When playing poker, everyone around the player is looking for ‘tells’ the other player is disclosing, whether he/she likes it or not. It could be a tick, facial expression, involuntary cough, a wide-eyed stare, wordless mumble that may be a silent prayer but might be an attempt to hex another player – there’s almost always some kind of tell that gives up the fact whether a particular player has a good or bad hand. And that is, of course, crucial information, no matter what hand you have.

So, what kind of ‘tells’ can you tell at the poker table…?

‘Somebody turn down the sun a bit!’

Ever wonder why so many players are wearing sunglasses at the table…? After all, there isn’t exactly a scorching sun hanging over the felt, with camels dealing the cards and serving drinks.

Many players, when they get a particularly good starting hand can’t help but stare a little longer, or their eyes grow wider just a little.  Players may also glance quickly at the players to their left, to catch their reaction and who is more likely to fold.

‘How’d you know I was bluffing? I didn’t do any of my tells. I didn’t shuffle my cards, I didn’t pull my hair, I didn’t even flick my teeth.’

–          Maverick (1990)

May pros and players in general try to disguise their good (or not so good) by wearing a cap and staring down.  Poker pros especially will ‘stare down’ your face, trying to catch signs of nervousness. A sour demeanor may give up the fact that you have a weak hand. Act too jovial, and it’s completely obvious you’re holding a good hand.

‘Is that a top pair in your pocket or are you just trying to bluff me?’

Like when a product you find costs lower than you expect and you temper down your reaction by 10-15 degrees, a player will deliberate purposefully when he gets a monster hand, or pretend to look troubled. Sayings like “Oh, it’s my turn to play?” or “I guess I’ll play these cards anyway” should sound the alarm if you’re the opponent.

Look out also for the “Opera” player: the one who raises the pot and his voice, working his facial muscles hard to look intimidating. There’s a very good chance that player’s bluffing.

“You have to ask yourself…do you feel lucky?”

Confrontation in poker can bring out even slight anxiety tells, such as barely noticeable (to you, but not the pro) muscle twitches, eye pupil dilation, sweaty hands or dry throat. When talking, a player may find his voice magically become higher than usual. Don’t be surprised to find poker pros staring particularly at their opponents’ forehead – they are looking for blood-pressure changes, and those are tells as well.

‘Perhaps a bottle or two of good whiskey will help…?’

Nervous, shaking hands may very well represent a big hand (of course, this doesn’t apply for online poker).

Chip and tell

Players won’t usually glance repeatedly at their chip stack unless they plan to attack, particularly if they connected with the board post-flop.

“Do you need a massage or something?”

Some players will instinctively change their sitting position based on the strength of their hand. A player lacking confidence or holding a weak hand may let his shoulders slump; on the other hand, a very attentive attitude shows that player is most likely not holding 2-7. If a player leans forward enough to see the hair in his nostril, there’s a good chance he’s bluffing.

“I’d hate to see how your apartment looks”

Although it might seem trivial, it could be instructive to see how players stack their chips when you sit down at the table. Generally, loose/aggressive players will have their chips in a sloppy, unorganized heap while tight/conservative players like their chips neatly in order.

Finally, some of the most revealing poker tells take time and long periods of play to discover, as they are based on how a player routinely bets in particular situations. For example, a player may always check when he holds the nuts, or may regularly fold after being re-raised. These are the kinds of tells you pick up through playing.