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Common Poker Tells to Recognise When Playing With Friends

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Poker night is always great fun, a chance to hang out with your friends, share some laughs – and maybe even win some money. 

Even when it is a friendly game, you want to have some sort of edge to help you win – and that can come from learning a bit more about poker strategy, but also with learning about poker tells. 

What are Tells?

In simple terms, a tell is a physical or verbal signal that an opponent can share (without noticing) which gives away the strength of their hand. 

The more experienced a player is, the less likely they will have any subconscious tells, although they might use common tells as bluffs. 

Of course, knowing about tells is only useful if you aren’t giving the game away yourself by the way you behave at the table – so check yourself out before you start trying to read your opponents. 

It is also crucial to remember that tells can mean different things with different players, and you will need to know what their default setting is to notice any deviation, and then match that deviation with an outcome. Essentially, the more you play with the same people, the better you will get at reading their subconscious body language and picking up their reactions. 

To get you started, lets look at five different actions that could be tells. 

Eye contact

Whether a player makes eye contact with you – and when they choose to do so – can be telling. 

Prolonged eye contact is aggressive and intimidating, and might be considered to be a strong action. 

Conversely, a player might avoid eye contact if they are bluffing or they have a weaker hand. 

Awareness of their actions will of course change their behaviour; they might bluff with prolonged eye contact to ‘prove’ their strength. 

Timing

If a player seems to be taking a long time to decide between whether to bet or to check, they will usually have a reasonably good hand. If they check quickly, they probably have a weak hand. If they best strongly, it’s likely to be a strong hand. 

However, they may be forcing the pot with a bluff, betting quickly to show that they are ready to take the game to Showdown. 

Usually, hesitations or pauses in the game will point to some strength, and it is worth mentioning that in some cases rushing to complete a hand might actually mean they do not have anything. 

Attention

A player who is distracted, either by their phone, the TV, or their snacks is not someone who is engaged in the game, so you can probably assume they do not have a good hand to play. 

A player who has been quite casual and relaxed but suddenly sits up as the river comes through might have just scored a strong hand. 

Then, the player who just saw the river card and visibly slumped might have just had their plans ruined and be about to fold. 

Conversation

Chatty players will seem more relaxed, and this will give the impression of a strong hand. However, a player that is usually quiet but starts forcing small talk might be less focused on the game, demonstrating a weaker hand.

Some players might make statements about their hands, aiming for them to be in direct opposition to the strength they have – but this can be misleading or a double bluff when they say they’ve got nothing, they probably haven’t got something worthwhile.

Look out for trash talk or goading, or obvious irritation. Players who want to rush you in the middle of a game usually have an agenda – and they usually want you to make a mistake. The time when this is particularly significant is if they are goading you straight after making a significant bet, because this would suggest that they have a strong hand. 

Hands

Talking of hands, what the player does with their hands can be telling. 

Chips are a good place to start. A strong hand will often lead to a player handling their stack before it is their turn to bet because they are ready to get in on the action, while a weaker player might wait until they must touch their chips to add to the pot. 

The way they move chips can be important too. If they chuck them in aggressively they are more likely to be bluffing, while a graceful slide denotes strength. 

Constantly checking their cards can mean that they don’t have a simple straight or a pair, but need to make more of a complex decision. Strong hole cards wont change between betting rounds, and the player will know exactly what they have. 

Play the Player

All of these tells can mean something, they can mean nothing, and they can even mean the exact opposite – depending on who you are playing with. Strategy is more important than tells. 

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