Poker Tells, What They Are and How to Read Them

Posted by Ellis Shuman, February 23, 2015

reading poker tells by zachary elwoodBy definition, a poker tell is “a change in a player's behaviour or demeanour” that can give others clues regarding the value of that player’s hand. While there are poker tells in online play, the classical definition refers to movements (or the lack thereof) in the player’s face, hands, chips, and cards, as well as other factors, including timing and verbal statements.

The book Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood (Via Regia, April 2012) is intended to be “the best resource on poker tells available,” and it relates solely to poker tells at live poker games and tournaments.

“There are many ways poker players unwittingly give clues about the strength of their hands,” Elwood writes in his opening chapter. The book organizes poker tells into situational categories, giving readers a framework for thinking about their opponents’ behaviour at the table.

As an example, Elwood categorizes one group of tells as “Waiting-for-action tells”. Examples of this type of poker tell include:

* An opponent staring at you when it’s your turn to act.

* An opponent who avoids looking at you when it’s your turn to act.

* An opponent holding out chips as if he’s going to call if you bet.

Elwood then goes into detail about this group of tells, relating to each and every sign from both weak hand and strong hand possibilities.


You need to study a player in order to read him

The uncertain nature of poker tells means that a player’s action could be read differently in different situations. To know for sure what information a player is actually giving out, one has to study the player and get a good read on him. How does he act when he has a strong hand? How does he act when he bluffs?

To be an expert on poker tells requires a lot of patience. One could spend hours observing opponents, making mental notes how they play and act in different situations. Of course, much of that time would be better devoted to actually playing poker, considering the cards that are dealt and the odds for making a hand.

Knowing how to read poker tells gives experienced players an additional advantage at the card table and poker games, another factor to consider before placing their bets. If the psychology of reading other players and understanding their actions is a bit intimidating, reading this book will give powerful insight and background toward achieving this knowledge.


Make yourself unreadable

The author was once a professional poker player, but you won’t see his name as one who has won big tournaments. Elwood played mostly in casinos in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and online.

"I don’t consider myself an excellent poker player," Elwood admits. But on the subject of poker tells, Elwood believes he is “more knowledgeable on this subject than 99% of the poker population.”

Even if you’re not going to be an expert on reading other players, it’s important to read this book, because Elwood offers clues as to how you can become “unreadable.”

"There are good players who are watching you and who know how to read you. Even if you don’t care about becoming an expert at poker psychology, if you’re going to play this game you should learn that it’s important to be as unreadable as possible."

Who is this book for? Reading Poker Tells is “mainly for people who play live poker or who want to transition from online to live poker.” For those who plan to continue to play solely at online poker tournaments and tables, let’s hope Elwood writes a follow-up book to give us help reading online poker tells.




Further Reading:  

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Texas Hold'em Poker Guide

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Previous articles by Ellis Shuman:

The Raiser's Edge, a Review

Improving Your Game with Moorman’s Book of Poker

No-limit Holdem Poker by Bob Ciaffone, a Review

The Big Blind, a Book Review

The Blackjack Life, a Review

How Poker and Scrabble Are Very Much Alike

A Lot More Blood than Aces

The Moneymaker Effect and How It Changed Poker

Dutch Boyd Goes on Poker Tilt with His New Book

Poker Success of the Poet's Son

Poker and Philosophy: Thinking Your Way to Better Poker

The Wolf of Online Processing

The Greatest Poker Songs of All Time


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