Poker tells... are they essential to the game, or are they an unnecessary sideshow in the otherwise serious world of live and online poker? Actually, they are a little bit of both. There is no doubt poker tells exist, based on people's physical and verbal signs during a game. However, while some tells are just a fun aspect of the game, others can become an essential part of your poker strategy when you play at land-based or online casinos. Our poker experts at Casinos.com have put together this guide that will teach you all you need to know about the most common tells in poker, how to spot them, and how to use them to your advantage at the poker tables or when playing poker online.
Poker tells can usually be split into two distinct categories:
While you can learn a lot from players during a game by reading betting patterns and physical tells, you can also get plenty of information prior to a game. Below are a few of the most common poker tells our experts at Casinos.com have gathered. It is best to learn about each of these and get familiar with them before you start playing so you know what to look for at the poker table.
There are dozens, or possibly hundreds of different poker tells. Remember, a tell could be a particular and individual thing, such as a hand gesture or head movement. Top poker players are also good at disguising their tells, making it even harder to spot. However, there are some universal poker tells that can help you build up your game and get to grip with bluffers.
Before getting into the most common poker tells, it is essential to remember that it is impossible to be 100% correct all the time. There may be times you get a tell wrong and misread your opponent. Moreover, you can only begin to learn the opponents' poker tells by picking up on a pattern. This means you will have to observe them over several hands before you start to see noticeable poker tells.
Like in other aspects of life, eye contact can tell you a lot about a person and their attention. Equally, a lack of eye contact can also be telling. And it is the same in poker, where someone with a good hand will usually be more confident and make eye contact with other players. The psychology behind this theory is that a player holding a strong hand will feel more relaxed and is more likely to meet the gaze of other players.
Those who are holding a weak hand or engaging in a poker bluff will more often try to avoid opponents' eyes. It is a nervous reaction while they think you may spot something if they look directly into your eyes.
So-called “timing” poker tells can be harder to spot and are often the only tells that the best and most experienced players will display (unintentionally, of course). It all relates to how long they take to act on bets, raises and calls, depending on the strength of their hand.
If a player is taking a long time to react, it is an indication that they are struggling to make a decision. This suggests the player has a potentially good hand but is deciding whether to take the risk. Bluffing requires some aggressive play, and aggressive players usually act quickly and make decisions without overthinking. For example, calling a bet quickly is a classic tell of an aggressive poker player holding a weak hand.
Chatting at the table can be part of a good game of poker. Still, there is a whole world of verbal poker tells that could fill this page. Our poker experts list some of the most common verbal poker tells without getting into too much depth.
Getting overly chatty during a hand is confusing because it could mean a player is excited to have a good hand or is trying to distract from their lousy hand. It is essential to observe the player before to see how much they usually talk during hands. If they talk when having good hands, that is the tell. Equally, if they chat away during poor hands, that is also something you can pick up on.
Another common verbal tell is when players make contradictory statements. This would be something that is the opposite of the truth. For example, "today is not my day with these cards," when in reality, their hand is strong.
This leads to understanding that these poker contradictions happen both ways and are not always expressed verbally. Is your opponent shrugging, tutting, sighing, moaning? They must have a terrible hand, right? Well, hold on because that could all be a show to mask a strong hand to trick players into raising the bet.
The reverse can also happen, where a player acts confidently to mask a weak hand, but this tactic is harder to spot. Remember, confidence could also be a sure sign of a strong hand. If a player is confident, it is not enough of a tell on its own to think they are hiding a weak hand. On the other hand, outright disappointment is a more accurate barometer for hiding a position of strength.
Body language is important when learning the behaviour patterns of poker players. Players who sit upright with a straight posture indicates the cards are at least interesting. It may not be a good hand yet, but it could become one on the flop. Impatience is also a tell-tale sign of a strong hand, especially if the player is trying to hurry a game.
Becoming fidgety is different. If an opponent is constantly shifting position and is seemingly uncomfortable when betting a hand, this suggests they are nervous and really holding weak cards. Similarly, if the player is constantly touching their face or specific parts of their bodies such as their arm, this could also be a tell revealing a poor hand.
