In the game of poker, one of the best ways to make money is to try to read your opponents. The best way to read your opponents is to pick up on certain tells that they give off which reveal the strength of their hand before they even turn it over. This is obviously a huge advantage in a game of incomplete information that sometimes has a ton of money on the line.
For example, if you are playing against a player who stands up from his chair and does the Macarena dance every time he has a good hand, this is considered a tell. It is a big advantage to know that he has a strong hand, and you can then avoid running into monster hands by folding to him. If you are feeling really nice that day, you could let this player know that it is not the 1990’s anymore.
Unfortunately, most players are not this obvious when it comes to giving off tells. It might be because most of them don’t know the Macarena dance, but it’s more likely that they are trying to win money and therefore are making a conscious effort to hide their emotions. However, most human beings are not perfect at this, and there are a lot of tells that some people just cannot stop themselves from giving off.
These tells can be split up into two categories: online poker tells, and casino poker tells. It is important to know the difference between these categories and what tells you should be looking for, so that you can maximize your earnings no matter which format you are playing in.
It is noteworthy that for any of the following tells to be reliable there needs to be a solid pattern of behavior during your time at the table with that specific player. For example, if you see someone do the Macarena dance 20 times with 20 strong hands, you know that this tell is far more reliable than it would be for a different player who you have only seen do the dance once with one strong hand.
Before we hop into the tells for both the internet and the casino, we want to highlight the importance of paying attention to your table the entire time you are playing. It is impossible to soak up all the reads and tells that are available at your poker table if you are constantly staring at the basketball game on television or text messaging your friends in between each hand.
If you are distracted, not only will you miss out on some reads altogether, but you will also be clueless as to the frequency that each read is occurring. We realize that it is tough in today’s day and age to turn your phone off and disconnect from the virtual world, but it is necessary if you want to start making tons of cash in poker by picking up tells.
Casino Poker Tells
Whether they are playing poker or not, people love to talk. While at a poker table, people will usually talk about random things like politics or the NFL, but sometimes they will also talk about the current hand that they are in. The hard part is deciphering what the words that are coming out of a player’s mouth really mean.
One of our favorite verbal tells is when someone starts talking about how confused or upset they are at facing such a tough situation. Any time someone purposely acts weak, we are instantly skeptical of whether this is true. If they really were weak, they would most likely prefer to be silent and possibly try to win the hand with a bluff at some point.
However, if a player starts talking about the specific hand they have, then they are usually telling the truth. For example, let’s assume that you are facing an all-in before the flop, and you sarcastically ask your opponent what they have. This player then replies that they have pocket aces. While it is usually unbelievable that someone could have the best hand in poker, you should believe people when they specify their exact hand.
Another verbal tell that happens all the time is when a player verbally acts upset at their current situation, and then proceeds to make a bet or a raise. This is one of the most obvious acting jobs in the history of the world, but poker players still try to pull it off frequently.
Hand Movement Tells
One of the most important things to watch while you are playing poker with someone is what they are doing with their hands. Most people don’t think that anyone is watching their hands, so they do not worry about hiding any potential tells that may come from them.
The most common tell that you can get from someone’s hands is whether they are about to fold their hand or not. An absurd number of poker players tend to hold their cards slightly above the table in preparation for throwing them in the muck once it is their turn. This can be very useful when you are worried about people that are left to act behind you, because you will not have to worry about these players that are telegraphing their plans to fold.
Another great tell that you can get from someone’s hands is when they are shaking. You need to be careful with this tell if it is an old player, because they might just have Parkinson’s disease or something of that nature. However, shaky hands can also be a result of nervousness. These players could be nervous because they are playing stakes that are way too high for them, or they could just be trying to act weak when they really are strong. In our experience, someone whose hand is shaking is rarely someone who is actually scared or bluffing with a weak hand.
Eye Movement Tells
Most poker tells come with the risk that they are being faked by someone who is aware of the tell. However, eye movements are usually quite involuntary and thus they are a little bit tougher for a player to fake. On the contrary, they are also easy to block by simply wearing sunglasses at the table.
