Detecting and interpreting tells in poker leads to victory
May 10, 2011 6:00 AM
by George Epstein
As we discussed in an earlier column in GamingToday, "tells" are usually regarded as actions or reactions a player might inadvertently display that can provide information that helps you make decisions in your favor.
Mike Caro, the "Mad Genius of Poker," has written a book and produced DVD about tells, covering many such mannerisms. With practice you can become expert at detecting and interpreting tells. But there are other types of tells – not based on mannerisms – for which we ought look and listen.
In our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group, we have some really remarkable members. One is Richard B. Before retirement, he was an outstanding manager in an agency of the State of California, earning the admiration and respect of all he worked with and to whom his office provided special services.
Likewise, Richard has earned our poker group’s respect for, among other things, being our "tells expert." In a recent talk at our poker lab, Richard offered several rather unique tells – those neither he nor I had ever read about or seen in a DVD.
Here’s one tell Richard discovered while playing in a local casino. In Richard’s words:
"After the showdown, one player noticed another player had J-10 offsuit as his hole cards. He said to the player, ‘You know, those two are very good cards to have.’ Using our Hold’em Algorithm, J-10 is 28 points and well worth staying to see the flop. This (statement) led me to believe that the player who said this, is a very good player who would likely hold good cards at the showdown."
By listening to what this opponent said during the game, Richard was able to gain information about what to expect from how this opponent played his hands – information, like any other tell, that would later help him to make a better decision.
Here’s another tell from listening to your opponents. Richard observed that "players often tell the truth when they are between hands." By way of example, Richard related how a player who, between hands, made a statement that was actually a tell:
"She said, ‘When I bet, I always have something.’ And she always did. No bluffs here!"
Richard had correlated her play with her spoken words... A valuable tell.
In this same category ("Listening to Your Opponents"), Richard explained: "One player said, ‘My favorite hole cards are K-4.’ I watched out for this the rest of the time she was at the table."
Richard suggested we look for players who are drinking alcoholic beverages while playing poker at the table. That "obvious" (if you are observant) tell can help you make future decisions when in a hand against such an opponent.
He is more likely to make a mistake – perhaps even misread his cards or the board. If you are debating whether to call his bet on the river, be inclined to call rather than to fold.
Here’s another tell in the same "obvious" category:
"As night wears on, players get looser." (Yes, I have observed that, too.)
Taking this information into account, can give you a definite edge over your opponents.
Watch hole cards
Richard stated he had observed that one player always raised preflop with two cards of the same suit or two connectors without realizing that this is a tell.
I too have used this information to decide how to play some hands against such a player. I also determine early in the game whether or not he is a tight player. This observation goes along with this tell.
"Some players," Richard said, "ask the dealer for a specific card before the river. If that card comes up, be careful. I think they may be truthful."
Then Richard discussed a corollary to that tell – what he labels a reverse tell:
"Occasionally ask the dealer for a card that would NOT help your hand; but, if it came up, make a bluff."
In summary, it’s wise to look, listen for (and use) tells of every variety to gain a big edge over your opponents who are not nearly as observant – while you give out only reverse tells.
For comments or questions contact George "The Engineer" Epstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.