Poker is largely a game of bluff – psychology and gamesmanship is just as important as having a good hand. That’s why there are hundreds of books and guides on how to read an opponent’s “tells” and how to exploit them. Though we can’t make you an expert reader in this short article, we can explain the most obvious tells in poker and help you understand how to read them. Some want to lull players into a false sense of security and others attempt to distract attention away from a good hand.
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Chip Stacking Type
Poker analysts suggest that how a player stacks his or her chips will usually indicate how they play and is one of the most obvious tells in poker about what sort of game you might have. Keeping their chips neatly in piles suggests that the player is conservative, not prone to bluffing or making high-risk decisions in a game. A player who keeps his or her pile messy is likely to be a “loose” player – that is, more likely to take a high risk and more likely to bluff. These tells can show you who you are up against and what you can expect in a game.
How He / She Buys Chips
You wouldn’t necessarily think of this as one of the obvious tells in poker, but experts agree that you should be able to calculate how a person will play by how they buy chips from the casino. Aggressive behaviour – such as waving money around and shouting “chips!” is an indicator of aggressive play. The opposite is true of a player who goes out of their way not to be noticed. Acting cautious, being tight with their wallet and their money suggests a person who will not take big risks during play.
Constantly Checking the Cards
Most players have learnt – often from examining opponents – to look at their hand once or twice and to memorise them. The first lesson of poker is to memorise a hand to avoid giving anything away. A player who is constantly checking his or her hand probably has a good one and cannot believe their luck. Knowing – or working out – what an opponent has in their hand can help you maximise your wins and minimise losses.
Reverse psychology is a big part of poker. Players know they are being observed by everyone all of the time. Here, they want to be noticed; they want everyone to see how disappointed they are at having a poor hand – a shrug, tutting or a sigh is all it takes. Yet this is the clearest indicator that they actually have a good hand. It was Shakespeare who coined the term “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. Be cautious of those players who do just that, it’s one of the most obvious tells in poker.
Reaction to the Flop
How a player reacts to The Flop (the upturned cards at the centre of the table) is a potential indicator of what sort of hand the player has. Looking away is an attempt to feign a lack of interest in the cards at the centre of the table – suggesting they have a good hand. Players who immediately look to their chips means they have a great hand and are considering how much to bet; there is no other explanation, making it one of the most obvious tells in poker.
Fake Chip Aggression
Whereas fake disappointment suggests a good hand, being overly confident or aggressive with how a player places chips into play suggests they have a poor hand. All good poker players know how disastrous it can be to give away how much of a good hand they have so that is why they fake confidence. They want a reaction from the other players that will lead to hubris – don’t fall for it, it’s one of the most obvious tells in poker and used by more experienced players against those less experienced.