When people are new to the game of poker they tend to assume that live tells are a crucial part of the game, perhaps the crucial part of the game. There's often an assumption that experienced players can look another player in the eye and instantly tell whether they're strong or weak, bluffing or value betting.
In reality, that's not usually the case. Most players – especially once they have played live a couple of times – are relatively adept at hiding major physical tells that can give the game away. After all, it's just common sense to stop smiling when you have a full house! It's usually more important to pay close attention to betting patterns, table image and how loose or tight someone is playing rather than trying to get a soul read from looking at their face. However, having said this, there are still some reliable tells that even experienced players will continue to give away, both live and (surprisingly) online
. Keep your eyes peeled for these and you might just be able to get that crucial bit of extra information.
The legs don't lie
Some of the most reliable tells happen in a place that poker players rarely look – under the table. It's manageable to control your face and upper body from any dramatic movements, but legs often have a mind of their own. Next time you're in a huge pot with someone take a discreet look at how their lower body is acting. If everything is still you can assume the player is cool, calm and probably telling the truth with their play. If that leg is shaking up and down like a puppet on a string then something is amiss. Either they are having trouble concealing their excitement at having the absolute nuts, or they are stressed out by the fact they are running a big bluff. It's up to you to work out which one it is but so long as you know they're polarised like this it should make your decision making easier.
Reaching for those chips
It's your turn to bet or check and, out of the corner of your eye, you see your opponent reaching for his chips before you have acted. We've all been here, but what does it mean?
You can rest assured they don't want you to bet. That movement is one of desperation to try and deceive you into thinking that any bet you make will instantly be called or raised. It should be a white flag to you to go ahead and bet whatever you have – much of the time it will result in a fold where you pick up the pot. Along those same lines if you ever see a player explicitly go to make a bet before eventually checking, they're going to be weak. When it's your turn to act, bet big and watch their hand go into the muck.
Deciphering tells in online poker
There's obviously a major difference between live and online poker – you can't see your opponents online – but there are still important tells to recognise. Most of these revolve around the amount of time that your opponents at the table take to make their decisions.
There are two timing tells to watch out for. The first is when a player calls a bet of yours immediately, without thinking. Whenever this happens you can be sure that they had a very easy decision to make. Usually this will mean they have something like top pair bad kicker, middle pair or a medium flush draw. All of those are hands where you wouldn't want to fold to a flop bet but you wouldn't ever consider raising either. If your opponent instead had complete air, something huge like a set or even a nut flush draw they would be likely to at least take the time to consider raising. You can discount all of these hands from their range if they act automatically. The chances are high that if you fire again on the turn you will win the hand.
The second timing tell to watch out for is when players go deep into their time bank on the river before making a raise. From experience, this will almost always be for value and not a bluff. When players make a big bluff the goal is to make it look as convincing as possible. Often, acting quickly and decisively is the best way to look strong so if someone does that the chances of them bluffing are higher. When you take your time it looks as though you have already made the decision to bet and are simply working out the perfect size to make it. It will often be a strong hand that you should consider folding against.