A discussion of poker's 'Ultimate Tell'

Sep 10, 2013 3:00 AM

We all know tells, as defined by Mike Caro (“The Mad Genius of Poker”), are “mannerisms that, when correctly interpreted, allow you to determine what type of hand your opponent is holding and whether or not he is bluffing.”

(Ref. Caro’s Most Profitable Hold’em Advice; Mike Caro; email: [email protected]). This includes facial expressions, inadvertent physical actions, observable reactions to other players’ betting, any comments he might make, or even the sound of his voice – whatever information you might be able to glean.

Even if you never played poker, undoubtedly you have heard of a “poker face” – a person’s face displaying no emotion; it lacks any expression. Poker players often keep a poker face to avoid giving any tells.

Yes, observing tells can give you a big edge over your opponents who “offer” their tells (they are there for the looking) and over the other players who don’t bother to look for them.

But, today, let’s discuss a rather special tell – I call it the “ultimate tell” – that, to my knowledge, no one has ever talked about; nor have I ever seen anyone write about it before. Yet it occurs so often at the poker table.

Looking at holecards: I always teach my beginner poker classes how best to look at their holecards – so no one else, especially their neighbors seated on either side of them, can see their holecards. Just think of the consequences.

With your holecards laying on the table, turn up the corners using one hand, while shielding the cards with your other hand.

But, invariably, as time passes, I will observe some of them violating that warning; so I remind them.

Even long-experienced players make the mistake. As they look at their holecards so they can easily see them, inadvertently they hold them up so the cards are exposed to their neighbors.

Even fairly good players have done just that at the poker table. Are they just careless? The other night I was seated to the right of such a player. In general, I would otherwise classify him as a competent and skilled player.

As I was preparing to examine my own holecards, he often exposed his holecards to me. Fortunately for me, his chips were stacked on the other side of his holecards, so the chips did not block the view for me. He lifted the sides of the cards off the table, turned slightly in my direction and within my peripheral vision.

Mind you, he didn’t do it every hand, but often enough to give me a big edge over him and the other players at the table. When I had A-10 suited in the hole, it sure gave me more confidence in my hand when I saw his A-8 offsuit, which he played all the way to the river when an Ace flopped.

Knowing he had a pair of Aces with a weaker kicker than mine, made it all the easier for me to bet my hand. (The 10 on the river also helped.)

Ultimate tell: It’s when an opponent looks at his holecards in such a way as to expose them to another player. Many years ago, when I played against friends and later, in the early days of my casino-playing experience, I would turn my head away when an opponent exposed his cards in this fashion.

I soon realized it was the player’s option as to how he looked at his holecards. If he wants to carelessly expose his cards, who am I to deny him? And, I have seen players expose their holecards even more flagrantly than the case above – actually lifting the cards well above the table as they carelessly look them over. Just watch.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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