Spotting and Concealing Tells

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“He’s got a good poker face.” This phrase is heard a lot, and usually refers to a person who is able to make their face look like a stone sculpture, unmoving and emotionless. The person doesn’t give away any information, making it hard to get a read on him. One poker player who is like this is Phil Ivey, who is frequently said to be able to play 7-2 offsuit like it is pocket aces. On the other end of the spectrum is Daniel Negreanu, who is always laughing and joking around, his face constantly in motion. While he doesn’t have the stereotypical poker face like Phil Ivey, Daniel’s poker face is just as effective.

What makes these two vastly different poker faces work is their consistency. Tells are indicators of what a person is thinking, but they all stem from a person doing something differently or doing the same thing in one situation while doing something else in another situation. Consistency is the key to masking tells, so if you make a raise, make the raise the same way every time, push your chips forward the same way, have the same expression on your face, be it a stone face or a jovial expression, and react the same way to your opponent’s scrutiny. There are limitless tells, but they can be as simple as sitting back in your chair, or as complicated as a slight tightening of your grip on your cards.

While you conceal your tells, you also want to be on the lookout for your opponents’ tells. This can be difficult in online play, as you can’t see your opponent’s body language, but there are still tells. How long your opponent takes to make their move, the size of the bets, these are two of the very best tells in online play. One thing you can try to do to conceal your own tells in online play is to make your move as soon as it is your turn to act. This gives your opponents little information, but does require that you know what you are going to do, so while other opponents are thinking on their move, you should be creating different scenarios in your mind, deciding what move you will make according to what move your opponents make.

There are more possible tells in live play, but you still need to be attentive to your opponents. The best time to get a read on your opponents are when they are looking at their cards, so be alert and spot if someone momentarily tightens their grip on their cards or has a small expression flutter across their face.

Faking tells is also a nice way to gain an advantage, even if it is only temporary. One thing I like to do is when I do have a big hand, I like to appear to think for a while when it is my turn to act, as my opponents will automatically assume I have a tough decision to make, and thereby do not have a great hand, but merely a pretty good hand at best.

You should try and be aware of your own tells and try to eliminate them. This is why you also need to pay attention to how you play and not just how your opponents play. Your opponents will see more than you do, so you must put in more effort in concealing your tells than your opponents do in spotting them. It does help if you play against trustworthy friends a lot to ask them if you have any tells that they see and exploit. If you and your friends play primarily for fun and not for money, you will likely receive an honest answer.

So always remember that when you are playing poker you should be trying to conceal your own tells while spotting the tells of your opponents. If you find that you can take advantage of your opponents, then you should be able to rake in some chips.

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