Poker Tells: How to Read People’s Reactions

Poker Tells

A game that took over the world – poker – is considered to consist roughly of 80% skill and 20% luck, and by luck we mean you are at least lucky enough to get good cards to start with. However, no matter what poker game you choose, relying solely on the ‘stars to align’ to bring you good fortune will get you, well… nowhere. As we in BestOddsSlots witnessed ourselves, even in the unluckiest of events, knowing certain ‘hacks’ and noticing particular poker tells can turn the odds in your favor. Let’s see how.

What is a Poker Tell?

Let’s first start this article by explaining what a poker tell is, after all. 

If you ever played any sort of card game with people you know – be it Rummy, Canasta, Cheat (aka I Doubt It) even fantasy cards like Heroes or Gwent, you probably have noticed those little micro-expressions your good friend makes each time he/she gets a good card in the deck or is about to make that winning combo. In poker, these are called tells. 

By a simple definition, poker tells refer to verbal or physical actions made by the player at the poker table that might give away (or tell) information about that player’s hand. And it’s not uncommon to notice players reveal these kinds of information without even being aware of it, especially at the low-limits poker or if the players are newbies.

On the other hand, for those who are playing poker for a long time already or are on the path to becoming professional gamblers, it can be quite easy to deliberately say or do certain things in order to deceive their opponents into thinking they have cards they don’t – this is called bluffing, and, although it is not very welcomed, it is largely done. 

As in life when you want to understand someone’s behavior, when trying to beak down poker tells, it is always recommended to first look at yourself. So to say, when trying to get poker tells, first try to figure out what subtle signs YOU give off, and notice as much as possible. Do you smile? Do you have a certain blink, do you say some phrases like “oh… nah… it’s not my day today”, or do you have some moves like scratching your face when you notice you have a good hand, and so on. 

For example, at my beginner stages, one friend once told me I would always smile with the left corner of my lip when I get aces. First, I didn’t believe it, then I paid attention, noticed it, and changed the behavior. I learned not to show any emotion – full stop. 

Once you overcome yourself and train not to reveal anything you don’t want to, you will start truly enjoying the game, and you might start noticing what other players are doing. To make it easier for you, there are some common poker tells you can pay attention to. And they are a bit different in live and online poker. Let’s see.

Poker Table

Most common poker tells

1. Do You Make an Eye Contact When Relaxed? (Live poker)

Remember that these rules apply only if you notice changes in the player’s demeanor. So if they are usually shy, and, all of a sudden, they start reaching out to make eye contact, this may mean they are conveying strength. The bigger the hand, the more relaxed player your opponent will be, and more likely to make eye contact.

On the other hand, those who were unlucky with their hand, or are bluffing, will be less comfortable looking squarely into your eyes. Therefore, looking away is usually a sign of weakness. 

It’s important to underline, however, that there will be players who will stare at you or will always be looking down, and for them, you will probably not be able to use this information as any sort of tell. This applies mostly in live poker matches.

2. Pay Attention to the Betting Size (Live and Online poker)

With this poker tell, you don’t even have to look at your opponent to understand where they are coming from. As simple as it is, the amount of money you are ready to invest when placing a bet can say a lot, and this applies in both live and online environments. 

For example, if you see a player coming off strong or not revealing anything, and still making smaller bets, that is a sure sign of weakness. However they behave, strong-handed players will be more willing to rise bigger bets.

3. Losing Your Patience Shows a Lot (Live poker)

Although it can easily pass as a personal characteristic, if you notice a player suddenly become super impatient during a match, that very often indicates a strong hand. Especially if you hear them asking questions like “Whose turn it is?”, “Why are you taking so long to play?”, rolling his/her eyes in frustration or stinging you to make a call or bet. This all might show that a player is rushing to rake in a decent pot.

4. Chit-Chat Around the Table (Live poker)

This tell is kind of a two-edged (or even a ‘multi-edged’) sword, as it can cover a lot of potential tells. We’ll make a limit to just a few of the most common.

For example, if you notice a player who is usually shy with words abruptly starts talking to everyone, that shows how relaxed he/she is and this can usually be interpreted as having a strong hand. 

On the other hand, the table talk strategy can also be used as a false negative – a sneaky way to give off the impression of strength. As in life as at the poker table, isn’t it?

Players could also make statements that are often directly opposite to what they have like “Nah, today is just not my day”, “Well, unfortunately, I must play this hand, there is no other”, or similar before betting or calling. This is all the mask a player wants to use to appear weak when actually strong.

5. Some Betting Patterns Will Give You Away (Live and Online poker)

Sometimes you don’t have to pay attention to micro-expressions, behavior, or any verbal signs your opponents make. Looking at the betting patterns would be just enough information to draw a conclusion or two. These are some of the most obvious patterns to look out for (also check if any applies to you!):

Poker Card
  • Checking the River:

This one is the most obvious signs, and you probably have done it yourself. It basically looks like this – you’ve already called before the flop, you got a good hand which makes you want to bet the flop and the turn. But, the river didn’t bring any ‘good news’, so you lost your courage, decided to postpone and to check in case some of the opponents has a better hand. If you catch someone doing this (or they catch you), you can bluff them easily, as they already believe you have something good. 

  • Check-raising:

The alarm! If you see someone check-raising on their turn and betting on the river, they have a good hand! And better believe it. It is one of the classic moves, and in case you don’t have a first-rate hand or a draw to a better hand than your opponent’s – fold. You will spare yourself big losses. 

  • Betting and raising, but folding on the flop:

This is a sign of a cautious player. He/she usually starts with good cards but is capable of stepping back if things change. If they bet next time they see a flop, you can suppose they have a hand. If your hand is strong enough, you can follow. 

  • Call, call, raise:

It happened to me – my opponent called the flop, and the turn, and suddenly raised the river. Everyone around the table followed, and one of us called a final bet. We lost all of our stacks… It was a hard-learned lesson for everyone. Advice to you: pay attention when your opponent changes gear on the river, that usually means they have some plans.

6. Do You Change Your Timing? (Live and Online poker)

Some players are the masters of poker faces, but, if they forget themselves, their timing can be quite revealing. The varying amount of time a player takes to act can tell a lot about the strength of their hands. This is also one of the most common tells in poker you want to consider. 

Players who take extra time before checking are usually really thinking their decisions through. That’s a common indication they “have something” – be it a strong or a medium-strength hand, or they have a draw and are considering bluffing. 

Calling bets quickly or making quick bets, on the other hand, often indicates weakness. These rapid actions are usually intended to seem intimidating and encourage a fold. 

Those who think longer before making a bet are usually stronger, as they want to decide upon how much they want to invest to elicit a call and exact value.

In the end…

Poker is a fun game. It’s a game of skill we are all in love with. Unlike in chess, for example, where the outcome will depend solely on your ‘hard’ skills like the ability to understand the movement of the pieces on the table, in poker, you need to use your ‘soft’ skills as well – like learning how to read people, empathize, and understand what position they are coming from. That way, you will master the game and learn how to turn its outcome to your advantage in almost any situation.