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THE SCIENCE OF TELLS

If you always knew what your opponent’s poker hand was after the last card is dealt, there would be one play that you would never make again on the rier.
What do you think it is?

Obviously, you’d never have to just call again.  You would always be able to either raise or fold, but never just call.  Of course, you can’t always know for sure what the other guy is holding, but you can usually have a pretty good idea judging from his position, his betting and calling and an educated guess using deductive reasoning.  These clues are definitely better than nothing and sometimes you can put a player on exactly a certain hand.
But what if you can’t What if he’s a good enough player to sufficiently disguise his possible holdings and therefore make you play a guessing game?  There is another method by which you can further reduce the number of his possible hands in your mind and it is through the use of tells.
A Tell is a mannerism or a physical action that a poker player makes during the play of his hand.  The tell can be either verbal or nonverbal and it can be either made on purpose or unconsciously.  In poker, reading tells can be either very profitable or of not much value, depending upon the particular players and game conditions.  In a limit game, most of your decisions will be based on simple mathematics and pot odds.  Often there will be times when you will be genuinely undecided about what to do at the end of the hand and will need more information than just the pot odds.
And there will be other times when you play a hand to the river with an opponent and be certain of his hand.  Then, at the last second, you’ll see something that will make you say, “Whoa, wait a minute.  He doesn’t have what I thought he had because the tell I just caught is very reliable.”
This is where being able to read a tell and knowing what it means is worth money to you.  Here are a few beginning general guidelines for reading tells:

  • Weak When Strong, Strong When Weak

Most average low limit players usually pretend to be strong when they are weak and pretend to be weak when they are strong . Think about it. How many times have you been in a game when the player who bet really acted disgusted with his hand, aced like he was ashamed to bet it and as soon as you called, showed you a full house?  And how many times have you been in a hand with a player who bet and raised on every round from the beginning and when you started to call on the end announced he had a full house, but after you actually did call, said sheepishly, “I don’t have anything.  You win.”
That’s why I have emphasized throughout the book that you should usually act strong when strong and act weak when weak.  Most players will all too readily assume that your display of obvious strength is an act, because that is the way they would play a weak hand.  It doesn’t occur to them that you are playing your hand strongly because you are strong.  As the younger generation says, “Wow, what a  concept.”  It works.

  • If You Spot a Tell

You should try to decide if it’s an act or not.  Is it a fake tell?  Whatever it is, you should try to figure out what the other player wants you to do and then, if it’s possible for you, do the opposite. It will be easier for you to decide on a poker player’s intentions once you become more adept at reading tells.

  • Trust, Your Instincts and Gut Reactions

Don’t try to outsmart yourself or make the question to be answered more difficult.  Your instincts are involuntary and instantaneous and therefore, unclouded by emotions or indecision.  You will often be outplayed in this game, so there will be many times when your instincts are just wrong.  But they are better than nothing if you have nothing else to go on.

  • Do They Like Their Hands?

Players may talk a lot about their hands but they will rarely say exactly what their hand is. All you’ll be able to tell is if they like their hands or not.  It is tough to fake a genuine smile when you hold a probable loser, and it’s difficult to hide your disappointment when you miss your draw to the nut flush on the river.  You won’t always know exactly what a player’s exact hand  is, but it often won’t be hard to tell if he likes his hand or not.
  What follows is a list of the most common and useful tells in a low limit game.  Keep in mind that no tell is 100% reliable all of the time and you will often be seeing fake tells designed, of course, to fool you.  Another thing that you will have to figure out is exactly what does a particular tell mean to a particular player?  In other words, how reliable is the tell when you see it and does it mean something other than what it usually means?
  Let me use a common tell as an example.  It is a fact that in a low limit game, players who talk and ramble on absentmindedly usually instantly clam up when they get a great hand.  When you see it happen it usually means that the player did in fact just get a great hand.

But, perhaps there is a particular player who clams up every time he looks at his hole cards.  Since he obviously can’t be getting A ♣ A ♥or K ♠ K ♥ every hand, this particular tell is not valid for this particular player.  You’ll have to perform this mental exercise for every combination of tells and players to know what’s valid and what’s not.

