Look for tells if you suspect a poker player is bluffing

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I was at my dentist’s office for extensive dental work. I was sitting in the dentist chair while Dr. Goldy (an excellent dentist, I should add) had his hand in my mouth operating a drill.

I felt the need to communicate with him. But, that was barely possible with the drill grinding away while my mouth was immobilized. I made strange guttural sounds, only he could interpret. (That must take lots of dental training and experience.)

Then, sitting in that chair, a thought came to mind: “This reminds me of using tells at the poker table.” So, I decided to share this with you. Thanks to Dr. Goldy and his dentist chair for this column.

As most of you know, a “tell” at the poker table is anything you might do that gives your opponent information about your hand – a body movement (“body language”), a facial expression, eye movement, words you might say, even the tone of your voice. FYI, here’s a preview of a section of my new poker-book-in-preparation, “The Art of Bluffing” (due to be published early 2014).

Tells When Bluffing

When you suspect an opponent is bluffing, it pays to look for tells. It can be very rewarding when your small pair takes the pot away from the brazen bluffer. Here are typical tells to look for if you suspect your opponent is trying to bluff you out of the pot.

Give serious thought to calling his bet when you spot any of these tells:

• Covering his mouth with his hand;

• Leaning back in his chair;

• Touching, stroking or rubbing his neck;

• An apparent departure in his normal behavior, such as speaking more or less often;

• “Freezing” in his seat, becoming relatively immobile;

• Taking a deep breath and holding it;

• Taking a big swallow (gulp!);

• Licking his lips.

If you look hard enough, you may spot some of these. But you must deliberately look for them. It’s not likely to happen by accident. Study your opponent carefully.

Of course, the complementary also applies: If you are the one who is doing the bluffing, be sure you steer clear of these tells. (Don’t give an opponent an excuse for calling you while you are trying to bluff him out.)

Tells Before the Flop

(Note: There are books by experts like Mike Caro and Joe Navarro that provide profound information about many poker tells).

In my opinion, among the most valuable are tells before the flop. I teach my Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group to focus on the opponents seated to their left as they first peek at their hole cards. (Look at your own hole cards a bit later.) Those are the players who will be betting after you; so the information can be extremely valuable in helping you decide whether to call, fold or raise.

For example, a tight player to your left peeks at his hole cards as the dealer delivers them. Instinctively, he sits straight up in his chair and his hand grabs a bunch of chips – “telling” you he has a very strong starting hand! Next, you examine your own hole cards. You have 9-8 offsuit, a marginal drawing hand you might have otherwise played had you not seen his tell. So, you fold and save yourself a bunch of chips!

I am sure you can identify still other tells.

Thanks to Dr. Goldy

Perhaps this column has served to help you to be more aware of tells, to try harder to observe – and interpret – them. If so, you can thank my dentist, Dr. Goldy. My guess is he is much too busy to join us in a game of poker – even with his expertise in interpreting my tells while seated in his dentist chair.

“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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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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