Tells are mannerisms that give important information about a player’s hand. Books have been written about tells. My favorite is Mike Caro’s “Book of Tells,” first published in 1984 by Gambling Times.
The idea is to observe your opponent’s mannerisms – his body language, how he acts, his habitual gestures, eye movements, expressions on his face – and then relate these to how he plays his hand. The best tells, by far, are those that are easy to observe, interpret, and completely involuntary. He doesn’t realize he is giving a tell.
These occur when your opponent first looks at the two hole cards dealt to him, and, then, when the dealer lays the flop on the board. I attended one of George “The Engineer” Epstein’s recent lectures at a local senior center, when he first described these “easy tells.”
Every poker player is anxious to see his hole cards. Watching him at that moment can provide some valuable information, helping you make the best decision before investing your precious chips. There are various easy tells he might display.
His eyes open wide as he peeks at his hole cards; he probably has been dealt a strong starting hand. Likewise, if he moves his body to sit upright, glances down at his chips, or looks around the table. Then watch to see if he picks up any chips – in preparation to call to see the flop; if he picks up many more chips than it takes for a call, he may be planning to raise when the betting gets to him.
Not all players show these tells, especially the more experienced ones; but, even if it’s only one or two, the information would be quite valuable.
Relate that tell to the type of player involved. If a tight player displays one or more of these tells, you would be wise to fold all except made or premium drawing hands. You would be less concerned if the opponent was a loose-aggressive (LAG) player. Depending on the strength of your own hole cards, you might even want to raise the LAG. In either case, if you were dealt a made hand, a raise would help to thin the field.
You might also get a tell if your opponent is planning to fold. How he holds his cards – ready to pitch them into the muck – can be a valuable tell – and so easy to see. But, with eight other players at your table, you can’t observe all of them at the same time. Realize the opponents with whom you are most concerned are those who will act after you – the players to your left. Those should be your prime targets for seeking tells. It is best to observe them at the moment when they first look at their hole cards.
Of course, as Epstein explained, you are just as anxious to see what hole cards you have been dealt. You can look at your own cards just after observing your opponents for tells.
It takes willpower and self-discipline to wait. Be patient. Probably the most important decision is whether to invest in your starting hand – preflop. It doesn’t cost you any chips if you fold – but, you cannot be a winner if you don’t play any hands.
The next best time to observe your opponents for these easy tells is as the flop is placed on the board. As before, your opponents are anxious to see if the flop helps their hands. After all, the flop will show them over 70 percent of their final hands. So, once again, look to your left as the dealer prepares to turn up the three cards on the flop. The same tells apply here, too.
Yet another possible easy tell: If he moves his body to better see the board, chances are the flop improved his hand.
Certainly, you can look for other tells as the hand is played; but these are the easiest – and best.