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Poker has a language of its own. Much of it is borrowed from our daily lives and adapted to the game. Oft-used examples include straight, flush, pair, set, bluff, semi-bluff, bet, limp, raise, fold, blind, turn, river. By far, my favorite is “tells.”

Poker guru Mike Caro (the “Mad Genius of Poker”) defines tells as “mannerisms that, when correctly interpreted, allow you to decide what type of hand your opponent is holding and whether or not he is bluffing.” Caro’s Book of Poker Tells uses photographs to illustrate and comment on various tells. Mike says, “Beyond fundamental strategy, tells are the most powerful and profitable weapon available to any poker warrior.”

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My own book, The Art of Bluffing, discusses the use of tells when you are bluffing. Inasmuch as bluffing is an essential part of the game, if you never bluff, you are bound to be a loser. Let us examine tells as related to success in bluffing. The same applies when you are semi-bluffing.

There is one tell that has become my favorite. Let me explain. Poker is a game of partial information. So, the more information you can gather, the greater your edge over your opponents — and the more likely you will win that pot.

It is only logical that a player is most anxious to see the hole cards dealt out to him when the hand starts. I have learned to wait to peek at my hole cards until after I observe my opponents seated to my left as they first look at the two hole cards dealt to them.

Quite often, the player will respond without realizing it. His facial expression may very well inform you as to whether he liked what he saw. If he sits up in his seat or grabs a bunch of chips from his racks, preparing to bet — or, if it is a big bunch of chips, he may be planning to raise — those tells are immensely valuable to you. Couple that with other information you have about that player, and you can make the best decision for your own benefit. At a full table, it is hard to observe all the players during those few seconds when they first look at their hole cards. Those to your left will be acting after you, so their hands are the most significant for you.

Some other tells that indicate strong hands may include the following: Did your opponent do any of these things as he first peeked at his hole cards? Look around the table? Take a deep swallow? Hold his breath? Rub his neck? Put down his drink? Suddenly turn his attention away from the cocktail waitress? Stop talking to his neighbor?

Just as you scrutinize your opponents, they too seek tells you may unintentionally give. Better would be to give a reverse tell — one that will encourage your opponent to act in your best interest.

For example, when you catch a monster hand and want your opponents to call your bet/raise, shaking your head from side to side may do the trick for you. Just use your imagination.

Life/Poker Quote of the Week

“Good enough is not enough. It is ever the enemy of the best.” — H. Atkinson

Strive to be the best at the poker table. It pays. 

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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