Poker Tells Part I

Ever wanted to accurately read what your opponent was holding?  Was he bluffing, or did he get the nuts?

Poker tells are gestures and body language your opponent makes that gives you hints of what they hold.  Now I’ll be honest; poker tells won’t tell you exactly what cards they are doing (although you can deduce it to a couple of selections based on their playing styles, positions, betting amounts, chip stack size etc.), but what it does tell you is their relative strength of their hand.

Poker tells are one of my favorite things to consider during Poker.  We tend to act out how we’re feeling without even knowing it sometimes, and because of this it can give us the truth about our opponents.

So what are some poker tells for you to consider in your next poker game?

When the dealer deals the cards for the flop, turn, or river, don’t look at the cards that are on the table; that information won’t go anywhere.  Instead, watch where your opponent’s eyes look at.  If he looks at his own chips quicker than usual or quicker than most people around the table, he probably has a good hand, or at least made something, especially during the flop.  In contrast, a person who has not made anything will look at the cards on the table slightly longer.  Here’s the logic – a person who has a good hand immediately knows it, and so he will look at his chip stack immediately to determine how to maximize the pot.  A person with a weak or medium strength hand will look at the cards on the table and he’s thinking what type of cards will beat him or what type of cards he needs to improve.  This thinking, this information processing, will take slightly longer than someone who knows he has a good hand and therefore the eyes will linger a bit longer to digest the information.  And why are flops even more important?  During turns and rivers, the moment becomes more tense.  We become more aware of our body languages because the pot size is amounting and there are fewer players left on the table.  Secondly, whereas turns and rivers are dealt one card, flops are dealt three cards, and the time it takes to process one card is much quicker than the time it takes to process three cards.  In fact, by the time the flop is shown, you’d probably know what you want in the turn or river so the information processing becomes even faster.

If an opponent looks at your chips, particularly in the first three seconds when the dealer deals the cards, he probably has good cards.  He’s thinking of your money.  He’s thinking of how to maximize the pot by thinking how much you would be willing to continue betting based on your stack size.

Another good indicator that your opponent has a strong hand is when he is steepling, but leaning back against the back of his chair.

Steepling Posture

This hand gesture suggests confidence.  Image courtesy of

Usually when someone performs this gesture, it indicates confidence.  In my personal experience, I’ve seen this posture enacted and when the cards were shown, he had a full house, winning a gigantic pot.  So yeah, steepling probably indicates your opponent has the best hand possible.  And the leaning back bit?  Well, the person wants to avoid looking like he’s interested in the pot, so he disguises by leaning back to indicate lack of interest when the opposite is true.

A similar sort of reasoning applies to when a player yawns or sighs (see video above starting at 39:50).  When a player yawns or sighs, she wants to pretend that she isn’t interested at all at the pot, but in fact she probably has a very good hand.

As a warning, remember that poker tells are used as a gauge, not precise indicators.  A person yawning may be just tired.  Someone steepling may be acting.  Someone bluffing may look at your chips to determine the amount with which you would fold.

A professional at poker tells do certain things.  Look not just at one indicator, but a cluster of indicators and the overall posture and see if there’s congruency.  See if this person is only acting this way for this hand or for every other hand (ie. yawning for one hand may indicate strength, yawning throughout the course of the game may mean fatigue).  Determine how the person has acted before and see if it makes sense.  Look at the person’s playing style, betting amounts, positioning, chip stack size to see if it matches with his body language.  And one last point, trust your instincts.

What other poker tells do you know of?  Be sure to keep checking back for part II, III, IV etc.



Intrigued with ideas, strategies, and unconventional concepts. Interested in new and logical theories.

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