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One of my favourite books, when I was first learning poker, was Mike Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. After playing live poker for a couple years, I realised he vastly overestimated how much learning each tell added to your hourly rate, but I have come across some tells he wrote about.
When watching someone during a hand, more than any specific tell, you’re looking for a varying degrees of comfort. Transparent about their hand strength or interest in a hand, casual and amateur players are often unaware of their table mannerisms.
There’s a pair of tells be aware of when players look at their hands: some players, ready to fold, load the cards in their hand while others place them in a specific spot when they know they’re entering the pot. If you watch the people behind you, sometimes your position in the hand “improves” because you can see players loading their cards, probably in preparation to fold.
Watch your opponents’ eyes
The ‘eye-check’ is the most consistent tell I’ve seen from Caro’s book. It’s when community cards are revealed and a player’s eyes flip towards his chips for about half a second. It usually signals an intention to bet and likely means the community cards improved their strength in the hand. The opposite is often true when players stare blankly towards the flop after it falls. But I’ve found this tell is less reliable as many players remain motionless and stare straight ahead during the hand.
And what about the strange things people do with their chips? I’ve always wondered whether I give away any tells when shuffling my chips, but I can’t help myself so probably won’t stop doing it. A common chip tell I frequently come across is when out-of-position players load their hand with chips as though they intend to bet but then check. Typically, these players don’t want to face a bet and are trying to persuade you to check behind.
Most professionals refuse to speak during the hand, but casual players like to talk and, if you listen, will tell you plenty about their hand. Many players simply cannot speak calmly during a hand unless they’re confident of winning, so if you see them freeze up or stutter it’s probably a sign of a weaker hand. Often players profess to be stronger than they actually are. Those who boast about the strength of their hand are are more likely than players acting coy to bluff.
While playing you should keep an eye out for tells and also be aware of whether you give tells away. The easiest way to prevent leaking tells is to remain silent and practically motionless when entering a pot.
Act calm and natural during the hand without going full statue. And if some wily professional tries to cajole you into talking during the hand, know he’s doing it for one reason and on reason alone. So stay calm and keep quiet.
Check out the first in our series of easy-to-digest poker strategy videos, part of our Teach the partypoker People series.
Do you have any specific things you look for when you’re attempting to work out your opponent’s hand strength? Feel free to share them in the comments box below.