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Poker news | Sep 28, 2022

How to read poker players: The 5 most common tells

By RTR Alex

Negreanu header

Whether you're playing at the casino or wagering on the virtual felt, reading the other players at the poker table is absolutely vital if you're looking to take the pot. You may know the odds inside out, but experienced players will beat a good hand all day long if they can pick up tells easily. This is why reading people is so important if you want to find success in games like Texas Hold'em.

Now, most people think reading poker players is all about body language, and that definitely comes into play, but you can also read players bythe way they are playing. This is why, even when you play online, you can use your reading abilities to outplay opponents and win the hand despite the cards you hold.

So, today we're going to run through some of the most common poker tells you'll find both online and in person, and hopefully you'll walk away with an edge that takes your game to the next level.

Tell 1: Eager bettors

Most regular players will know that when your opponent reaches for their chips before you've even made your bet, they've likely got quite a strong hand.

This is often very reliable, as someone holding a good hand tends to sit still and make no movements, completely comfortable in their position. So, when they do reach for their stack as soon as they possibly can - be worried, they're likely holding the nuts.

This works online, as well as when you're playing live: if a player's raises or bets almost instantly when the action turns to them, it shows that they made their mind up long ago. This usually isn't the case for someone with a weaker hand, who would either fold early, or take some time to judge the bets that have come before them and decide the best way to continue in the hand while minimising losses. Bluffing is a much more complex play, than leading the table when you know you'll take the pot.

Timing is key.

Tell 2: Defensive Movements

Players may be obvious when their hand is strong, but they'll try to be much more subtle when they have a weak hand.

Although they can be harder to spot, there are still some tells to look out for that often signal a player feeling a little stuck with some bad cards.

The likelihood is that someone with a weak hand, will do something subtle to try and stop you betting, which could force them into an unwanted bluff.

Here are a couple movements you might spot:

  • Moving their chips before checking to the aggressor

Let's say the action is on the player early in the hand - they could be under the gun, or follow a check from someone else at the table. If they start to play with their chips, or look around - maybe taking another look at their cards - but they simply end up checking, this is often a sign that they wanted to convince the table they were considering betting, when in reality they were going to check the whole time. Good players won't make this mistake, and great players will be able to spot this 'fake contemplation' a mile off. You could take some time to study your opponents through the game, they may resort to this move quite regularly - try remembering their cards the last time they did.

  • Subtle movements towards another players chips

While nobody would mess with another player's chip stack, very subtle movements towards their chips could be an indicator of defensive play from a weak hand. This could be as subtle as a twitch of the hand, or leaning over the table, but it will often occur when the other player is contemplating a bet.

Subtle indicators like this are far from reliable - but the more information you can gather, the better. If you can spot multiple tells for defensive play, it could be an opportunity to bluff.

Note: It's always best to study your players over the course of the game to learn how they normally behave - this will make it much easier to spot anything out of the blue.

More importantly, even when you correctly spot the tells for a weak hand, there's no guarantee your bluff will force a fold and you could end up losing the pot if your hand is weaker. You should also factor in how stubborn the opponent is when you consider bluffing

Tell 3: Hesitations and pauses when betting big

While eager betting can signal a strong hand, bet sizing is a huge thing to consider when it comes to tells.

Players will make quick bets and slower, more thoughtful bets depending on the hand they have, but crucially - when a player is betting big - it can be even easier to tell what they're holding.

If your opponent is putting a significant portion of they're stack into the pot, a player that does so very quickly, almost as if they haven't thought much about it - they probably have a weak hand.

When bluffing, players will often make big bets as if it means nothing to them, in an attempt to convey self-confidence and assuredness that they have the winning hand. Plus, they don't want the attention to be on them for any longer than it needs to - giving their opponents less time to study them.

Instead, when a player has good cards and they're looking to bet big, they often have important things to consider, like real maths to do to work out the odds (unlike the bluffer who is trying to fool everyone). More importantly, they may be trying to convey uncertainty in their bet, so that other players believe they are bluffing and throw their chips into a pot they're bound to lose. All of this leads to more hesitation and pauses when they move to bet, for example:

  • A lot of stop start movements when they are collecting their chips to bet.

  • Announcing a bet or raise, then taking a while to say the amount.

Note: It's usually easier to spot a strong-handed bet over a weak one, especially on big hands. If a player is holding the nuts, they're often willing and comfortable to make moves and decisions that a bluffer is not.

Tell 4: Double-checking cards

Double-checking hole cards can be a great tell, but it can have different meanings depending upon the situation.

1. If a player double-checks his cards multiple times, and ends up checking - they could have a weak hand.

For example: they call a pre-flop raise, see the flop, double-check their cards, then check.

This sort of play can indicate weakness as, if they had flopped a good hand, they'd likely follow up their first bet with another strong addition to the pot (ie: not check).

Note: A raise followed by a check, is usually a good sign that the hand became weaker between betting rounds.

Their checking of the cards also indicates uncertainty about their hand. If they have to double check their cards after a flop to see what hand they now have, it's likely their hole cards alone weren't worthy of the pre-flop raise - therefore it's likely they weren't holding much and are now looking to find a good hand on the table.

2. If a player makes a big bet, then they double-check their cards - they could have a strong hand

For example: they bet big on the river, then they look at their cards.

If this player had bluffed they likely wouldn't want to make any motions that could convey uncertainty, like needing to remind oneself of their hole cards. This type of movement could signal relaxation and comfort after sweetening a pot they believe they'll win.

Note: This is a great example of how context can change the tell for the same action. Identical things can signal different things depending on the situation, especially if it's a big or a small bet.

Tell 5: Goading

Goading is when a player will try to sway the decision of an opponent by saying something that may urge them to make a certain move.

When a player is engaging in goading, they're more likely to have a strong or medium strength hand. The reason for this is that it's difficult to know how an opponent will react to goading, some may take it personally and attempt to bet you out of the hand and off the table, while others could fold if you convey too much confidence.

Someone with a weak hand doesn't want to risk agitating an opponent and trigger a 'call-reflex' where the opponent will play every hand just to try and take their whole stack - like a personal vendetta. More importantly, weak-handed players have an obvious fear of looking stupid. If they goad an opponent, get called and lose the hand, they'll look foolish in front of the whole table.

Unpredictability is exactly what bluffers want to avoid, while someone who is convinced they'll win the hand, often doesn't care what their opponents do - especially if the pot is already big enough for their liking. Folding doesn't bother them, and a call/raise only increases their winnings.

Some examples of goading could be:

  • I dare you to call me.

  • You know you have to fold this one.

  • You call this and you'll only have one big blind.

  • You’re going to let me bluff you?

Note: This tends to be more common during online cash games, as live poker games tend to have stewards roaming the casino floor that won't tolerate too much goading. Most online poker rooms also have chats where players can talk during and between hands. Generally, people will be more likely to goad online rather than in person as it takes a lot of confidence