There's no question that Texas Hold ‘Em poker is a rapidly growing phenomenon, both online and live. The two can be perceived as two entities, entirely, however.
Many players prefer one or the other, as both have their pros and cons. But many of those, including some of the most notorious professionals, swear by real-life games over online, thanks to one of the most ominous factors of poker: tells.
A tell, or a read, is a conscious or unconscious habit that could give other players an indication of the strength or quality of the cards in their hand. From a subtle movement to a change in betting patterns, players are often broadcasting their hole cards without even realizing it.
As with any poker strategy, playing off of tells is never a sure thing. Some of the best out there will even put on “false tells,” hoping you perceive the quality of their hand incorrectly. But for the most part, there are plenty of clues and hints you can pick up form players at the table.
For example, look at one of the most common likenesses among players at a casino or playing on television at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Many of the players are sporting sunglasses. This goes back to the biological accusation that “the eyes never lie.”
There are a variety of things to look for in a players' peepers. Many people can't help but stare at big hole cards, like pocket kings or aces, although others will tell you, if they stare at cards for long duration, such as an unhelpful flop, they haven't made a hand. Biologically, it is said that one's pupils will enlarge or expand when they see something they like. This is where sunglasses often come into play.
Others, such as poker pro Phil Laak, who has been coined “Poker's Unabomber,” will take refuge under his hooded sweatshirt and shades. Greg Raymer, nicknamed “Fossilman,” is known predominantly for hiding an icy stare behind holographic glasses, as he took down the 2004 WSOP title. Some more experienced players may talk to others in the hand, knowing that other people can rarely “look someone straight in the eyes” while being dishonest or bluffing.
If someone is averting their eyes or masking, it may be to cover a bluff or to hide their confidence. Be weary of this play. Similarly, many players at a poker table will hide their face under a cap or visor, or look straight down to avoid a glance from an opponent. Many poker greats, like 10-time WSOP champion Doyle Brunson, suggest that observing a player's increased respiration or blood flow can tell you more than a player is willing to say. A nervous player with shaky hands may be struggling to hide a strong hand. Others may be looking for an involuntary twitch of the eye or mouth.
One of the most common mistakes during a flop, according to poker pro Mike Caro, is watching the cards come out, rather than the players. The flop will still be there, but in the meantime, see how others react to it.
Card players, especially novice ones, remember rank before suits. If three cards of one suit come out on the flop, look to see who's peeking back at their cards. They are likely checking to see if they have a fourth in that suit, forecasting that they may be on a flush draw. Players will likely not look back if they now they're sitting on a flush right from the flop. Practice remembering your cards each hand, by both rank and suit.
Caro emphasizes that information about your opponents can be picked up just by examining someone's focus. If someone's sitting on a strong hand, they may be anxiously watching the remaining players' actions. If they are considering betting, they may peek at their chip stack. If they look away from you after making a raise, they may be feigning a weak hand. Always take note of where a players' attention has shifted to. It just might pay off.
Caro has examined tells in poker to help him achieve success in the game. One of the cautions he preaches is among the most widely accepted rule when reading opponents: strong is weak and weak is strong. Take note of betting patterns and changes in style. Someone sitting on a strong hand may simply call your raises, with intent of trapping you. Quick calls are likely to indicate a semi-weak hand or a drawing hand.
An aggressive, though weak-handed player might bet into a pot with a bluff, in hopes that others will fold. Caro notes that you can tell a lot about a player by observing his style, even if you just sat down at the table. Look at the way their chips are stacked. For the most part, neat and conservative chip stacks indicate a tight player. They will likely stay clear of play until they have a strong starting hand, so stay cautious of their raises. Similar players may have their profited chips stacked separate from what they started with, especially in a cash game. Betting just slightly more than their profit may get them to fold if they aren't sitting on a very strong hand.
Sloppy and scattered chips, Caro advises, likely denote a reckless player who is willing to gamble. They would be more prone to bluff and play loosely. Consider re-raising more often against these players.
The denominations of chips a player bets with can also inform you of his confidence. If a player makes a 1,000 chip call with 10 chips valued at 100 each, he may not be as confident as someone who casually throws in a single 1,000-value chip. Most players like their larger chips and will only play them when they are confident they are coming back.
Always be weary of a player that seems uninterested or disappointed when making calls or small raises. Sighs and mopes, like players who announce, “Oh, I guess I'll bet,” or “Why am I calling?” are probably trying to mask a powerful hand. Why would they otherwise want to communicate weakness to players at a table?
In his books, Caro describes what he calls the “pokerclack.” While much of reads are visual, the “clack” is an audible tell, as when someone signals their disappointment in a revealed card through a single click or ticking sound with their tongue. Be cautious of their play. They, too, may be putting on a show.
Understanding how your opponents play and what sort of cards they are hiding is just as important, if not more so, than the cards you are dealt in any poker game.
Now that you understand the art of reading tells, see if you can use this information to your advantage. Stop by local restaurants and bars for free poker tournaments through Resort Poker League. At no cost to enter, you have nothing to lose. Enjoy a social evening with friends and entertaining poker play, with the potential of winning trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, as well as gift certificates to some of your favorite area restaurants.