Look to left, judge tells, before deciding to bet

Look to left, judge tells, before deciding to bet

July 24, 2018 3:00 AM


In the first of this series on common mistakes poker players often make, we discussed those related to time. Avoid those mistakes or go home a loser. Today, let’s look at mistakes related to tells.

Almost every poker player is wont to give tells – words, vocal sounds, facial expressions, physical movements – depending on his hand and the situation. Tells occur at the spur of the moment. You never know when. It could be as simple as a big smile on the opponent’s face when he has caught a big hand. Often, a player may not be aware of his tells – information he gives to the “enemy” about his hand. And it’s for free!

Most players have learned to keep a “poker face.” But, even so, there will be many tells along the way. Look for them. So many players fail to do so – and suffer the consequences of this mistake.

Here’s an example of a fairly common tell that is easily discernible – if you look for it: An opponent suddenly sits up straight in his chair and studies the board. Then he glances at his holecards to reassure himself before acting. That rather abrupt motion and display of strong interest in the cards suggests he has caught a big hand. It should be a fairly obvious tell.

However, you must be alert and focused on the game and your opponents to observe it and realize its significance. That tell can give you valuable information as to how best to play your hand.

A player who is watching the basketball game being shown on the big-screen TV mounted up on the wall is not going to see his opponents’ tells. He’ll miss them because he was distracted away from the game underway. That’s his mistake. Avoid it by fixing your attention only on the hand being played and watching your opponents who are involved; avoid distractions.

The same applies to a player who is engaged in deep conversation with someone behind him. He is missing the opportunity to observe his opponents, to look for their tells. I see it so often.

In our seniors’ poker classes, we are taught to look to the left before betting – especially preflop. Example: Playing hold’em, in a middle position, you have been dealt a borderline starting hand. In that case, your starting hand is worth a single bet to stay to see the flop – but not if there is a raise (a two-bet). You are willing to invest one bet – no more.

As you look to your left before acting, try to observe if any opponent is picking up a batch of chips – enough to make a raise. That’s a great tell; it offers valuable information as you decide whether to call to see the flop. It’s especially important if your opponent is a tight player. Depending on the tell, you can save some precious chips by folding. So, in such a situation, a player who fails to see this tell – simply because he didn’t look for it – is likely to lose another batch of chips.

Information, such as that provided by tells, is so important in poker; it allows you to make better decisions. I suggest you read Mike Caro’s book on poker tells. The information is there for the taking. But so many players fail to seek these opportunities. That’s their mistake.

Note: There are also “reverse tells” a deceptive player may use (pre-planned) to mislead his opponents. But that’s a whole different story.