To the non-poker playing public, having a good poker face is what makes a good player. They think that poker is just about reading your opponent’s soul by staring them down and deciphering any tiny signals they give off.
This is of course not true. Betting patterns and bet sizing tells are usually a more reliable and accurate source of information. Proof of this is the success of many online players in live games. These players have developed incredible hand reading skills without ever even looking at another player.
But while it’s true that the idea of needing a good poker face is overrated, it seems like this trend has gone a bit too far and that these days many players neglect live tells altogether.
Not paying attention to live tells is a big mistake. There is a huge amount of information available to you when you’re playing live poker. Body language, unconscious actions your opponents make in certain spots, and just general assumptions about their appearance all give you valuable clues about their playing style or hand strength in certain spots.
Here is a collection of live tells and what they mean for your decision making. The more inexperienced your opponent is, the more reliable they are. There may be situations where the tell is misleading, but more often than not it can help you make an informed decision.
- Older players and players who dress conservatively (plain clothes, neat haircut, well-groomed) are likely to play tight and not bluff much
- Young players with hoodies, caps, sunglasses, etc. are likely aggressive players who like to bluff
- Players who look disheveled in general are likely loose and might splash around more than the average player
- Watch how players handle their chips and cards
- If they shuffle their chips well they usually know what they are doing
Opponents’ Chip Stacks
- If the chips are neat and organized, opponent is likely tight
- If the chips are chaotic, he is likely loose
- When a player wins a big pot and is still stacking his chips, he will usually have a very strong range if he gets involved in the next hand
Actions at The Table
- When a player looks at his chips quickly after the flop hits, he likes his hand and wants to bet
- That doesn’t mean a monster, but usually a big hand
- If he looks at his chips quickly and then checks, he might be slow-playing a huge hand
- If a player looks at the flop and then quickly looks away, he usually has a strong hand and wants to seem disinterested
- If a player looks at the flop for a long time, he usually has a draw or medium strength hand and is trying to figure out how he connected with the flop
- If a player bets aggressively (slams his chips down, splashes the pot, makes a show of betting into you) he is likely weak
- If a player bets like he doesn’t want you to notice it, he is likely strong
General Body Language
- If a player seems impatient while waiting for his turn, he is usually strong and can’t wait to bet
- This is a very accurate tell and can be extremely useful when deciding whether or not to call a bet with a medium strength hand
- When a player perks up and sits up in his chair and becomes attentive, he is usually strong
- When a player makes a show of seeming uninterested (looking around the room or at the TV, etc.), he is usually strong
- When a player makes an obvious gesture of seeming uncomfortable (sighing, looking angry, etc.) as they are calling a bet, they are usually strong and want to seem weak
- Signs opponent is bluffing: Tightening of lips and the corners of the mouth, licking or biting his lips
- This usually happens unconsciously, only for a split-second as they are betting or announcing their bet, then they will try to conceal their feelings and sit still
Arms and Hands
- If a player touches the back of their head, they are usually comfortable
- Trembling hands usually mean a big hand (watch out if the player is generally nervous though). If a player is usually calm and steady and then his hands start shaking in a hand, he could be nervous because he has a monster
- If a player moves his feet a lot after betting, he is usually comfortable and likes his hand
- If a player moves his feet a lot in general but then tenses up during a hand, this usually means he is weak and worried
- Most players won’t be able to fake being comfortable after they launch a big bluff
- If you suspect an opponent is bluffing, watch him closely and maybe talk to him to judge if he is nervous or comfortable
As with every other form of tell, live tells are never 100% accurate. Sometimes you will act on a tell and your opponent shows you the exact opposite of what you were expecting.
Poker is about making informed decisions based on the information you have available though. It’s the same with HUD stats or bet sizing tells. Usually they are very accurate but sometimes they actually cost you money.
More often than not though, these live tells will help you make the correct play. Just watch out you don’t rely on them too much and always consider everything that happened in the hand before you make your decision.
P.S.: If you can think of any live tell that isn’t in this list, please feel free to leave a comment.