A player holding a good hand will play the betting rounds smartly to avoid setting off alarm bells. They would prefer to build a decent pot without scaring other players and then striking with their winning cards. A fantastic poker bluffer will also play it cool in the hope of getting opponents to fold and let them win the pot with a weak hand.
Players who pound the bet by throwing a wad of chips in are doing one of two things: They are either trying to act strongly with a weak hand or are holding a strong hand and are making it too obvious. Either way, you should be able to tell what your opponent is doing by monitoring their pattern over previous games.
The size of the bets your opponents make is one of the most common poker tells because it is a pattern that all players can see. Yes, even if you play online poker, you can use opponent bet sizes as a way to spot the strength of their hand.
Weak players or beginners usually have issues with understanding how much to bet. They will also bet amounts that reveal what strength hand they are holding. A simple beginner equation looks like this: weak hand means small bets while a strong hand means big bets. You will always know what strength of hand a lower-skilled player is holding if you can see this pattern.
If a player freezes up or generally becomes lifeless after a bet, they are often bluffing. In fact, this behaviour is one of the biggest physical poker tells that reveal a poker bluff. Inexperienced players will believe any movement, eye contact, or action will give away their bluff. Of course, freezing and doing nothing is perhaps the biggest tell of all and defeats the purpose of trying to trick opponents.
If the player is usually more relaxed and then suddenly freezes, you can be pretty sure they are poker bluffing. They want you to call and are probably holding a weak hand, so keep a close eye on post-bet body language.
This practice is usually considered a beginners' play, but you would be surprised how often it happens. Always take a look at the player in the big blind position, especially if you are playing the small blind. Many players with a lack of experience or overly aggressive players will take a quick look at the cards straight after they are dealt.
If you see this, it is time to closely monitor this player, as their instant reaction to seeing those cards could give you valuable clues about whether the hand is good or bad. It could be a slight look of relief if the hand is strong or a sigh of disappointment if it is weak. You must not let the player know you are observing them as they may modify their poker tells to trick you.
Bluffing is an essential part of poker, even in the online poker realm. Players who engage in bluffing will often hone their skills and attempt to minimize their poker tells. They will also employ trick tells to fool players into making the wrong decision. If you are wise and monitor patterns, you should be able to avoid these tricky tells.
What is sometimes more difficult to avoid is the most common poker tells that are fake, but not by design:
When you play online poker or live poker, there is a good chance some of your opponents will be actively watching you for patterns and poker tells. You should aim to become as unreadable to your opponents as possible. Sure, that is easier said than done, but there are some tips that can help you disguise the most common poker tells:
Tells in the online poker world are naturally more limited because you cannot see your opponents. This is where monitoring betting patterns becomes even more critical. You will have no physical poker tells to read, so just concentrate on how your opponent bets, how long they take to wager, and other betting patterns. Playing poker at live casinos is one of the best ways to practice your skills at observing your opponents' betting strategies.
While spotting the most common poker tells may look easy, it does not come naturally to many players. In fact, becoming good at reading other players and relating their betting and physical patterns with bluffing takes time. It also takes practice, so the only way to truly become a master at spotting tells is to play poker and test yourself.
Hollywood wants you to believe physical poker tells are what poker is all about. Yes, physical tells are fun, and you can get information from your opponent through their physical actions, but the real story of poker tells sits within betting patterns and what style of play you observe. Once you understand your opponent's betting patterns, you will have a better chance of knowing if they have a strong or weak hand, which can increase your chances of winning. But always remember that there is no sure way to spot a poker tell every time and that although you can practice and improve your poker skills, poker is a form of gambling. So always gamble responsibly, stick to your bankroll and don't treat poker as a sure way to earn money. This way, you can come back to the poker tables again and become a master in spotting poker tells!
Ziv Chen has been working in the online gambling industry for over two decades in senior marketing and business development roles. Ziv writes about a wide range of topics including slot and table games, casino and sportsbook reviews, American sports news, betting odds and game predictions. Leading a life full of conflict, Ziv constantly struggles between his two greatest loves: American football and US soccer.Read Full Bio