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How to spot poker tells

Ever played poker, and wondered how is it that some players know exactly what you’re holding? A million questions go through the mind in various situations: ‘why did everyone fold, when I had the best hand?’; ‘how did he even think of calling my 8x raise, when there was a chance of a full house on the board?’; and ‘how did he win with just a pair of fours, when there is a clear flush draw on the board?’

Well, there’s a clear answer to that. The players are reading you left, right and center. They know your tells. That is why neither you are able to slow play, when you have a good hand, or bluff when you have a bad one. The other players also have a higher chance of bluffing when they know your tell. 

Now, let’s quickly read a few basic pointers towards reading people’s tells.

Good Hand Tells

These indicators depict that a player has a really good hand:

  1. Shaking hands.
  2. Showing disinterest in the game, while making bets, or even a raise.
  3. Heavy breathing.
  4. Blatant dislike of his hand, with statements like ‘I know I shouldn’t make this call’ or ‘calling just to see what you hold’.
  5. Repeated checking how many chips the player has.
  6. Straightening up while playing implies much interest in the hand.
  7. Sudden silence shows that the player now needs to concentrate on his hand.

Bad Hand Tells

These indicators depict that a player does not have a good hand, and he’s most likely bluffing:

  1. Holding the breath. A player who holds his breath until the other player makes his move is definitely not holding good cards.
  2. Staring at other players, either to check whether they will call or fold, or as a false gesture of powerplay.
  3. Sounding insecure during table talk implies a bad hand.
  4. Excessive playing with chips, when otherwise the hands were calm shouts out ‘I am bluffing!’.
  5. Freezing after betting. That’s a sure shot tell of bluffing on a bad hand.

Drawing Hand Tells

These indicators show that a player does not have bad hands, but he is still hoping for the draw card to open, to make a good hand, or even the nuts:

  1. Checking the hole cards repeatedly.
  2. Delaying calling, on the flop, turn and river alike.

No Tell

It is however, most important to note that these tells only work when the opponent is not a poker pro. Poker noobs give out tells when they can’t hold their poker face. But poker pros give out tells when they want to. Poker pros are best in deception, so they would always want you to believe that they are giving out their tells. Your move based on their tells will give them an edge over you, because they would have bait you with their tells.

Although, these tell vary from player to player, its best to start practicing them every chance you get!  



Shikha Tripathi

A social media strategist and an avid poker enthusiast, she loves taking risks and so is naturally aggressive on the poker table.