One of our favorite eye movement tells that we see all the time is when a player makes an obvious effort to look away from you while you are deciding what to do. These players will usually stare at something in the distance or at the nearest television while in the middle of a hand. This usually implies serious strength, because they do not want to scare you away by seeming too interested in the hand.
On the other hand, any time someone is staring you down really hard in the middle of a hand when they don’t usually do such things probably has a very weak hand. In general, when poker players try to act like they are strong, they are weak, and staring someone down to try to intimidate them fits right into this category.
Betting Motion Tells
If you thought that the split second when other players throw their money into the pot did not contain any valuable information, you were sadly mistaken. These subtle tells are tough to pick up on because they happen so fast, but they are very powerful once you identify a player that regularly displays one of them.
The first betting motion tell that we like to look for is when someone purposely throws their chips harder when they have a weak hand. Some people will even rocket their chips halfway across the table as an act of intimidation. Absolutely no one does this with an extremely strong hand, so raising these bets that were thrown hard with a weak hand is sometimes a good bluff to make.
On the flip side, anytime someone sets their bet down especially tamely and calmly, they’re likely to have a strong hand. This is especially true if they were just betting with a normal amount of speed and strength before they did this tame bet motion.
Chip Denomination Tells
A chip denomination tell is a rare tell that most people do not talk about. However, tons of people have bad habits that pertain to which chips they use when betting and these are extremely exploitable.
Our favorite chip denomination tell is when someone has the option of using a much smaller amount of chips than they used when they made the bet. This means that they will throw in a bunch of 25 and 100 chips when they don’t need to.
If a player raises to 600 chips before the flop, he usually has the option of using one 500-chip and one 100-chip. Anytime someone makes this raise using four 25-chips and five 100-chips, it is highly likely that they do not have a premium hand.
When you see a player betting these small denomination chips a lot, they are most likely trying to steal pots by making their bets look big and scary. The cool thing about this chip denomination tell is that once you find someone who does it, they will subconsciously do it almost every time.
Chip Stack Tells
When we refer to chip stack tells, we are not referring to the size of the player’s stack. We are instead referring to the style in which a player stacks their chip stack.
Some players, especially professionals, will keep their chips in stacks of 20 or 30 so that it is easy to count their whole stack at a moment’s notice. It is a little bit rarer to see players construct their stacks to be only ten chips high, and you will mostly see novices doing this.
Another stack structure that you will see is one that is an extremely messy pile of chips that is not stacked or organized in any fashion. This sloppy pile structure is usually used by players who are extremely reckless and do not like folding very often.
A final chip structure to look out for is the overly manicured chip stack. This is when everything is perfectly symmetrical, the lines on each chip are lined up with each other on the side of each stack, and everything is neatly stacked. You will find that these players care so much about how they look that they are more capable of folding strong hands and less likely to try running huge bluffs.
An experience tell is one that completely gives away how often a player has played poker in their life. It is important to know how much poker someone has played in their life, because in certain situations, it can help you figure out what range of hands they have.
One of the most obvious experience tells that you will encounter in a casino is when a player is constantly trying to explain their reasoning for how they played a hand in terms of hand ranges. Whether it’s their range of hands or someone else’s range of hands that they are talking about, it still shows that they are capable of thinking at a higher level than most beginning players who only see the two cards in their hand. We recommend never uttering the word “range” at a poker table for as long as you live.
On the other hand, you can easily tell that someone has no poker experience at all if they ask newbie questions such as, “Do we get a dinner break in this tournament?” or “What is the dealer button for?” It is also an amateur move when a player constantly forgets to put the blinds and antes into the pot before each hand begins. However, you must be careful with this tell, because the absent-mindedness displayed by these players may just be a function of the fact that they have played mainly on the internet. In an internet poker game you do not have to manually put your blinds and antes into the pot, so internet regulars are in the habit of letting them be put into the pot automatically.
Online Poker Tells
A timing tell is the most important tell that you can find at an online poker table due to the absence of physical reads. You can gain a lot of information from some players who react with the same unique speed in certain situations.
