Find the ultimate poker 'tell'

Jul 21, 2009 5:03 PM
by George ‘The Engineer’Epstein | Poker is a game of information – actually a game of partial information. You can never get all you would like. The more information you can glean during a hand, the better decisions you can make in your own best interests. (Skill is the ability to get information and to use it wisely.)

Tells are a powerful source of "potential" information. I say "potential" because it requires conscious effort on your part to get the information available from tells. If you don’t look for it, you won’t see it!

What is a Tell?

It’s a player’s physical or emotional response to the cards dealt (Reference: The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners; T/C Press) – an action, reaction or mannerism displayed by an opponent during the play that CAN give information about his hand.

There are various types of tells. The most widely discussed are involuntary tells – the player is completely unaware that he is offering this information; and voluntary tells (sometimes called "reverse tells") where the player tries to deceive the observer.

Today we are dealing with a third type: Strategic tells – where the player’s action is based on a strategy. (Some poker players may not regard these as tells.)

What is the Ultimate Tell?

A couple weeks ago, we discussed reading players through various tells. This week, we identify the "ultimate tell."

Of all possible tells, the best you might hope for would be when an opponent reveals his hole cards to you during the hand. There are players who carelessly look at their hole cards, inadvertently revealing one or both to a neighbor.

I suggest to my students that they accept this gracious offer: don’t turn your head away to avoid seeing his cards. But that’s rare. Most players are careful to keep their hole cards well shielded from prying eyes.

Other than that, I believe this: The ultimate tell is when a tight, non-deceptive player bets from an early position on the flop.

This strategic tell requires that you have evaluated your opponents: Who are the tight players (staying in only with made hands and premium drawing hands); the loose players (calling with almost any two hole cards); the passive players; the aggressive players; and the deceptive players?

 When a tight, non-deceptive player is first to bet on the flop, he has a powerful hand. That’s important information.

 Let’s say you have a marginal drawing hand with two over cards to the board. For example, you hold A-10 suited; and the flop has 9-8-2 rainbow – including one of your suit. You don’t know exactly what this early-position bettor holds but you can make a good guess. It could be a pair higher than the 9 on the board (an "overpair"); perhaps a set of 9s or 8s.

 You are a big underdog. The chance of catching cards that will give you the best hand are minimal. Why invest in a loser? Don’t throw good money after bad. Fold. Save your chips for a better opportunity.

(What do YOU think is the ultimate tell? There will be a prize to the first reader who sends me the answer our panel of experts deems to be the best… e-mail to [email protected])