Have you ever looked around the poker table at the silent stony faces, sheathed in hoods and sunglasses, and
felt intimidated? Do you struggle to get a read on your opponents, while at the same time feel as if you are giving away the store?
You probably are. You need to learn to conceal your tells. The first step toward doing this is to develop a better understanding of
tells, where they come from and how they work.
Tells are visual and audible clues, unwittingly emitted by players, which their opponents may use to determine the relative strength
of their hands. Generally, these tells can fall into one of three categories. If they are based upon your opponents physical movements,
they are "visual" tells. If they are based upon your opponents speech, they are "audible" tells. If they are based upon
your opponents betting patterns, they are "betting" tells. In brick and mortar games all three categories of tells are widely
available to the observant player. In online games, the visual and audible tells are mostly absent, and players must rely primarily on
betting tells. For a further discussion of this topic read the article
Raise To Find Out.
Windows - Mac
There are often observable differences between the ways your opponents act when then they are strong and the ways they act when they
are weak. This is the source of tells. If you are familiar with the movie Rounders, you may recall that John Malkovich (Tony
KGB) has a brutal tell. When he has a strong hand, he cracks open an Oreo cookie and eats it, and when he is bluffing, he cracks the
cookie and plays with it, but does not eat. In real life, most poker tells are not that dramatic. They often happen in an instant and
can be very difficult to prevent. They often come from slight differences in hand movements, breathing, eye contact, etc.
Other tells may be more obvious. Your opponent may begin talking incessantly, or make a long dramatic pause (feigning thought) before
making a large raise (both signs of a very strong hand). These tells often come from amateurs, who may be unaware of how brutishly
obvious they are being. Of course, it is easier to conceal this type of tell, but there are some strategies you can adopt which will
help you conceal the subtler tells as well.
The obvious tells can be concealed by simply avoiding certain behaviors. In the Rounders example, John Malkovich could have
prevented the Oreo cookie tell very effectively by not messing with the Oreos. Similarly, you can avoid transmitting obvious tells by
recognizing the obvious behavior which is their source, and avoiding it altogether. Some obvious behaviors to avoid include
over-acting, excessive talking, rechecking your cards when a flush draw appears, and warning an opponent about the strength of your
hand when you are weak (or vice versa). Of course there are many other obvious tells besides these, and your goal should be to avoid
all of them. Watching your opponents can be instructive. If you see your opponent acting obviously and giving away the store, you will
know how not to act in the future.
Most intermediate and advanced players do a pretty good job at avoiding obvious tells. It is the subtler tells which create problems
for these players. This is natural, because it is often easier to decipher a tell than it is to obscure one. However, there are some
simple steps that you can take to help conceal even the most pesky tells.
The most basic
thing that you can do to help conceal your tells is to standardize both your betting and your body movements. For instance, when
betting it is a good idea to be consistent about how you put your chips into the pot. This requires you to develop a standard method
for putting chips into the pot, which you should use every time you bet. Whether you choose to push your chips out in a stack, splash
them, or use some other method is not important. What is important is that you stay consistent in you method so that your opponent can
not get a read on you based upon how you put your chips into the pot.
Be conscious of your breathing and speech patterns. It is common for a player who is bluffing to unconsciously hold their breath when
they are bluffing. It is also common for a player with a strong hand to become overly talkative while the hand is in play. Unusual
voice inflections can also be interpreted as weakness. It is better to not talk at all when you are involved in a hand. Of course, you
opponent may try to engage you in conversation in an attempt to generate a tell. A common ploy is for them to ask you about the
content of your hand. You should be prepared for this, and there are two ways that you can handle it. Your first option is to
completely ignore the questioner, pretending that he and his question do not even exist. The second thing that you can do is engineer
a reverse information probe.
Consider the following situation. You have raised before the flop in a Texas Hold'em game. Your opponent defends his blind and an ace
flops. He checks and you bet. He then asks you, "Do you have an ace?" Let's stop right there for a moment. When your opponent asks
this question, what he really is asking is: "Can you please give me some sort of verbal or visual tell to base my decision on?"
But there is a simple way to turn the information probe back onto him. You answer the question with a question of your own. When he asks
if you have an ace, you respond, "What do you think?" Now, your opponent is the one being questioned. With four simple words,
you have effectively reversed the information probe, whether your opponent realizes it or not. At this point, he will either realize
that his probe has backfired, and drop it, or he will actually give you free information by telling you what he thinks you have.
You should also be especially conscious of your eye movements. When players make their hand they often unconsciously glance down at
their chips. Even more telling is whether or not you choose to make eye contact with your opponent. Quite often a player with a made
hand will initiate eye contact with their opponent while a player who is bluffing will avoid it at all costs. Since your opponent is
trying to decipher your eye contact, the best way to stay out of trouble is to never make eye contact with your opponent while the
hand is in play.
Another way to conceal tells is to standardize your betting. You should standardize both the time that you take to bet and the sizing
of your bets and raises. You can standardize the time it takes you to bet by slowing the game down, just a little. Breathe before you
bet. This keeps you from acting too quickly when you are very strong or very weak. If you are playing No-Limit or Pot-Limit,
standardize the amount that you raise preflop to conceal any tells associated with bet sizing.
Of course, there are many other tells, and many ways of concealing them. Your basic strategy should be to completely avoid suspect
behavior whenever possible, and to standardize everything that you do as much as possible. Be as consistent and robot-like as you can,
and your opponents will have a much more difficult time getting a read on you. This will take some practice. Be conscious about your
body movements, and watch your opponents watching you. Quite often, if you emit a tell that your opponent catches, you will notice it
also. You can then avoid that behavior in the future.
Also see more on Reading Opponents and Sherlock Holmes on
Poker Details and Detection