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In poker, tells are mannerisms, physical actions, facial expressions, words, body motions – anything that can give a player information about an opponent’s hand.

It’s no secret tells can gain you an edge over your opponents. Then, you can make better decisions in your favor. Of course, it can just as easily work the other way around. You could have one or more tells that work to your disadvantage when an opponent recognizes it, and then makes decisions in his own favor – not yours.

Not to change the subject; we all enjoy good jokes. There are even some related to the game of poker. You may have heard or read this poker joke (slightly modified for our GT readers):

A member of the Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group was surprised when he was invited to a friend’s home to play poker. There, seated at the dining room table, was his friend, five other men and a dog, all playing Texas hold’em. After being seated, he watched the game. Then, he commented on the remarkable performance of the dog.

“He’s not so smart as all that,” the dog’s owner, one of the other guests, replied in disgust. “Every time he gets a good hand, he wags his tail.”

Funny story, but it makes a good point: Many of us have tells without realizing it. These inadvertent motions, facial expressions, even our verbal utterances, can communicate information to our opponents (the “enemy”) that can really hurt us. Giving your opponents information about your hand or intentions, can cost you a pot, or make it more expensive when you lose.

My Big Tell: Some years ago, my wife and I were visiting Las Vegas. We played poker at the old Flamingo Casino where we were staying. We made it a practice to play at different tables, so as not to compete against each other. One evening, she came over to my table. Standing a few feet behind the dealer, she beckoned to me to come over. Her facial expression suggested something was of concern to her (a tell?). I got up and walked over.

I should explain that in those days, smoking was acceptable at the tables. I so enjoyed smoking a long “El Ropo” cigar while playing poker. (Perhaps it was a throwback to my five-and-dime college poker games in the dorm and fraternity house.)

As I approached, she turned away from the poker table and calmly said: “George, do you know you have a tell – a BIG tell?” I promptly replied, “Oh, come on, you got to be kidding.” “No,” she replied, “every time you have a good hand, the tip of your cigar glows bright.” I thought a moment. “By golly, I think you are right!”

Like the dog’s wagging tail, that tell must have been costing me. That’s when I quit smoking. Good motivation! (Besides, I knew it was not good for my health.)

In hindsight, it’s hard to say how much benefit I gained after learning of my “lighted-cigar tell.”

Stop and think for a moment or two: Let me ask if you have any tells? I had never imagined my lighted cigar could provide information about my hand to my “enemy” at the table. Today, I often give pause while seated at the table, to remind myself of that tell.

And then I ask myself: “George, do I have any others?”

The dog in the joke couldn’t help wagging his tail when he was pleased. Likewise, it was natural for me to take a deep puff when I made a good hand, causing my cigar to glow brightly.

How about you?

Of course, if you are playing at my table, you are welcome to have all the tells you want – even if you don’t realize it. Be my guest.

“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].

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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