Poker Strategy: Live Poker Tells

Find out how to find out what other players have on their mind.

When you make the transition from playing online poker to sitting down across from real opponents in a cardroom, one of the things you must take advantage of is the ever popular “tell.”  It is vital to know what the most common tells are and how you can both take advantage of them in others as well as minimize them in yourself. In this piece, we’re going to break down the most common tells out there, with an emphasis on helping you understand the reverse psychology that frequently occurs at the live poker table.

Weak-Handed Players
A tell that is common to inexperienced players is holding their breath when they’re bluffing. It’s subliminal on their part but one of the most notable giveaways to the player looking for weaknesses in their opponents.

One tactic I see frequently used by more experienced players holding weak hands is the stare-down. It’s a key part of the reverse psychology mentioned above, in which a player attempts to look like they’re holding a much stronger hand than they actually are. What I’ve found is that they generally have something that can be beaten or drawn out on, so don’t allow yourself to be fooled by their icy gaze.

Players With Strong Hands
Neophytes frequently have shaky hands when they’re throwing their chips in to bet on a strong hand and it’s safe to assume they have something like the nuts. The same goes for rapid breathing, which is a bit less controllable because it’s tied into the heart’s response to seeing the perfect hands.

Some players who have figured out how to keep a bit of a poker face will overplay their hand when they’re betting. They’ll make a show of sighing or shrugging and say things like “I guess this will do,” or even straight up wonder why they’re calling. However, if an experienced player is acting bored with a hand while they’re still in it, they’re slow-playing you. Be careful.

Players With Drawings Hands
If the flop sets up a flush or straight draw, you’re going to see people re-checking their hole cards. The player probably doesn’t have the flush or the straight or flush at the flop, but they’re checking to see if they can draw to it. This, along with the fact that players with drawing hands tend to take longer to bet act like flares at the table.

Finally: know that other players know these things too and the truly experienced will begin to use them against you. I’ve found that you can generally probe around their experience at the game in a casual manner, such as talking about older tournaments, etc.