  Here’s that list of tells, it approximately the order in which the hand is played:

  • Players in Wheelchairs and Walkers

Players in wheelchairs and players who use walkers and intend to stay put once they get situated at the table and this in turn makes them more patient players that the average opponent.  They may not be that good of a eliminate poker players, but they will wait for what they consider to be the better hands and don’t seem to take chances by drawing for longshots.  This is not a true tell in the purest sense of the word but it is something that you should know because it will help you put these players on a hand.

  • Neat and Conservative Players

Players who appear to be neat and conservative, both in dress and in their actions, also tend to play more conservatively.  How they arrange their chips, their cash and hold their cards are all reliable indicators of their frame of mind, and it spills over in how they play their hands.

  • Impatient Players

Impatience is usually a sign of a reasonably good hand.  Anyone who asks, “Who’s turn is it,” or says “Come on, let’s play,” or something like that probably has a decent hand.  If he intended to fold, he probably wouldn’t care if it took a few extra seconds for the action to get to him.

  • Mannerism Changes

A player who has been slouching in his chair and then suddenly sits up when he sees his hole cards probably has a good hand.  This is also true for players who wear reading glasses …but only when they intend to play their hands.  A player who hurriedly puts out his cigarette, quickly finishes his drink, abruptly ends the conversation he’s having or summarily dismisses any spectators also probably has a good hand. You obviously don’t need to do any of these things if you intend to fold your hand when it’s your turn.

  • Players Showing Their hands to Spectators

A player who lets a non-player see his hand at the beginning of play usually has a god hand, or at least one that he’s not ashamed of  a player who shows his hand to a spectator at the end of the hand, and especially after he’s bet on the river and is awaiting a call or fold from a single opponent, more likely has a bad hand.  He will often show it in an effort to indeed, a hand that is so good that he’s not afraid to show it.  It’s been my personal poker experiences that a player who does this is often on a pure bluff and is afraid you’ll call.

  • When A Good Player Makes His First Bet

When a good player does not play any of the first few hands dealt to him and then chooses to play his first hand, especially from an early position and he is not in the blind, he usually has a good hand, and more than likely, has at least one Ace.  Most good players like to win their first hand so they can then play with “your” money and not theirs.

  • Players Who Stare at the Flop

Players who continue to share at the flop after it hits the table usually did not flop anything.  They are looking at it an attempt to find something that’s not there and that takes a little bit longer.  Players who see the flop and then quickly look back up at the flop usually flopped a hand that they intend to bet.  They’re just checking to make sure their chips are still there.
Whenever I see this tell in a player I’m reminded of the movie where the bad guys surprise the rich guy in his mansion and demand to know where the safe is.  He will quickly and unknowingly glance at the appropriate picture hanging on the wall without saying anything.  He didn’t have to.

  • Players Who Cover Their Mouth

Players who casually ad nonchalantly, yet unknowingly, cover their mouths after betting are usually bluffing.  The act of betting and representing a good hand when in fact you have a garbage hand causes an unconscious internal conflict between your actions and what you know to be the truth.  You may say, “Bet,” but your subconscious knows differently and it will contradict your words.

  • Players Who Bet Forcefully or In an Exaggerated Style

A player who deliberately throws his chips into the pot in forceful or obviously exaggerated manner is usually bluffing.  He is trying to intimidate you with his many chips and his belligerent manner.  A belligerent manner usually indicates strength but not at the about poker table.  If his hand was really that strong, he would be trying to gently coax you into calling instead of scaring you out of the hand.

  • Players Who Direct Their Bet Towards a Particular Player

Players who bet, but seem to throw their chips in the direction of a particular player instead of the customary position toward the pot, are usually weak and don’t want to be called.  This is called a directed bet and it’s purpose is to intimidate the player that the chips are thrown at.  I have a personal policy of raising every other time that a directed bet is made at me and I often win the pot right there.

