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Most poker players are familiar with the concept of tells; and they often seek such informative clues from their opponents. However, at the same time, they fail to consider their own similar tells that can substantially benefit their opponents as they compete for the chips. Why arm the enemy? 

My compliments to Willy Neuman on his column, “A Different Way of Fixing Tells” in the February 2019 issue of Ante Up magazine. The column may be short in words, but its message is powerful.

In his quite intriguing column, Neuman identifies a mistake – a quite serious mistake – many poker players are likely to make over and over again, without realizing it. By way of example, Neuman offers a number of tells for which he himself might be at fault. It’s certainly worth our time to understand and avoid making such tells in the “heat of battle.”

Toward that end, Neuman’s suggestions: 

• “Do everything identically” – regardless of the strength or weakness of your hand. 

• “Never look at your cards until the action comes to you.” Note: While doing so, I have been berated for holding up the game. Smile and pay no attention. 

• “Place card markers on your cards the same way every time.” 

• “Look at your hole cards for the same amount of time.” 

• “Reach for your chips or pick up your cards to fold, only when it is your turn to act.” 

In this regard, we could add several other tells to consider:

• Observe your opponents, especially those seated to your left – who will act after you – as they first peek at their hole cards.  

What valuable information can you gain – even when they keep a “poker face?” And, of course, as Neuman warns, avoid giving this tell yourself. 

• Here is one I have often taught in my seniors poker classes: Especially when you hold a mediocre hand, look to your left before acting during every round of betting. Try to spot if any opponent is picking up a batch of chips – enough to make a raise. Some players make it a habit of picking up their chips before the betting gets to you. That can save you a batch of chips.

• Abruptly moving your body while seated to better study the board: As Irene Edith told us in Gaming Today back in 2017, that sudden, strong interest in the cards suggests you have caught a big hand.

Example, abruptly sitting up straight in your chair to study the board, then glancing at your hole cards. 

• Similarly, don’t allow yourself to become immersed in the big basketball game being shown on the TV mounted up on the wall.  An occasional glance is O.K, but make it infrequent. While doing so, a rapid shift to focus on the poker game can tell an opponent that you just caught a strong hand. 

Most recreational poker players will neglect to seek out such tells from their opponents. And by the same token they are likely to give their opponents such tells – all to their own detriment. 

Every poker player realizes that information allows you to make better decisions. It’s so valuable! Tells are a great source. I strongly recommend that you read Mike Caro’s book on poker tells. The information is there for the taking. But so many players fail to seek these opportunities.

Their loss. It’s bound to cost a bunch of precious chips. 

If you use deception such as bluffing or slow-playing (you should do some to be a winner), there are also “reverse tells” that can be used (pre-planned) to mislead your opponents. My book, “The Art of Bluffing,” describes such tells to improve your success in bluffing out opponents.  

It’s worth the effort. The same applies to building the pot when you hold a monster hand, especially if it’s the nuts. But that’s a whole different story. 

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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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