Thursday, May 14, 2015

Short review of Reading Poker Tells & tells I've noticed at the table

There are hundreds, if not thousands of poker tells, and most likely enough books to cover each tell individually.  I have probably ready 2 or 3 of those books - most recently Zach Elwood's Reading Poker Tells.  FYI - He keeps a great blog, complete with video footage and discounts on his book.  It's a worthy read if you find yourself playing live poker regularly.

Anyway, his book details (around a page or so per) the different tells he's seen throughout his career.  It's quite useful - a nice update to the other useful book I've read which is quite dated at this point, Mike Caro's Book of Poker Tells.  Mr. Elwood goes through the tell, reasons behind the tell, reliability, things to look out for, etc.  I took notes on the book awhile back, because there were some key takeaways in there.

  • Acting ready to muck

    I used to do this myself, having resigned to see my opponents ready to fold.  It's true, though: when I knew I held the winning hand, I would signal mucking my cards prior to my opponent's completing action when facing my bet.  The way I looked at my action was as a challenge or a dare for my opponent to call me.  That's exactly what it is, unfortunately.  It's strength on a dare.  I've since stopped using this tell for my own actions, but I definitely watch out for in when my opponents do it.  Quite honestly, though, I rarely see it done by my opponents.
  • Aversions to lying

    Mr. Elwood points out that people have an aversion to lying.  Unless you're a pathological and actually enjoy lying, you try to tell the truth.  After all, it's easier to tell the truth than to make up a lie.  Therefore, most players will tell the truth when announcing their hands - specifically when they're announcing a precise hand.  An example succinctly shows this point:

    The other night I saw a guy announce to another player that he flopped a set of Kings – after the action had been 3bet by his opponent PF.  His opponent, in disbelief, went ahead and open shoved all in on the flop only to be shown a set of Kings (it was a semi-interesting hand, but that’s outside of the scope of this post).  Although I’m very familiar with this tell, it serves to be pointed out as a prudent tell for other players who are unfamiliar.  When a player precisely declares his hand, he usually is telling the truth.

    Mr. Elwood goes on to point out the example of particularly reckless or aggressive players who play a lot of hands.  On occasion, they’ll declare their hands (i.e. a flop of 7 7 2 and they tell their opponents that they have 7 2, or if they suddenly declare they have AA after raising all day and night on prior hands).  It is usually true when they declare these things; the declaration is so far from the truth that they’re proud to announce and believe they’re tricking their opponent into making a bad decision.
I've also seen some commonly repeated, highly reliable tells on my own.  I wanted to catalog them and share with my readers.  Therefore, I'm going to start a segment (trying to make it weekly) on poker tells; one tell per post.  Of note, these are the tells I've noticed at the low stakes 1/2, 1/3 games - so not necessarily reliable at higher stakes (because of purposeful miscues as players become more intelligent and aware of their actions).  I'll leave you with the most common and useful of all the tells I've ever noticed:

Heavy / deep breathing or high heart rate

This is such a reliable tell for all players.  Most players cannot contain the excitement when they've just smacked the board.  If they're betting, look out!  Take a second and look at your opponent.  Can you see his chest moving up & down with each breath?  Are the veins in his neck pulsing like crazy?  Sweating?  He almost always has a monster here and can't contain the adrenaline rush that he received from knowing that he has the nuts (or close to it).  I've used this time & time again to fold my better hands that can sustain heat, after realizing that these guys have top set or better.


  1. I'm very much looking forward to this!

    Heavy / deep breathing or high heart rate

    I've seen them go all in, do this, and be worried because they were bluffing.

    1. So you've made calls / seen people make calls where you've seen that heavy breathing behavior and turns out they were bluffing?

    2. Yes, it was in a tournament (if that makes any difference?).

    3. It's interesting; obviously I have no way to confirm that they're bluffing if I fold every time I see that behavior, but it's uncanny how often I'll see someone else call and be shown the nuts or some semblance thereof. Obviously, though, all tells are to be taken with a note of caution; no tell is 100% reliable.

    4. Usually I make a call with marginal hand if the betting sequence fits a busted draw and the heart rate/breathing is heavy, I mostly play low stakes NLHE, 1/3 or 2/5.

  2. Great post. I have both of Zach's books also and I am half way through the verbal tells. There is a lot of value here for marginal decisions. Acting to muck is a type of goading which in general is strong.

  3. My favorite tell is the No Tell Tell. That's when a player goes into tell lockdown by going super still, covering their face with their hands, etc. It means that they are weak. They want to hide tells lest they give off information that will cause you to call. Ironically, by avoiding showing tells, they give up a huge tell. Love it.

    I cite Caro as one of my top 3 poker books, and in my heart, its probably #1. I will definitely check out Zach's books now.


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