Often, your opponents are not aware they are offering important information you can use to your advantage while competing against them. These are commonly referred to as tells.
Tells are actions or reactions a player may inadvertently display that can provide information that helps you to make better decisions in your favor.
Mike Caro, the “Mad Genius of Poker,” has a book and DVD about tells, covering many such mannerisms. With practice you can become fairly expert at detecting and interpreting tells. Here are my favorites that I teach at our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Lab.
Before the flop: As the hole cards are being dealt out, rather than peeking at your own, look at your opponents as they examine theirs – especially players to your left. (You can see your own cards afterwards.)
Look for facial expressions or body motions. It’s the immediate reactions that are of most interest – when first seeing the hole cards. If a player sits upright, if a hand goes to the chips, if eyes open wide, or if a smile is seen, that usually means the player finds cards beautiful to behold.
The opposite also applies.
It doesn’t always work. Many players keep a poker face that displays little if any emotion. But, when it does work, it’s powerful information you can use.
If I have a marginal drawing hand and the player to my left picks up a huge stack of chips while looking at hole cards, I am better off folding – unless I know the person is tricky. That tell probably has saved me some chips, especially if my hand would have improved enough on the flop to keep me in the pot all the way to the river – only to lose to my opponent’s better starting hand.
Closely allied to this tell is when a very tight player raises before the flop. Unless I have a powerful starting hand, that’s a clear signal to fold my hole cards. (The dollars you save are worth more than the dollars you win. That’s because you must pay income taxes on your winnings but not on your losses.)
After the flop: As the dealer spreads out the three cards on the board, certainly you are anxious to see if and how it helped your hand. That’s only human. Resist that temptation. Instead, look to your left; observe your opponents’ reactions. Look for tells.
The opponents to your left are the most important ones because they will be betting after you. Those who declare before you are less of a threat. You will know how they bet or raise before declaring. Of course it helps to know which of your opponents are deceptive or tricky. You can take that information into account when responding.
You may be able to apply that same strategy on the turn and river, although it is likely to be less revealing. Don’t let that stop you. Always look for tells to get an edge over your opponents.
Certainly, as Caro points out, there are other tells, many of which are described in his writings. To the extent you are aware of these and learn how to use them, there’s a big edge over your opponents. Also, by being aware of these, you are better able to guard against giving a tell yourself.
Using tells to your advantage: It would be negligent if I didn’t inform you of what our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group calls “reverse tells.” These are tells you can employ on purpose to give your opponent the opposite information.
I use the Richard B. Reverse Tell to augment the Esther Bluff, as reinforcement to that powerful tactic. (Richard is one of our “students” in the Seniors Poker Group who has become a consistent winner in low-limit hold’em.)
Simply lean forward in your chair while doing the Esther Bluff. The combination can work miracles for you.
In summary, it’s wise to look for (or use) tells to gain a big edge over your opponents who are not nearly as observant. And, avoid giving tells.
NOTE (For comments, questions contact George “The Engineer” Epstein at [email protected]).