Poker Tells Part One - The Brain
I know what you’re thinking: “You can’t see someone’s brain; how can you pick up poker tells from that?” And you’re right; you can’t see someone’s brain, but what you can do is understand the psychology of your opponents. Once you know why your opponent is acting in a certain way, it becomes much easier to exploit them.
In part one of our series on poker tells, we’re starting right at the top, the control centre of everything you do - the brain. We’ll be looking at the most common psychological poker tells players give away at the table and how you can exploit them.
Strong When Weak, Weak When Strong
One of the most common psychological tells you’ll come across in poker is a pretty straightforward one:
When a player is acting strong, they’re weak, and when they act weak, they’re strong.
It’s basic reverse psychology, designed to trick you into making the wrong move. While it may be simple, it’s surprisingly effective.
Humans are social creatures, and one of our great strengths is the ability to pick up on nonverbal cues to interpret how someone is feeling. If you look at someone who doesn’t look confident, your instinct is to take that at face value, so you assume they have a weak hand. If you don’t question your instincts, you’ll end up making the wrong decision.
But how do you know when someone is being genuine or not? After all, I’ve just explained that your instinct will be to trust everyone at face value, so how do you identify the people who are being deceptive? While there may be some people at the table who look dodgy enough that your instinct isn’t to trust them, that’s not going to be the case for everyone.
The best way to identify the people who are being deceitful is to watch them while they’re playing and look at the results at showdown. How does their body language match the hands they’re showing down? Do they align or not? Only through carefully studying your opponent can you truly identify the players with this psychological tell.
Be Wary Of False Tells
If you’re up against other thinking players at the table, there’s a chance that they’ll give off false tells to try and “level” you into making the wrong decision. The “strong is weak, weak is strong” tell is one of the most common ones for people to fake - mainly because it’s the easiest to do!
This is why you need to pay close attention to the hands your opponents are showing down. It’s easy to look at a player making a big show of aggression and think, “Wow, look at that; he’s trying so hard to look strong; he must be weak!” whereas in reality, they’re trying to trick you into calling.
While there’s no foolproof way of determining when someone is faking a tell or not, the best chance you have is to think about the kind of player they are. The better a player is, the more likely they will fake a tell. This is because good players will do their best to eliminate actual tells from their game but recognise that other players will look for them, so they deliberately mislead you with false tells.
How Do I Counter It?
Once you’ve found one of these players at the table, you need to act on it! There’s no point in identifying tells if you’re not going to adjust your game once you’ve found one. Luckily, this one is very easy to counter, but just in case you’re new to this, I’ll spell it out for you.
- If they’re acting weak, it means they’re strong, so when they act weak, only continue with your strongest hands.
- If they’re acting strong, it means they’re weak, so when they act strong, call down lighter or play back at them more aggressively.
It’s as simple as that! As long as you have a solid read that your opponent is giving off this tell, you’ll be able to exploit it by doing the opposite of what they want you to do.
Another common tell at the poker table is acting fast. Just to be clear, by acting fast, I don’t mean that they take 10 seconds to make a decision; I’m talking snap decisions - often less than a second or two. Many players struggle to understand what it means when a player acts fast, so let’s break it down.
So what does it mean when a player is acting fast? Well, if they’re able to make their decision almost instantly, it tells us that they don’t have to think about it. If they can act in a split second, their decision must be so obvious that they don’t have to consider it at all.
Sometimes in poker, you have really obvious decisions. For example, if you have the nuts on the river with a pot-sized bet left behind, you know you’re going to go all in - you don’t have to think about it. Almost all of the time, these obvious decisions are when we have our strongest hands. Some players will make these decisions instantly; why bother waiting around, right? But most players will at least pause for a few seconds to make it look like they have a decision before making the obvious play.
So, if someone is acting instantly, they either have an obvious decision, or they’re trying to make it look like they have an obvious decision and, by extension, a very strong hand. Just like before, the best way to figure out which is more likely is by studying how your opponents play and viewing their hands at showdown. If your opponent always takes a few seconds before betting with strong hands, and suddenly they’re snap-jamming over your bet, it’s likely that they’re trying to make themselves look strong.
Another way you can figure out how strong they are is by looking at the board texture. Often, the dryer the board texture, the easier your decisions are, as there are fewer straight and flush draws to worry about. Conversely, if a board is sopping wet with straight and flush draws all over the place, you often have to take more time to figure out how you want to play it, even with your strong hands. Therefore, someone acting instantly on a wet board is more than likely making a show of strength, as if they had a value hand, they’d want to consider their options on such a draw-heavy board.
