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Poker Tells

 A "tell" is a habitual action by another player that gives you a clue as to what he is holding. In offline poker, a widening of the eyes is often a "tell" of a very strong hand. That is one reason you see so many poker players wearing sunglasses at the table. It's not because of the dazzling Vegas lights.


  • Watch the Eyes: This is why many pros wear sunglasses or visors/caps when playing, they know that the eyes rarely lie. For example, many players can't help but stare at big hole cards, so their length of time peeking is longer. Conversely, if a player is looking to steal the pot, he may look to his left to see if the remaining players, who haven't yet acted, have quickly glanced at their cards and are likely to fold. Another example, a player may try to ask you questions about your hand, knowing that people rarely can "look someone straight in the eyes" while being dishonest.

  • Facial Expression: Many pros try to disguise their entire face by wearing a cap and looking downward. This is to avoid the classic stare-down that poker pros are famous for. They may try to study your face for nervousness (detecting a weak hand), or even look for repetitive characteristics like a body "tic". You may have obvious unhappiness in your face when your hand is weak, and conversely, you may show a contrasting show of confidence when your hand is strong.

  • Weak is Strong/Strong is: Weak In its most simplistic form, this usually applies to novice players but frequently applies to pros as well. Basically, players like to be actors, and when they have a monster hand they tend to look disinterested. For example: "Oh, is it my turn to act" or "Oh I guess I will play these cards". Alternatively, a player increasing the level of his voice while raising the pot, and trying to look intimidating. May be running a bluff.

  • Repetitive Betting Patterns: Usually the most revealing tells are based on the way a player habitually bets during particular situations. For example, maybe the player always checks when he has made the nuts, or a player may regularly fold after being re-raised.

  • Body Posture/Attitude: Some players show obvious changes in their posture based on their attitude/hand strength. For instance, you may notice their shoulders drop/slump when they are not confident (weak hand). Conversely, you may notice the player is very attentive and sitting in an erect position when he has strength. You may also notice that a player who bluffs a lot, leans forward in a confrontational way... remember Strong is Weak!


  • Online: Every online poker room has a set number of seconds that each player has to respond before he is declared either all-in or folded. Sometimes, due to internet issues, a player's actions will almost always be slow. However, often, the speed of play can be a good "tell." Typically, a quick bet is a sign of weakness, and a delayed action is a sign of strength, as the player is calculating his strategy with what he perceives to be a huge hand. Watch how much time it takes the other players to make their action, and mentally make a note of it. If you get a chance to see their cards at showdown, see if you can determine what they "slow bet" with and what they "fast bet" with.

  • Folding a lot: While you cannot mark this percentage down exactly, you should over the course of several games get a sense of whether or not the player folds a lot of trash hands or if he is staying in almost every pot. This "tell" can be used both online and offline, to help you determine the strength of a players overall game. If he folds a lot of cards, beware. If he stays in almost every pot, you can probably run over him if you play good cards.

  • Betting Very Slowly: This tell could mean that the player is trying to show indecision and wants you to believe that he needs to think about betting. But more than likely he is trying to disguise the fact that he has a strong hand.

  • Checking Very Slowly: The player wants you to think that he is contemplating making a bet (with a strong hand) but then decides to just check. This could mean that in reality he has a weak hand. However, if he then check-raises, he really might have been contemplating making that bet.

  • Misleading tells: Tells are such a hot button for poker players, that you most likely wandered in here thinking you might learn something about it. I've got bad news for you. I'm about as novice at spotting tells as they come. Some players tell me that it's the not-so-secret of success in poker, but somehow, I get by. For those of you not in the know, a 'tell' is a giveaway from yourself or another player about what kind of hand is being held.

  • Information: You might notice a specific player throws his chips in softly if he has a strong hand. You might notice if a certain player raises preflop, he will always bet on the flop. You might also notice that there is one player who will only play large pocket pairs. Although you might gain a lot of information from observing what the players at the table are doing, sometimes you have the potential to gain a lot more if you shut up and listen to what they are saying.

  • Waiting for the Big Blind: When you sit down at a Holdem table, many times you'll have the option of "waiting on the big blind" to get to you, or you can post a matching big blind and start playing immediately. This a good tell on how patient and online player will be. If he is not patient enough to wait on the big blind to get around to him, he might not be very patient about waiting on good starting hands. Expect him to be a loose player. The opposite holds true for players who do wait on the big blind. Either they are patient or cheap. Both are pretty good qualities to have if you are playing online poker. Cheap players, even when they are not especially skilled will tend to wait on better hands.

  • When a poor player puts a hand over his mouth, it generally means he has a strong hand. Generally he is concealing a smile.

  • Shaking hands means the player is nervous. However, this can mean he is bluffing or that he has a very strong hand.