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Taking Advantage Of Easy-To-Spot Tells

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Oct 06, 2021

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Jonathan LittleWhen trying to spot poker tells, you need to know how your opponents appear in “normal” situations, and then look for deviations. You want to be aware of anything your opponents do that deviate from their normal behaviors, because those actions may indicate something about the strength of their hand.

Perhaps the most obvious tell that amateurs exhibit is becoming noticeably attentive when they have a strong hand and then suddenly inattentive when they have a weak hand.
When someone thinks they have a strong hand, they tend to focus and “get in the zone,” paying attention to each player’s action. They may even sit up a bit more in their chair. When they don’t like their hand, they become unfocused. They will often slouch in their chair, watch TV or look at their phone, or have a conversation with someone else at the table.

Let’s look at an example of how you can use this obvious tell to your advantage.

Let’s say you raise with J-10 from middle position and both players in the blinds call. The flop comes Q-7-2.

If it looks like both players are uninterested in continuing in the pot, then making a continuation bet will frequently win you the pot. However, if one or both of your opponents suddenly perk up and is clearly interested, you can easily check behind, take a free card and save a bet.

There is no point in bluffing if you do not expect your opponents to fold.

You can also make deductions about your opponent’s hand strength based on how they are breathing. In general, people breathe faster when they have strong hands and slower when they have weak hands. This is because most people who think they are about to win a bunch of money tend to get excited, whereas those who are bluffing want to appear as innocuous as possible, usually resulting in them holding their breath and appearing relatively still.

Suppose everyone folds to you in middle position and you have A-10 offsuit. Depending on the circumstances, you could make an argument for any action. But if the player to your left, who has already looked at his hand, is now breathing abnormally heavy, you should fold because A-10 offsuit fares quite poorly against a range of premium hands.

It’s important to be aware, however, for those players who exhibit the exact opposite behavior. When you start focusing on physical tells, you will find that some players breathe quicker when bluffing and slowly with premium hands.

It is important to figure out each player’s tendencies and adjust accordingly. Do not make the mistake of thinking that everyone will display the same mannerisms. They definitely do not!

As you further study poker tells and progress up the ranks, you will find that most tells are somewhat unreliable unless you have witnessed a player exhibit them numerous times in similar situations. Tells are best used to sway marginal decisions one way or the other. In order to make a “sick read” and drastically deviate from normally sound strategy, you must know your specific opponent extremely well. Nothing is worse than making a huge fold or an insane hero call based on a tell, only to later find out that the tell was irrelevant. ♠

Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.