How Do I Counter It?
If you think you’ve identified an opponent with this tell, how do you adjust to it? Well, we’ve discussed that someone acting instantly in an unlikely situation means they’re more likely to be bluffing. That means the best way to adjust to this tell is to call them down wider.
Exactly how wide you call them down will depend on your level of confidence in the tell. If you only have a suspicion that your opponent has this tell, only widen your calling range by a couple of percentage points until you get a solid idea of how they’re playing. One of the ways tells become unprofitable is by over-adjusting to them once you think you’ve found one - keep it conservative until you have a rock-solid read.
On the other side of the coin, we have players who act excessively slowly when making a decision. We know there are some players who seem to take an age over every decision, but those aren’t the ones we’re focusing on here. We’re talking about the players who play normally but suddenly decide to spend a long time on one decision. While you may think that it’s just the opposite of acting fast, and therefore we just make the opposite adjustment, it’s a little more nuanced than that.
Again, let’s start by looking at what it means if someone is taking a long time to make a decision. If they take a long time to act, the implication is that they have a very tough decision that needs to be thought through. More often than not, this means that a player either has a thin value hand or a bluff. However, as we mentioned earlier, a player may be deliberately taking a long time to give the illusion of a difficult decision where none exists. How do you determine the difference between a legitimate tank and a fake one?
The key difference is the amount of time someone takes. If they’re actually thinking through a decision, they’ll take a lot longer to do so, as they’re not even noticing how long they’re taking. If you’ve ever tried to “fake tank” when you know exactly what you’re going to do, thirty seconds feels like an hour. You can’t wait to make the action you want, so it’s hard to wait the same amount of time you do when making a legitimate decision.
While there’s no specific amount of time that has to occur for someone to be legitimately thinking, a good rule of thumb is the longer someone takes to decide, the more likely it is that their hand is weak.
How Do I Counter It?
As this tell is a little harder to identify, it’s best not to go overboard when making your adjustments. If you think someone is likely to be weak based on the time it takes them to make their decision, you can adjust by calling wider or playing back at them more aggressively.
However, I’d only recommend making slight adjustments until you’re confident in your read.
Attentiveness At The Table
Being consistently attentive at the table is very hard to do when playing live poker. The pace of the game is slow, you have to fold most of your hands, and it’s far too easy to get distracted by the goings on in the casino around you. This is something that affects every player at the table, and it’s something you can exploit if you look closely enough.
You’ll notice a marked difference in the posture and attentiveness of players at the table when they pick up a good hand they want to play. They’ll transform from slouching blobs at the table to perfectly postured players, and you’ll see their eyes light up as they realise they finally have a good hand to play. You can often see them shuffling around in their seat, itching for it to be their turn to act.
All of this adds up to a strong hand they can’t wait to play. If you see someone acting like this at the table, know that it’s very likely they have a great starting hand.
Once the hand is in full flow, there are still ways you can use the attentiveness of a player to your advantage.
One of the major things to look for is your opponent’s reaction to the flop, turn, or river. Most players can’t help but watch the flop as it comes out, eager to see whether or not they’ve made their hand. Instead of following along, you should watch your opponents as the flop is being dealt and look for the small reactions they make.
Most recreational players can’t help but crack a little smile when they’ve made their hand or shake their head slightly if they’ve missed the board completely. These tells are a lot harder to fake, as many players don’t even know they’re being watched when it happens. Better players are more experienced at hiding these tells, but many players will give something away if you watch closely enough.
Another action to look out for during a hand is if a player looks completely disinterested in what’s going on at the table. They’re watching people play roulette or watching the TV - basically doing anything but looking at what’s happening on the felt. While this may seem like someone a tell of weakness, it all depends on their posture.
Someone who is slouching in their seat and isn’t interested in what’s going on likely has a weak hand. They’re not in a position where they’re ready to make an action other than fold when it comes around to them. However, if someone is sitting upright in their seat, they’re showing that they are interested. Remember our preflop tell? Players will give away their general interest through their body language. If someone is trying to look disinterested in the hand but has positive body language, they likely have a strong hand.
How Do I Counter It?
As there are a couple of parts to this section, we’ll break them down individually.
- Preflop - If your opponent suddenly takes a keen interest in the game after being distracted, they likely have a strong hand. Counter this by playing tighter and only playing with the strongest hands in your range.
