As you glance to your left, you notice the player next to you has begun to sweat from their brow. Their jugular vein is visibly pulsing, and you’re starting to smell their breath due to their sudden heavy breathing. What does all this mean?
Your opponent in this poker game is likely bluffing. Being able to bluff is an important part of anyone’s poker game. As a successful player, you’ll need to be able to lie confidently.
It’s even more important to your development and success as a player to be able to tell whether or not you are being bluffed. There are many, many ways to tell if someone is lying to you about their hand.
While reading people is an acquired skill, you must first gain a fair bit of knowledge before you can spot some of these tells. After all, how can you see what you don’t know is there?
I’ve put together a short list of some sneaky ways to tell if another player is bluffing in your poker game. Most of these are for actually being physically present at a table game. However, some bluffs can be identified in an online game as well by paying attention to bet sizing and timing.
This would probably be your most common answer to the “How do I know if they are bluffing?” question. Anything from a head nod to a tap of the foot can be a possible bluffing tell.
Head nodding is only a slight tell. If there isn’t a nod when you meet eyes, the player is likely confident in their hand. The head nod isn’t for you. For some reason, they need it to reassure themselves of something.
Eyes move, and some even change colors with your mood. You’ve probably heard the old sayings “The eyes are the window to the soul” or “The eyes never lie.” They are old sayings for a reason. They have withstood the test of time. This is why many players wear sunglasses at the table to hide their true intentions.
If the other players decide against the shades, don’t hesitate to look into their eyes and then trust your gut with the reading you get.
The jugular vein is another clue towards successfully calling one of your tablemate’s bluffs. Certain players will wear turtlenecks or coats with high collars in hopes of hiding this tell.
These are physical signs of nervousness. What is this nervousness telling us, though? If they are nervous early in the hand, they likely have a strong hand and are nervous of better cards coming out. If they are nervous on the river, it is probably because they are bluffing and are worried you have the hand to beat them.
The amount in which a player bets can possibly give away their hand or at least provide the other players with a good idea of what they’re holding.
One example of this is using what I like to call scare(d) bets. If they aren’t going all in but are still betting 5-10x the anti, they are likely trying to scare people off the table.
Sometimes you have to think about poker the same way you would think about life. This is classic bully behavior. A bully tries to scare you because they know they are weak and may not fare well in a fight. They are trying to scare you because they are scared.
By not going all in, the bluffer left themselves an option to get out of the hand because they aren’t confident.
It is your job as a player to actively target loose and aggressive players. These are the players that are statistically more likely to bluff.
You can’t identify a bluff until you realize you’re getting bluffed. For instance, if you limp in, check, and people are always raising you, you are likely being bluffed.
The timing of other players’ bets should always be something to note for poker players. What I mean by this is how much time passes between the time when the previous player acted and when you make your bet.
One way to spot a bluff is noticing if someone is taking a lot of time or not much time at all to act. An immediate bet is a sign of a strong hand or a weak hand. It is a polarizing move, and that usually means the player has a polarizing hand.
If a player has a strong hand, they are likely looking to maximize their value. This will take a bit of time to calculate. Betting quickly communicates confidence. You have to now ask yourself the question, “What is the potential bluffer trying to communicate to me?”
If they are trying to tell you all about how strong they are, they are likely weak. Oh, the psychology.
Umm, uhh, hmm. Man, like, I don’t know. These are all sentence fillers, and they are used subconsciously when someone is nervous or unsure of their next statement. They could be uncertain, or maybe that’s just what they want you to think. As always, exercise caution when spotting a bluff.
It isn’t as easy as saying bluffers talk more than the player who is honestly playing their hand. Some players talk a lot. That’s just their personalities.
Conversely, some players are quiet individuals. So how do we know when we have spotted a bluff or not by listening to any verbal cues a player may give?
Your best strategy will be to pay close attention to who is talking and how much not only during the hands you play but also during the hands you decide to fold.
As early as possible in the game, figure out who is talkative and who isn’t. Pair this knowledge with your observation of a player talking significantly more or significantly less in a potential bluffing situation.
You can also attempt to force a tell. You can do this simply by asking the other player an open-ended question. How long they wait before answering, and of course how they answer, can provide you with valuable information you wouldn’t have if you failed to ask.
A player’s position at the table determines whether they will play a hand, bluff on a hand, and/or go all in. Late positioning is more advantageous not only in the game of poker but in life as well.
There are more opportunities to bluff from late position than there are with early or middle positioning. This is when you’ll see most bluffers decide to act.
Contrarily, it’s already a risky move to bet in a bad position, so why would they add more risk and bluff as well? Well, with high risk comes high reward most of the time. It’s your job to recognize these opportunities to bluff and look to call them.
Poker players have to keep in mind that spotting a tell isn’t the key to being successful at poker. Recognizing the tell by another player will probably only help you in one or two hands. Good players don’t bluff that much.
You shouldn’t always pay people to see if they were bluffing or not. If you are wrong about this a couple of times, you’ll need to spot two bluffs just to break even.
It is important to note that all of these tells could be done on purpose by a veteran player just to throw you off. It’s like they knew you had just studied up on how to spot tells.
So, maybe one or two of these strategies aren’t good enough on their own to make a hero call. You are going to put these together and look for a break in a player’s normalcy.
First, you have to pay close attention and establish what is normal for a player. Then look for a sudden change in their patterns. Remember that a change in betting patterns is a stronger predictor of a tell than a sudden change in behavioral patterns.
The next time you think someone is bluffing you, analyze the table position, the size and timing of the bet, and whether or not there is any sudden change in body language and/or talking.