Spotting Poker Tells

Poker tells are verbal and non-verbal signs players give about the hands they’re holding. They can sometimes be the clue you need to determine whether a player is bluffing.

Many of the top poker pros wear hats and sometimes even shades when playing in poker tournaments. This isn’t just for reasons of "image" – it helps hide their eyes and the tells they can give their opponents.

Beware that in advanced poker bluffing, a player may intentionally provide a false tell. For example, a player with a strong hand may use body language to try to give other players indications that portray hesitancy or fear. This could trick opponents into raising or calling when in fact the player is pretty confident of a win.

A weakness with new players is that they tend to overact – always pretending to have weak hands when their hands are strong, and vice versa. For an observant poker player, these kinds of bluffs are easy to detect.

Poker Tells and What They Imply

Here are some of the main poker tells and what you can (usually) assume they imply:

  • fidgeting before and during a bet, followed by stillness when you reach for chips – the player is probably bluffing and doesn’t want you to call
  • shrugs, sighs and other "obvious" signs of weakness or resignation – these are probably bluffs; consider calling if the player bets
  • hands shake involuntarily after a player places a bet – the odds are high that the player has a very strong hand indeed and is anticipating a possible coup; it’s a bad idea to call
  • looking away from the table – often a sign that a player has a good hand; their seeming distraction takes pressure off you and makes it more likely that you’ll bet
  • faster breathing after placing a bet – of the poker tells, this is a good sign that a player has a strong hand; if a player is bluffing and nervous about being called, slower or stilled breathing is more likely
  • a flick of the fingers or extra emphasis when releasing chips to place a bet – the odds are good that the player is bluffing or nervous; the exaggerated motion is an attempt to "emphasize" the bet for the benefit of other players

Some poker tells happen when players first look at the cards they’re dealt. For example, if a player looks at their cards, glances quickly at their chips, and then looks away as if uninterested or distracted, it’s a sign that the player has a good hand.

If a player looks at their cards for too long, it’s one of the poker tells that the player is feigning too much interest and probably has a weak hand. Unless, of course, the long look is an intentional bluff!