- Postflop Positive - If your opponent reacts positively to the flop, turn, or river being dealt, the card has likely improved their hand. Counter this by playing tighter against their bets and by not falling into their trap if they check.
- Postflop Negative - If your opponent reacts negatively to the flop, turn, or river being dealt, the card has likely not helped their hand. Exploit this by being more aggressive with your bluffs and by trapping with your strong hands.
- Postflop Disinterest - If your opponent looks disinterested in the hand, they’re likely trying to feign a weak hand. Counter this by playing tighter against their bets and by playing passively when they check.
Understanding the meaning behind certain actions at the table is vitally important to interpreting poker tells. While we’ve covered the tells most affected by psychology in this article, each tell in the series is going to be somewhat affected by the concepts we’ve covered today. Emotions play a key role in how we act at the table, and they’re not always able to be controlled. Knowing that the actions of your opponents are affected by these emotions makes them easier to understand and, therefore, easier to exploit at the tables.
Join us in Part Two of this Poker Tells series, where we’ll be looking at the window of the soul - the eyes. Make sure you join our PokerDeals Facebook group or follow us on Instagram to be notified of the next article in the series.
Poker Tells Recap - What Have We Learnt?
We've come to the end of our Poker Tells Series, and we've covered a lot in these six parts. So much so, we thought it was worth it to recap the key points we've learnt throughout this series in a way that's easy to digest. If you've skipped to the end of this series and want to find out what you've missed out on, you're in the right place! However, to get the best experience, we recommend going back and reading from the beginning - that way, you won't miss out on any valuable information. Without further ado, let's recap the important points we've learnt in our Poker Tells Series. Pay Attention! The biggest thing you should take away from our Poker Tells Series is how much you need to be paying attention at the tables. Not only do you need to be paying attention to spot any of these tells in the first place, but you also need to pay attention all the way to showdowns to see what these tells mean. So many of the tells we've covered can have different meanings for different players, so if you're not paying attention to what it means for your specific opponent, you're going to use the tell incorrectly and end up making a worse decision. Consider Everything When people think of poker tells, they maybe think of one or two classic tells that you'll see in Hollywood movies, but people give off tells with all parts of their body. Whether they're touching their nose while bluffing in a big pot or tapping their foot to the beat while they value bet with the nuts, your opponents are giving off tells from head to toe. If you only look for the well-known tells, you're going to be missing out on a lot of key information. Make sure you're constantly scanning your opponents for any of the tells listed in this series if you want to give yourself the best chance of picking something up. Treat Every Opponent Differently It's easy to assume that because a certain tell means your opponent is weak or strong, the same applies to everyone you come across who has the same tell. In reality, that's not the case. A number of tells have different meanings for different opponents. For example, if your opponent's neck is pulsing, it could mean that they're excited about holding a strong hand, or they could be nervous about pulling off a huge bluff. If you assume that each tell means the same thing for everyone, you'll end up making a lot of bad decisions at the table. Make Logical Adjustments If you spot a tell from one of your opponents, it's important that you use it to make logical adjustments to your strategy. This means that you should work out what the tell means from your opponent, then make changes to your strategy that counter that. For example, if your opponent has a tell that displays strength, you should counter that by folding more of your range and playing more passively. On the other hand, if your opponent has a tell that displays weakness, you should play more aggressively and call a wider range than you otherwise would. Make Small Adjustments At First When you first spot a tell, it's tempting to make massively exploitative plays to try and own your opponent. However, a smart poker player will start by making small adjustments to their ranges at first until they know their tell is rock solid. Making huge adjustments without being certain in your read is going to cost you significantly in the long run, so play it safe to start with and only make minor adjustments to your calling/folding/raising ranges when you spot a tell. Summary To be successful at using poker tells to enhance your game, you need to be attentive, perceptive, and strategical. You should be plugged into what everyone's doing at the table, every action they're making, and what they look like when they're doing it. Once you spot a pattern in their physicality, you can gain information on whether or not it means they're strong or weak. After working out what a tell means, you can use that information to inform your strategy and make adjustments to exploit your opponents. After reading through the Poker Tells Series, you should have the tools to do just that - so go out there are start owning your opponents!
