Five Common Poker Tells – What They Mean And How To Spot Them

By Ian John
October 23, 2023

It is one of the most common aphorisms in film and TV shows that when a game of poker is being played out, there is one player who always has a poker tell that the hero of the piece can detect.

A good example came from the Casino Night episode in the hit sitcom, The Office, where Dwight thinks Jim has a tell as he believes Jim coughs when he has a good hand.

Jim, on the other hand, has recognised that when he coughs, Dwight folds, thus making it easy for Jim to eliminate Dwight from a hand simply by coughing!

YouTube video

Unfortunately, in real life, things are slightly more difficult to detect when you are at the poker table, more so against players who have a bit of experience.

So in this article, we are going to focus on some of the more common poker tells that you may want to learn about to enjoy a bit more success at the poker table.

However, before we look at five examples of more commonly seen tells, there is one big and important caveat that we have to add here.

A Poker Tells Caveat – Context Is ALWAYS Key!

When you are dealing with issues such as poker tells, the important thing to remember here is that the context is always key.

Whether or not the five following behaviours are genuinely tells, depends entirely on context and it is down to your judgement as to whether a player displays any of these behaviours as a genuine tell, or if they are perhaps totally unaware they are doing it. Or, doing it on purpose to try and trick you into thinking they have a tell, when they do not.

Bearing this in mind, this means that you should analyse the players at your table for a while before starting to think that they may have a tell.

Eye Contact – Making or Avoiding It

In general terms, the guidance most pros tend to follow is:

  • Eye Contact – If a player looks you squarely in the eye then they are generally conveying that their hand is a strong one.
  • Looking Away – If a player looks away from you when you look at them, or refuses to make eye contact with other players, then this tends to indicate that they have a weaker hand.

Another thing to consider is that when a player makes a bluff, then they are less likely to look directly at their opponent and are more likely to focus on their cards, or the community cards.

You should also try to make sure that the action, whether the player makes eye contact, or not, is not part of a players schtick or usual routine. In these cases, using eye contact is much less useful, or even redundant.

You can be reasonably confident when a player makes eye contact, or avoids it when it is not part of their usual routine and they do this out of character. This is much more of a poker tell and is when knowing this can be beneficial.

Poker Tells
Who Has A Poker Tell At The Table?

Handling The Cards And Chips – What Does It Mean?

Strange as it may seem, you can gain a lot of information by how a players physical hands react in play. This will give you information on the strength of the poker hand they hold.

A player with shaky hands is nervous but strangely enough, this is not nerves caused by holding a weak position. This is one of the poker tells that is an indication of a strong position.

How a player handles their chips is also a potential poker tell. If a player is not next to act and they are already sorting through their chips to make a bet, or handling them, then this is a reliable indicator that they have a strong hand and are readying to bet.

Players that hold a weaker hand, will often leave their stacks untouched as they have no intention of betting and will fold when the action comes to them.

Players that also hold their cards in their hand before the action reaches them are usually intending to fold. Additionally, if they employ a card protector, then they may not place this on top of their cards if they are intending to fold.

Remember, smart players can double bluff here, grabbing chips when they have a poor hand, but if you can place these actions in the context of how they have behaved during the game, then it is easier to detect if they are bluffing, or if it is a genuine example of one of the most common poker tells.

Chit Chat – Giving Away More Than What Is Said

What a player says at the table can give more away about them and their hand than perhaps anything else.

So much so that there have been books dedicated to the subject of verbal poker tells.

Some of the most common verbal poker tells are:

  • A player talking and being relaxed during a hand – This tends to indicate a level of confidence in their cards which means they usually have a strong hand. If they suddenly become more quieter, or more talkative, then this can indicate that their hand strength has declined (quieter) or improved (talkative).
  • Player Statements – Sometimes a player may say things like “I’ve had rubbish hands all day, I’ve got to play this one”, or “I’m already in for the BB, so I’m going to play this one anyway.” These stamenets are usually used to misdirect players and are often the opposite to what the player is intimating. So for example, in the two examples shown above, the player is indicating their hand is weak, but in many cases, they will actually have a strong hand.

How Long It Takes A Player To Bet And Their Bet Size

The speed at which a player bets can be a really useful way to pick up information on their hand.

Players that tend to make snap raises or calls, tend to be acting from a weaker position. Players that take longer over a bet tend to have a stronger hand, as they are often trying to size the bet perfectly to get as many other people into the hand (or out of it) in order to get paid off.

Bet size can also be a good indicator of hand strength. A player making a very large bet out of sync with the way the betting has gone previously, is often a player bluffing and hoping their large bet will see other players fold.

A player who makes a considered raise, or call, tends to indicate a stronger hand as they are not trying to oust players from the hand but rather keep them in the hope of taking more chips from them.

Players Behaviour When They Are Not The Player To Act

As the action moves around the table, it is tempting to focus on the players who are acting in the betting round. But it is also good practice to check out the behaviour of the players who are not at the focus of the action.

The more interested a player is in a round, the more likely they will have a stronger hand. However, if a player has been dealt their cards and then starts chatting to people with them, or orders a drink, or shows little interest in what is happening on the table, that usually means a weak hand.

The less interest a player has in what is happening at the table, the more likely it is that when the action gets to them, they are likely to fold, or in rare cases, check.

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No Poker Tells at Bet365 Poker!

Of course, with bet365 Poker operating online, you don’t need to worry about any tells you may exhibit once the cards are dealt!

However, be aware, there are online tells that can give your opponents an idea of what hand you may hold!

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