A serious poker player learns pretty quickly that studying the strategies of the games and putting these strategies into practice is not all it takes to be a winner. A little bit of psychology and knowing how to read body language is a pretty good asset to have any time you play poker and knowing body language is what “the tell” is all about.
A tell is any behavior, physical reaction or subconscious habit a player exhibits when contemplating an action: betting, calling, raising or reacting to another player’s action. If you are knowledgeable about tells, you have the advantage of knowing what certain players may do at any given time in the game. Additionally, having this knowledge will help you keep your own tells under control.
Of course, tells are learned best when playing with familiar opponents but with some experience you can “read” many players after a few hands.
In the movie “House of Games”, one of the best examples of a tell is when a player twisted his ring whenever his cards were weak. One of his opponents who was aware of this tell used it to his own advantage. Although all tells may not be that obvious, here are some tells that should stand out to any alert player who has studied this aspect of poker strategy.
The eyes don’t lie! That is why poker players who understand tells often wear tinted eyeware, sunglasses, visors or caps. Eye reactions can be difficult to control. Some players may control give-away eye reactions by staring at their hole cards which also has the effect of advertising a possible strong hand to intimidate the other poker players.
We’ve all heard the expression “poker face”. It means someone whose face is expressionless. The origin of this phrase began with professional poker players who, wary of tells in their demeanor, learned to control their expressions.
Body language is a very obvious tell. The experienced pro will consistently avoid any particular movement that could result in a tell to other players. A player slumping in his chair conveys lack of confidence and a weak hand. Someone sitting erect and alert may well have a strong hand.
Experienced players study their opponents carefully, noting their style of play and are very alert to signals from other players such as trembling hands or an anxious glance at their chips which could indicate a strong hand.
Pros or novice players are often unconscious of voice modulation, another obvious tell to the careful observer. A player with a weak hand may act loud and aggressive to cover his insecurities, whereas a player with a monster hand may behave in a low-key manner to avoid intimidating other players into folding.
As a generalization but worth considering – players who neatly stack their chips are often tight, conservative players. Those players whose chips are sloppily stacked and disorganized could denote an aggressive and foolhardy player.
The way an opponent bets during specific situations is an important tell that an experienced player can use to his advantage. The player conscious of tells will vary carefully calculated betting patterns. The player who is not conscious of being studied may, for example, consistently check hole cards on the flop and several times thereafter. This behavior can indicate insecurity, a lack of conviction that can be taken advantage of by a strong player who can often bluff such an opponent into losing confidence in his cards and folding.
Carefully calculating betting patterns into one’s “style” takes a thorough study of poker strategy and playing experience.