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Common Tells


Common Tells

While playing poker, if you are observant, you can find out a lot about what kind of hands people are holding. There are a number of unconscious signals that people give out that can give you key information about their hands. Having this information can be the difference between winning or losing. It's rare that you'll find a classic "smoking gun." i.e. "He whistles the 1812 Overture every time he's bluffing." But with practice, you'll find the subtle clues people give off can be almost as precise.

Required Reading

First of all, if you want to become proficient at reading people at the poker table, you need to get Read 'em and Reap, A Career FBI Agent's Guide to Decoding Poker Tells, by Joe Navarro. It is the best book on the subject by far. But until you read it, here are some common and easily recognizable tells that will give you a quick leg up on the competition.

The Eyes Have It

If you watch poker players, you'll notice that most of them will watch the flop coming out. Who can blame them? It's an exciting time. But if you're smart, you won't watch the cards being dealt, you'll watch the players.

When a person gets a view of something new, there's about a 3/8 of a second automatic reaction to what they're seeing. It's autonomic and very hard to control. If you watch a player's eyes as they watch the flop, you can often get a very good read as to whether the flop hit them or not.

Some common eye tells include:

  • The Chip Flick--The eyes of a player who likes the flop will often flick momentarily to their chip stack. They are subconsciously preparing for their betting action.
  • The Stare Down--When they don't like the flop, players will unconsciously stare at, hoping it will change.
  • I've Got My Eyes Wide--A tiny widening of the eyes often indicates a good flop.
  • Jittery Eyes--Depending on player type, a person who looks at the flop than quickly looks around is either impatient to play their strong hand or impatient to fold their weak one. Once you figure out which, this can be a reliable tell.

They'll Give You a Hand

Your opponent's hands are a great thing to watch. When you're watching someone's eyes, they'll often realize they're being observed and this will affect their behavior. Almost no one can tell when you're watching their hands. And most people aren't really aware of what they're doing with their hands anyway.

Common hand tells include:

  • Load 'em Up--Watch the players to your left. Often people who are going to call or raise will unconsciously load the correct amount of chips into their hand so they can act quickly when it's their turn. This info is invaluable when deciding what the pot odds are going to be, or what the risk of calling is.
  • Hand Wringing--Usually not as melodramatic as hands being wrung in despair, but any kind of intertwining of the fingers is a good indication of stress. Stress usually equals a bad hand or bluff.
  • Shake and Bake--Shaking hands usually means excitement, NOT nervousness. Usually a big, big hand makes a player's hands shake


Finally, you'll notice that in the description of most of these tells, I use the word "unconsciously." That's the real key. You are looking for unconscious behaviors. Behaviors that the exhibitor has little or no control over. Take care not to be observed observing and you'll get truer reactions. If you are certain they aren't acting, then you can be sure of your read.Then you can start backing up your reads with your chips. And that's how you win.

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