How to read your opponents’ tells at the poker table

May 1, 2012 3:09 AM

Dilbert is a cartoon character created by Scott Adams, published in the Los Angeles Times. (Except for Dilbert, a few great columnists, and the Sudoku puzzles, I would have stopped my subscription years ago. I don’t appreciate reading biased editorials. And the local news is rather skimpy.)

In this cartoon, Dilbert was criticized by his boss: “I’m rolling my eyes because you believe everything you read on the Internet.” Dilbert has a fast comeback: “I should take a picture in case someone ever asks me if ignorance has a tell.”

Apparently Dilbert (or his creator) is a poker player. 

Certainly, as poker grows in popularity, there may be even more references to poker terms – such as “tells” – in our lives. (Who doesn’t know what “an ace up his sleeve” means?) As a matter of fact, we have been using “tells” for years without referring to them as such.

 When involved in negotiations if the other party leans forward as you make your pitch that “tells” you he is receptive. On the opposite extreme, if he turns away from you, that’s a tell you are losing him. You don’t have to be a “tells” expert to recognize these.

If you want to become expert at reading your opponents’ tells at the poker table, Mike Caro’s book, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells, is full of helpful examples. He even has a 90-minute DVD, Caro’s Pro Poker Tells, that makes it even easier to become expert at reading your opponents’ tells.

It may seem that some people are more adept at it than the rest of us. Pat Saikeo, who has been a member of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group since it started seven years ago, earned our Grapefruit Award by identifying and interpreting more tells than anyone else in our Poker Lab. (We also have Poker Classes and Poker Workshops for our seniors.)

DO TELL!

What makes a tells expert? Why was Pat Saikeo able to read so many more tells than anyone else in our Poker Lab? Does she have a special aptitude? And how did Caro become so expert at it? There’s even a former FBI agent who shares his “tells” expertise with others, on TV.

While I don’t consider myself an expert, I have become rather skilled at reading tells as the hole cards are dealt and when the dealer turns up the flop. As I teach my seniors’ poker group, look to your left as the players first peek at their hole cards and then when the flop is placed on the board.

The opponents to your left are the ones who will bet after you. It helps to know if one is preparing to raise, call, check or fold. Observe your opponent at the moment he first sees the flop. Did he glance at his chips or, better yet, did he grab a handful of chips? Did he shrug? How does he stack his chips?

According to Caro, a player who has neatly organized his stacks of chips, “will probably choose his hands carefully, seldom bluff and won’t display a lot of gamble.” Mike also suggests: “note that this fellow is very neatly attired. This is often…an indication of conservative play.”

STRATEGY

What’s the key? Why was Saikeo so much more skilled at reading tells? (By the way, she loves the grapefruits picked “hot off the tree.” They are much sweeter than the ones you buy in the market.)

 Developing a skill takes effort. In this case, observation is the key. Make the effort to study your opponents. Think about what you have just observed. Really look, see and THINK.

Ask yourself silently what did it mean? Do it at critical points during the hand, especially preflop and on the flop. Look at him rather than your own hole cards. They can wait.

Read Caro’s Book of Poker Tells then carefully observe your opponents as I have suggested and ask yourself what it means. Before you realize it, you will have become a poker tells expert. I guarantee it!

“The Engineer,” a noted author and poker professor at Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center and at West Los Angeles College, is a member of the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame. Contact him at [email protected])