Most players will act quickly when they have a big hand out of excitement that they finally hit something. Some of these players might even welcome the fact that this speed looks strong since they do not want to get sucked out on, but this viewpoint will only serve to lower their win rate in the long run.
On the other hand, some players like to take their time whenever they have a big hand in order to appear like they have some thinking to do. For example, it is common to see a lot of these shenanigans from players who have pocket aces before the flop comes out.
Our recommendation is to count to three seconds before you act each hand, no matter what the strength of your hand is. You can adjust this amount of time to however many seconds you like, but just be sure that you are consistent. This consistency in reaction speed will cloak the strength of your range and prevent other players from getting any timing tells off you.
One of our favorite features of playing online poker is that most sites allow you to search for any player on the site and see what tables they are currently sitting on. In a casino, you can usually be sure that each player is only playing one table, so this feature is not necessary.
As you may have guessed, the more tables a player has, the less attention that they can pay to each table. It is also true that players with more tables are more likely to be professional players. Professional players always try to play as many hands as possible per hour in order to increase their hourly win rate, which means playing as many tables as they feel they can handle.
Players who only appear to be playing on one table are not necessarily recreational players, but the chances are pretty good that they are. This is especially true for volume-based forms of poker such as sit and go tournaments.
One exception to this rule would be if players are one-tabling because they are playing on multiple poker sites at once, which would give you a false read when you see they are only playing one table. Another exception would be if players are one-tabling while they are at a final table. These final table situations require intense focus because of the excessive amount of money that is on the line compared to the buy-in amount, which usually motivates players to just play that one table.
One of the luxuries of playing poker on the internet is that you can instantly see what location every player at your table is playing from by hovering your mouse over their avatar or looking at their player profile. In a casino, you are forced to ask someone where they are from, and this can be tough if you are not sitting next to them. They might also choose to lie, so their word is not always reliable.
While it is difficult to use such information as which country a player is from to make a generalization about their poker ability, there are some countries and regions where poker is less widespread. In some places there are less resources due to language barriers, or a lack of poker veterans who live in the area and are capable of teaching strategy. If a player lives somewhere where access to poker games and training resources is more limited, it can signify a weakness. As with most tells, you need to be careful about placing too much emphasis on the information gained from a location tell, but it’s definitely something to consider when playing online poker.
Hand History Tells
When you are playing poker in a casino, there is no way to look back at a hand and review what happened on every street. However, on the internet, you can easily do this simply by clicking on the “Hand History” button.
As you can probably imagine, being able to look back at previous hands can provide you with some quality information that you might have missed. Even if you were paying attention, you still might miss the flash of a second when someone shows what cards they have at the end of a hand. By using the hand history feature, you can easily go back and check what hand they showed.
Not only can you check what cards someone had, but you can also check how they played a certain hand without having to replay everything in your mind. This is a huge advantage compared to playing in a casino, and it is one of the reasons why it is possible to play more than one table at a time on the internet.
One major difference between internet tournaments and casino tournaments is that every internet tournament you play is tracked by poker results tracking sites such as Sharkscope.com. One of the most effective ways of seeing if a player knows what they are doing is to check their results on such a site.
We do recommend taking these results with a grain of salt if the player has not played a large number of poker tournaments. The only way to know if someone is really a winning player is to look at their results over thousands or even tens of thousands of tournaments. However, one exception to this rule would be if a player has played 100 tournaments and has never cashed in one, then you know you are dealing with a really weak player and you can adjust accordingly.
When it comes to cash game results, these are not tracked as heavily. There used to be a couple of sites that tracked cash games, but they have since mysteriously disappeared. The only site that does any cash game tracking these days is High Stakes Poker Database over at www.highstakesdb.com, but they only track stakes where the blinds are $25/$50 or higher.
In the game of poker, you only have so much information to work with for each hand. If you learn how to read your opponents and pick up on the many different tells that they give off, you will find yourself with a heavy advantage over them. Whether you are playing online or in a casino, you should be paying as much attention as possible to your opponent’s tendencies such as how fast they act, how they stack their chips, how they move their hands, and many more.