical clues.
If you reach for betting chips and the opponent immediately motions toward their own stack, the chances are they’re weak. They’re trying to suggest that they’ll call any bet you make and beat you into the pot. But if they had the nuts, what would they want to happen? They should encourage, not discourage a bet. Acting macho makes no sense.
On a similar note, if a player is fiddling with their chips before eventually checking, they are likely to be weak. They are attempting to make you believe they’re thinking about a bet, when in reality they have no intent.
As a general rule, when someone is acting stronger, whether they realise it or not, they tend to be weaker. Of course, the reverse is also true.
More often than not, when someone is making intense eye contact, this is supposed to convey strength. But again, if you have the goods, why would you want to try and intimidate your opponent out of a call? So, usually, it’s an indication of weakness.
Similarly, looking awkwardly away from the table, refusing eye contact, and sitting perfectly also suggest weakness. However, it’s important to be careful with eye contact. Everyone is different, after all. You’ll need to consider their usual behaviours and ascertain whether this is out of the ordinary.
Irritation is almost always a sign that someone is relaxed about their hand. If you’re bluffing, you’d hate to wind an opponent up by being rude or aggressive. You would want them to fold, not to call out of malice.
Imagine a player makes a big bet, then starts tutting and rolling their eyes about how long you’re taking to call. Here, you can feel confident that they have a legitimate hand.
Similar to the irritability tell, a player who is actively egging you on to make a decision probably has a strong hand. By goading, we mean statements like “go on, I dare you” or “you’re going to fold anyway, get on with it”.
If they were bluffing, the last thing they’d be looking to do would be to provoke you into making a call.
Stating Their Hand is Weak
You’ll often hear players directly commenting about their hands, for example stating that they’re on a draw. Whenever someone tells you they’re weak, they’re probably lying. Anyone running a bluff in such a spot is highly unlikely to say so. Therefore, you can adjust their range based on this.
Opponents may also indirectly make statements about their hands being weaker. For instance, let’s say they make a comment like “I don’t think you’ve got a hand” and then bet big. Here, they’re telling you that they don’t need much to bet, revealing that they don’t have a big hand.
Re-Checking a Hand
You’ll often see players double-checking their hole cards at the poker table. It certainly does convey information, but be careful, as it can mean both strength and weakness. Everything depends on context.
If a player is waiting to act pre-flop and re-checks their hand, it’s usually because they’ve genuinely forgotten their exact holding. That is an indication of a weak hand. Nobody forgets when it’s A-A!
However, if a player has fired a bet and then double-checks their cards, this is usually a subconscious act which suggests they are relaxing. More often than not, they are in a position of strength.
Imagine you have the nuts on the river and are struggling to work out the best way to play. You opt to shove. Now there are no more decisions for you to make and you have the best possible holding, so there’s no tension. That type of situation often makes people re-check their hands.
Players who make calls more quickly than they normally would are telling you that their hand is low to mid-strength. They’ve already mentally discarded the raising and folding options. With fewer decisions to make, the call comes extremely quickly.
Imagine we’re looking at a lot of pre-flop action and the player makes a suspiciously quick call of a 3- or 4-bet. In that case, they likely have a hand such as J-J or Q-Q. The logic is the same. Hands like K-K or A-K have to consider a raise, while weaker hands have to think about folding.
Hesitating While Betting
This poker tell is essentially the reverse of the last one, and so is the meaning. An unusually long pause before a bet or raise suggests strength. After all, bluffers don’t want to remain in the spotlight for longer than necessary. And anyone with the nuts would be inclined to act as though they are unsure about what to do.
Hesitation can mean two things. First, it could be that they are about to declare a raise and are taking a long time to actually decide how much. Alternatively, it could be that they are counting out their chips mentally and calculating what to bet before declaring it.
Poker tells do exist, and if you can find a read, it can help you understand an opponent. However, poker games are unlike those depicted in the movies. More often than not, you won’t be able to spot a tell. And if you do, it’s not going to make you a millionaire. Apply common sense and remember that a possible read is just one small consideration in the hand.
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