Seven Great Live Poker Tells and Common Poker Tells

Texas hold'em basic strategy

Seven Great Live Poker Tells and Common Poker Tells

If you have seen the James Bond film Casino Royale you will have an idea of what a ‘tell’ is. The villian Le Chiffre gives a false tell at the poker table which James misreads results in him losing all his chips in a big hand. Luckily for us James is re-staked by the CIA agent Felix Leiter and goes on to knock Le Chiffre out with a straight flush. A tell is your opponent unknowingly revealing the strength of their hand through their body language, speech or behaviour. The types of tells a person may have can vary from player to player. There are common poker tells that less experienced players tend to do at a high frequency. Even experienced players tend to have subtle and not-so-subtle tells. There are over 200 recognised live poker tells. Knowing how to spot poker tells and understanding common poker tells is an essential part of your advanced poker strategy.

Live poker tells; Signs of Strength

  1. Poker StrategyA player looking away from the poker table when they’re in the middle of a big pot

This is a common poker tell a lot of inexperienced players make. Sometimes it’s a conscious act sometimes it’s unconscious. The ideas of this tell is to show the table that they are uninterested in the hand and are conveying weakness. So why would a player that has a strong hand want to show the other players at the table that they are uninterested? By looking away from the table and showing a lack of interest, as well as showing weakness, you are diverting peoples attention away from you. This serves to hide the fact that you have a strong hand. And you are doing this because you want your opponent to bet or bluff, or to call your bet. You don’t want attention on you. Its an obvious tell for an experienced player to spot and a top poker read, so keep an eye on your own behaviour next time you have a big hand. Make sure you don’t give your hand away!


  1. Poker StrategyA player tilts or bends their neck

Sometimes players may do this in an act of confusion or appear curious and unclear. Studies have shown that bending and tilting your neck is a difficult thing to do when you are under stress. This is because the trapezius muscles in your shoulders tighten up and restrict neck mobility.

When you are bluffing, you feel a lot more stress and pressure than when you are strong. You are more likely to be sitting straight and tall. When you are strong you feel confident, more relaxed and have feelings of excitement. A player with a strong hand would find it easy to move their neck freely. So they might look confused, but they are not. Try it for yourself. When you next feel stressed, bend or tilt your neck. It will be uncomfortable. Because this is not such a common poker tell, when you do spot it you will know what is really going on and is a great live tell.


  1. Poker StrategyOral tells

These can be some of the biggest tells in a live poker game. If you are in a hand and a player exhibits anger on the flop or turn, he will have a good hand. It doesn’t make sense to act out in anger when you are weak or when your hand has missed.

If a player has a weak hand they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. They would do the reverse and represent quiet strength.

Some examples of oral tells your opponents may say:

“I really don’t know what to do here… I’ll go all in.”

“Who raised?”

“Oh, did you raise?”

These oral speeches of confusion are all bad attempts at acting weak. Most people are not good actors, otherwise we would all be trying out for Hollywood! A general rule, when your opponents act weak, they are strong.

Live poker tells; Signs of Weakness

  1. Poker StrategyActing Strong

Players often behave in a way representing the reverse of their hand strength. So if they have a weak hand they will try and represent a strong hand.  This is standard advanced poker strategy. They may for instance talk their hand up, or throw chips into the pot, or try to be assertive. These are all potential signs of a person with a weak hand trying to deceive their opponent. Although a common poker tell you do of course have to be careful. If the player acts quickly on their turn it is likely a bluff, But if they act slowly and deliberately, thinking about their action, they probably are strong. You need to understand the type of player you are up against. If you get it right it is one of the top poker reads.


  1. Poker StrategyFreezing

When a player makes a bluff, especially a big bluff, the pressure they are under is immense. In real life your body tightens up when you tell a lie versus when you tell a truth. In a Texas hold’em poker game you might see this if someone has placed a big bet and is bluffing. They will become very still, their fists clenched. All their actions are slow and stiff. They might stare at a spot on the wall or table and refuse to look anywhere else until their opponents have finished their action. Because of the pressure they are under they can’t relax.

They also find their voice becomes shaky. If you talk to them they don’t respond for fear of giving themselves away. They don’t want to engage in social interaction because of the worry of their bluff being figured out. Tightening up under pressure, such as when bluffing or calling with a weak hand, is a common poker tell.


  1. Poker StrategyLong Checking period

Most of the time if someone takes a long time to check, they are weak. There is no reason for it. If they take time to bet, its different, because they are trying to work out how to gain maximum value. But if they take time to check, it’s more likely they are trying to work out whether to bluff or not. And if they don’t bluff, they want you to think that they have a strong hand anyway, hoping it stops you from raising. And if its on the river, they will be hoping that you won’t risk a bet against them and they could win with a weak hand.


  1. Poker StrategyDouble tells

Double tells are an advanced poker strategy most likely to be made by an experienced poker player, hoping to catch a less experienced player out. A new player to the game is not likely to pick up on double tells. They are best used against medium level players. An experienced player may, for instance, deliberately look away from the table when they have a weak hand. This is to represent strength, reversing on of the common poker tells as discussed in the first of the tells in this article. The player knows you are aware of this common tell and is using it to his advantage when he is now holding a weak hand. If you know the player and know they are experienced, when you see them try this tell work, you can figure out he is trying to trick you and has a weak hand.

Live poker tells; Conclusion

These are a few of the common poker tells inexperienced players will consciously and subconsciously perform at the poker table. More advanced tells start with double tells and will proceed to more specific custom poker tells. A custom tell is a particular tell that only a specific player happens to be doing and they are completely unaware of it. For instance if a player has a monster hand he might move his cards behind his chips. Or he could scratch his left ear whenever he has the nuts. This would be a top poker read, but you would need to observe a player over time to work this out.

The best way to get better at reading other players’ tells is by practicing what you have learnt. Get out there and play lots of games, pay attention all the time when you are at the table to the actions of others. Look for common poker tells. Pay particular attention to a players’ actions who then goes to showdown. This gives you an opportunity to work out how they play what cards they have been raising / betting / calling with. Information on your opponent is critical in poker and of course forms part of an advanced poker strategy. It can be difficult at first reading poker tells, but once you learn how to read tells you will see a whole new side to the game.

And Then:

Finally, there is one other aspect, your own tells. When you are in a hand you must try to be conscious of what signals you are unconsciously giving away. Make sure you know what your hands and face are doing when you are under stress or when you have a big hand and make sure that you are not giving away any of the common poker tells. And try some of those reverse tells, see if you can make them work. Good luck.

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