Texas Hold'em Poker Tells

Photo Courtesy (Nevada Casino History)
Johnny Moss immortalized on a poker chip. Photo Courtesy (Nevada Casino History)

The game of poker can be deceptively tough. Texas Hold'em is a bit confusing when you start, but once you learn  the game can lead even a terrible player to think they are close to playing perfectly! It's a lot more than knowing what beats what.

A new player to the game of golf doesn't think they should tee it up with Tiger Woods and play for money, but everyday there are a million poker players risking their hard-earned money in games they have no business in.

New players often think they are just as good as experienced players like Doyle Brunson. And there are several reasons for that.

The first reason is that TV poker games don't show every hand. They key on exciting hands and give viewers tunnel vision - a distorted view of what has been happening on any given table. There are many ways to manipulate your opponents, and there is plenty to be learned about those same opponents, but those skills take years of practice to hone, and you can't see that on TV.

However, you might be able to pick up a few tells from the players, especially since you get to see their hole cards. A tell is any mannerism or movement that a player makes subconsciously, or makes purposely trying to throw off the competition.

Tell Number One: Loose Talk, Tight Play

The first thing you should learn about each opponent is what starting cards they will play. In Texas Hold'em, each players' two cards are known only to them, so you have to learn their range of starting hands.

And, your first clue to this is how many hands they actually play. A tight player is likely to only find about one hand in 10 they really want to play, but they may also be involved in blind hands.

Some players love to talk about all the hands they play, why they had to raise etc. But are they really playing a lot of hands?

Don't be fooled by loose talk and tight play. Simply count the hands they are involved in. If they fold a lot, expect the hands they do get involved in to be all pocket pairs, face cards and face cards with an ace. Watch out!

Tell Number Two: Button Raises

Many players always raise from the cutoff or button if no other players are in the hand yet (and sometimes when there just hasn't been a raise). Sure, they might have a hand, but don't toss your blind hand away every time they raise or they'll never stop!

Tell Number Three: Who's the Action Up To?

If a player is suddenly very interested in the action, perhaps even asking, "Is it up to me?" they probably found something they liked in their starting hand or on the board. Give 'em some credit for a hand and watch very closely when the hand is shown down. What do you see?

Tell Number Four: My Chips Are Neatly Stacked

Every player develops a habit of stacking their chips in a certain way. For the most part, players who have messy chips are looser and more likely to simply be enjoying the game. Conversely, players who have perfect stacks probably have plenty of time to arrange them because they aren't in very many hands. Watch and confirm this!

Tell Number Five: I Can't Wait to Raise

A player who does the "insta-raise" is unlikely to be bluffing. They were just waiting for the action to get to them and then boom - there go the chips. I believe.

Tell Number Six: Calling to the Flush Draw

Players love to find a reason to play every hand. When a player calls in late position pre-flop and just keeps calling all the way, there is a good chance they are trying to hit a flush or a straight. Often, if two of a suit hits the flop and a third suited card hits the river it spells danger. You might even check a lesser hand you've been betting in a limit game and wait for that last player to act. Then, you'll probably have to call their bet and hope they have something less than a straight or a flush.

However, this works well, because it saves you having to call a raise, and sometimes the player decides to make a last-ditch bluff.

Enjoy.

Tell Number Seven: I'm Suddenly Quiet

Some players that are normally talkative get very quiet when they hit a hand. Watch, and if they suddenly raise, that's usually the tell - and the answer.

Tell Number Eight: I'm whistling or Singing a Tune

It's my experience that a player who raises pre-flop and on the flop, will sometimes try to act so non-nonchalant that they actually whistle or sing a little tune when they bet on the turn or the river. That's usually a good tell for somebody who has not improved their hand, acting happy or over-confident.

Tell Number Nine: I'm Not Moving

There is often a reason when a player suddenly raises on the river and you can't figure out what they hit, because they were either there on the flop, or they missed completely. Although I have seen it both ways, if they make the raise and then sit there, super still, it is much more likely they are hardly breathing to not show fear and keep you from calling.

Tell Number Ten: I Like That Card

An almost involuntary move by many players is to immediately look at their chips when they love a card that hits. Could be the flop, turn, or river. However, when they look down quickly, then act uninterested until it is their turn and they raise, I'm usually convinced they hit something nice.

Learn Your Own Patterns

Specifically, tells are a subconscious movement or pattern. Often, these tells are most valuable in no-limit hold'em. I've seen players announce their raise only when they were weak and just push their stack of chips to the middle when they were strong. I also saw a superstar player who was counting out his raise on a bluff and pushing several stacks without counting when he had the nuts. Oops.

However, the most important tell is the one you give to the other players. Don't use the same method every time you bet or raise. Do one method on strong hands several times and then use it again on a bluff, or after getting caught on a bluff, use the same method the next time you have a monster.