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As I reviewed some of the better poker columns I had saved over the years, one entitled “Misunderstood Tell” by Diane McHaffie caught my attention.

Diane was described in the 2012 article as director of operations at the Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. (That’s great credentials.)

Her topic was vividly identified as the “shaking hand tell.” It’s quite likely you have observed it on occasion if you watch your opponents as they play their hands in Texas Hold’em. What is the true meaning when a player’s hand trembles? Does it indicate the player is anxious and unsure? Nervous and uncertain of himself?

Most important

Does it mean he is bluffing? Recall that, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, bluffing is deceiving by pretense or a show of strength. Does the shaking hand qualify as a signal that an opponent is bluffing? Many poker players believe that is, indeed, the case.

McHaffie disagreed, warning if a player is bluffing, his hand will not be shaking as he shoves his chips into the pot. A bluffer makes conscious effort not to show any change from normal behavior. He doesn’t want the bluff-target to get suspicious. “He remains as still as a wooden Indian statue in front of a cigar store.”

On the other hand

Many of you are aware I am working on my third poker book, “The Art of Bluffing.” It will contain a new tactic – the Esther Bluff – and many new concepts to help you enjoy even more success when bluffing. This applies to all varieties of the game, including low-limit games that many top players claim are not bluffable because of the low cost to call an intended bluff-bet.

In $4-$8 low-limit games, my bluffs succeed over 70 percent of the time. That’s a great result, considering – I estimate – 30 percent success as the break-even.

The book will list many tells you should be aware of, and then avoid when you are bluffing; these could give bluff-targets an excuse for calling. None of these include the “Shaking Hand.” Ideally, you should look for the other tells to decide if an opponent is bluffing.

In describing the powerful Esther Bluff (our second bluffing tactic), I suggest, “It’s okay if you appear a bit nervous; who wouldn’t be excited to hold the nuts!” Caution: Just don’t seem too nervous.

Basically, I am in agreement with McHaffie when she says the “shaking hand” is frequently misdiagnosed as a tell. But, I do accept it as a small part of the Esther Bluff. The Esther Bluff uses the Richard B. Reverse Tell, which appears quite adequate for our purposes.

Simply lean forward in your seat at the table as you make your bluff-bet. Limit your use of Reverse Tells. Too many can defeat your purpose. As for the shaking hand tell, just allow the shaking hand to appear naturally and barely perceptible.

In summary

If a player’s hand shakes as he bets, do not automatically construe it as a tell signaling he is bluffing. Bluffers tend to remain as still as possible while making a bluff-bet. However, a slight hand tremble is natural when you catch a big hand. So, in fact, it is quite appropriate when bluffing; just make it seem natural and don’t overdo it.

“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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