For beginners new to live poker, reading opponents can seem like a mystifying skill. But learning to spot basic “tells” – involuntary actions that reveal information about a player’s hand – is easier than you might think. With some awareness of common live poker tells, even newer players can pick up important clues from their opponents.
When you’re seated across the table, every mannerism and behaviour can potentially telegraph your competition’s intentions. Experienced players look for patterns in betting, physical gestures, speech, and more to gauge hand strength. Let’s walk through some of the most frequent live poker tells to help decrypt opponents’ actions.
The Nervous Fidgets
Watch out for eager fidgeting that demonstrates pent-up excitement about a hand. Foot shaking, chip stacking, knuckle cracking, and other nervous ticks give away that a player is thrilled with their cards. They can barely contain their energy. A calmly motionless player is more likely trying to conceal the goods.
The Eager Tells
Too much or too little talking can also be revealing. Those prone to joking and table banter when suddenly quiet likely have a serious hand. Conversely, excess ego boasting about “crushing” or overselling strength typically masks bluffing. The more someone verbally overcompensates, the less likely they probably have a real hand.
The Confidence Cues
A player leaning back and spreading their shoulders wide is often an attempt to appear confident and unafraid with a weak hand. Bluffers want to seem as comfortable and carefree as possible. In contrast, strong hands tend to correlate with subtle slouching or hunching forward. Next time you see pronounced body language, consider the motivation behind it.
Are Poker Tells Important?
There are many other common live poker tells like trembling hands, avoiding eye contact, quick call reactions and more. But you don’t need to master reading every subtle clue right away. Noticing just a few key tells will give novice players valuable insight into opponents during live games.
Learning to spot basic tells, especially when a player deviates from their normal behaviour, is an important skill. But don’t get overwhelmed trying to decode every mannerism. Focus on the most frequent and obvious tells for now.
Remember Teddy KGB’s Tell?
One famous movie poker tell comes from Rounders. In the climactic final hand, Mike McDermott identifies Teddy KGB’s Oreo cookie tell. When Teddy gets bluffed, he anxiously eats Oreo cookies. When he has a big hand, he stops eating. Mike picks up on this pattern and correctly reads Teddy’s strong hand based on the tell. He folds his hand, avoiding losing his entire bankroll.
Teddy’s Oreo eating was an obvious “Hollywood tell”, but it illustrated how even small physical actions can give away information if they closely correlate to hand strength.
With practice and experience, you’ll learn which behaviours and patterns at your table correlate to hand strength or weakness. For now, just stay observant of any obvious changes. Use clear tells to help determine when opponents are feigning confidence or sincerely signalling a strong hand. Avoiding classic beginner mistakes will give you an advantage over less observant players.
If you’re interested in playing live poker and may want some help, feel free to get in touch with me below and we can have a chat and find out the best way to help you improve.