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Undoubtedly, every poker player is familiar with tells – mannerisms, physical motions, facial expressions, vocal sounds – that can give strong clues into players’ hands. We have often discussed them.

A player shakes his head from side-to-side as the dealer shows the flop. “Shucks! I missed on the flop!” The player sits upright as the dealer puts the turn card on the board. “Wow! That made my hand.” A player covers his mouth as he prepares to bet on the river. He’s bound to be bluffing.

The idea is you want to observe your opponents and identify any tells they may inadvertently offer; the information is so valuable, helping you to make the best decisions. Avoid giving any tells that will help your opponents (the “enemy”) in playing their hands against you.

Reverse tells are just the opposite. Now, when bluffing is the only way you can win that pot, your goal is to deceive your opponent, so he will fold when he should call or raise. On the other hand, when you hold the nuts, you want him to stay in the pot, calling, betting, or raising – to help contribute to its size, so you can win even more chips. Reverse tells can help make it happen.

As a matter of fact, we discussed reverse tells in conjunction with the Esther Bluff tactic. While we did introduce the Esther Bluff as a plan of action (tactic) to support your bluffs, it may well be regarded as a reverse tell:

You act in such a way as to get into your opponent’s head to convince him he should muck his cards – and yield the pot to you. In fact, the bluff itself is a giant reverse tell.

In conjunction with the Esther Bluff, we suggested using the Richard B. Reverse Tell as reinforcement. Normally, when a player leans forward in his seat, it indicates real interest – a strong hand; leaning back is just the opposite – a weak hand.

When you are bluffing, you want to convince the enemy you have a very strong hand, so he is more likely to muck his cards, thinking he is saving himself another big bet. On the other hand, when you hold the nuts, you want your opponent to call your monster hand; in that case, leaning back would be a viable reverse tell.

More reverse tell examples: When you catch the nuts on the turn, your goal now is to build the pot as big as possible. Slowly turn your head from side-to-side as you examine your hole cards.

If it’s a loose game and you are in an early position, your “check” may encourage an opponent behind you to make the bet. When the betting gets back to you, check-raise to build “your pot.” In a late position, consider just calling the turn bet, and plan to raise on the river.

Likewise, a common tell is to rub or touch your neck, indicative of a weak hand. Use it as a reverse tell when you flop that monster and want your opponents to bet and raise, helping to build the size of the pot you expect to win.

When holding a drawing hand and the turn misses you, but you would like to see the river for free – at least, without a raised bet – sit up straight in your chair (suggesting a strong hand) and/or move your right hand to your chips, and hope your opponents take note.

There is no shortage of tells; but you do have to look for them. That’s why it pays to be alert and focus on the game. Avoid the temptation to watch the action-filled football game being shown on the big TV mounted up on the wall. Don’t eat your dinner while playing. Don’t play if you are very tired.

Now that you know what are tells – at least the more common ones, consider how you might best use these in reverse.

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

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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