  • Players Who Intimidate Their Opponents

While we’re on the subject of intimidating players, a player who stares at you when it is your turn to bet usually does not want you to bet.  Staring is considered to be confrontational and the player who stares at you wants you to be meek and mild and not do anything that might be aggressive, like betting.
  This tell is most often seen after the river card comes and there is just two players.  The player who missed his draw will often noticeably raise his head from looking down at the flop, turn his head to the left or right and stare right at his sole opponent.  In poker tell language, this means, “I missed my draw and don’t you dare bet.”

  • A Player Who Immediately Calls Your Bet

A player who calls your bet so fast that he almost has his chips in the pot before you do almost always has a weak calling hand.  He is trying to impress you that he is so strong that he doesn’t even have to think about calling.  He’s usually on a draw and wants his quick call to cause you to have second thoughts about betting on the next round.

  • A Player Who Reaches for His Chips Before You Bet

When a player behind you reaches for his chips to call before you’re even acted on your hand, he usually does not intend to call.  He wants you to think that he will readily call when in fact he does not want you to bet.  He is trying to discourage your bet by making it apparent that you’re going to be called anyway.  If he really was going to call your bet, he wouldn’t do anything to discourage you from poker betting.  He is faking strength.

  • A Player Who Delays in Calling Your Bet

Often a player will call your bet, but only after taking a long time to make up his mind about it and letting you know that he really didn’t want to call.  If you determine that he’s not acting, you should almost always bet it right out on the next round because there is a greater than average chance that he’ll fold.  He’s usually looking for a miracle card to make a longshot draw, and as we all know, he’ll miss most of the time.

  • Players Who Flash One of Their Hole Cards

Players who flash or expose one of their hole cards to you generally have a weak hand and are trying to intimidate you.  If his hand was really that good, he’d be very careful to conceal it and protect it.  Why risk losing a call when everybody thinks you have the nuts…unless you really don’t?

  • Tells on Fabulous-Looking Flops

Whenever there is a spectacular-looking uniform flop, you should pause a few seconds before acting and pay attention to the players who are not in the hand.  We are talking about flops like Q ♦J ♦ T ♦ , K ♣ K ♦ K ♠ or A ♥ A ♦ K ♦.  Often a player who threw away a key card that would go well with one of these flops will say or do something to give it away.
Many low limit players who mucked a card that could have made a monster will moan, slap their forehead, roll their eyes in disgust, tell their neighbor, pound the table, or even actually announce what their hand was.  This is also true for those times when the flop contains a pair.

It’s really helpful when you hold K ♠ K ♣ and the flop is Q ♦ Q♥ 7♠ and one player not in the hand moans and says “Damn.” But you have to pause a second to give him time to do it.  It’s an almost 100% reliable tell because a player not in the hand has no reason to influence the play or outcome of a hand that he’s not in.

  • A Player Who Unnecessarily Shows the Nuts at the End

A player who has the nuts and shows his hand at the end when he doesn’t have to is often it because he intends to bluff in the very near future and wants you to know that he only shows down the nuts.  He’s trying to take advantage of his image as a poker winner before too many hands pass and his winning image fades in your memory.

  • A Player Who Coaxes Along an Opponent’s End Decision

When a player bets on the end and then shows obvious, visible disappointment that his only opponent is not going to call, he usually does not have a good hand and actually does not want a call.  When the potential caller moves from being undecided to leaning towards not calling, the bettor gets in gear and “helps” him by assuring him that he’s about to make the right decision.  If the bettor’s hand was really that good, he’d be doing everything he could to get a call from his sole opponent.

  • A Player Showing Visible disappointment

One of the most common tells on the end is when a player was on a straight or flush draw to the nuts and missed.  He will often have a big letdown in that he will exhale deeply, slouch down in his chair and have a genuinely sad look on his face.  He may actually tell you he missed his hand, he might even turn his cards face up as a gesture of folding, he may throw his cards down on the table in disgust, curse, hit the table or even throw his cards in the muck with great enthusiasm.

The secret is that you have to pause a second on the end to give him a chance to do one of these things. If you immediately check upon seeing the river card, you may have cost yourself an opportunity to bluff when you had an almost 100% chance of success.