A Beginner’s Guide To Poker Prop Bets
If you've played with action players at your local casino or watched one of the old episodes of High Stakes Poker, you'll have heard people talk about prop bets. But what exactly are prop bets? Are they worth your time, or should you ignore them and focus on the poker? We'll answer all of that and more in this beginner's guide to poker prop bets. What is a Prop? A "prop” or a "proposition bet” is a side bet made between players at the table, sometimes about what will happen during the hand, but sometimes about "extracurricular activities”. Most of the prop bets you'll hear at the table relate to the poker, whether it's a bounty for winning with a certain hand or players betting on what the flop, turn, or river will be. However, poker is famously a game of egos, and when those egos clash, it can lead to some extraordinary bets made away from the felt. We'll cover some of the more famous ones in another piece, including weight loss bets with Ted Forrest and Mike Matusow, golf bets with Erick Lindgren and Phil Ivey, and backflip bets with Huck Seed. For now, let's learn to walk before we run and focus on the poker-related ones. Props For the Whole Table There are two kinds of prop bets you can make whilst playing poker - ones that involve the whole table and ones between you and a friend. The ones for the whole table require everyone's participation to be worthwhile, as if some people refuse to join in, it puts them at an advantage over the other players. You also need permission from the card room, as some casinos won't allow prop bets such as these to be played at the tables due to licensing concerns. The majority of these games require the table to pay a bounty to a player who accomplishes a difficult task or require a player to pay a bounty if they fail to accomplish a task. The exact task set by the table will vary depending on the prop bet, and these bets can lead to some interesting dynamics at the table. Let's take a look at the most popular prop bets for the whole table. The 7-2 Game Arguably the most well-known prop bet in poker is the 7-2 game. 72 is known as the worst hand in poker, so to make the game more interesting, you can decide to award a bounty to anyone who manages to win a hand with 72. The size of the bounty will vary depending on the game, but it's often anywhere between 5-20bb, based on the amount of pain you want to inflict. This game is the most popular due to its simplicity - all you have to do is win a hand with 72, and you'll get paid by the other players if you do. It doesn't matter if you win at showdown or with a bluff; as long as the chips are getting pushed towards you at the end of the hand, you can claim your bounty. It also creates interesting dynamics at the table, as you don't know if someone is value betting with a very strong hand or bluffing with 72. Even if the bounty is relatively small, players will try to win a hand with 72 just for the ability to rub it in the faces of their opponents when they manage to get a bluff through. Some players have even expanded on this game to include hands like 83 and 94, but it's hard to beat the classic 72 game. The Button Game We all know the button is the most profitable position at the poker table, and you can expect to win lots of hands playing from it, but what if you were punished for not winning a hand from the button? That's the basis of the button game - a game where players must pay a bounty for not winning a hand on the button. The mechanics of the button game are simple; the table agrees upon a set amount that must be paid by the player who fails to win on the button - usually between 1-5bb. That bounty then goes onto the button when it is passed to the next player. If that player wins the hand, they win the bounty, but if they fail to win the hand, they must add their own bounty to be passed to the next player, and so on. After a couple of hands, there's can be a significant bounty up for grabs just for winning a hand on the button. The Standup Game Usually, being the last one standing is a good thing - but not in the standup game. If you're the last person standing in this game, you owe every other player at the table a bounty, which can quickly get expensive! To play this game, everyone must agree on a bounty to be paid by the last person standing, usually somewhere between 2-10bb. When the game starts, everyone must stand up. Once you win a pot, you're allowed to sit back down. It doesn't matter how you win the pot; as long as the chips are pushed your way, you can sit down. However, you must win the pot outright - chopped pots don't count. The last person standing must pay out the agreed bounty to every player at the table. This game can create a lot of tension, especially when there are only two or three players left standing. Props For You and a Friend If you can't get everyone at the table involved in your prop bets or just want to gamble with your friend, you can play some 2-3 player prop bets. These are side bets on the outcome of certain elements of the hand but do not impact the way the game is played. Let's take a look at some of the most popular prop bets. The Red/Black Game While some may call it degenerate behaviour to bet on what colour the flop will be, it's actually a lot of fun! This game is popular due to its simplicity, but you can make it as complicated as you'd like. The base game is a simple bet on whether the flop will be mostly red or mostly black. You pick a colour with your friend, who picks the opposite colour, and you agree on an amount to pay the winner. If your colour comes in, you win, but if it doesn't, you lose - it's that easy. However, you can make it more complicated by adding clauses or extending the bet to the turn and river. For example, you can win double if the flop comes down all red or all black, you can win 4x if all of a particular suit comes out, you can win 8x if the flop, turn, and river all your colour - the possibilities are endless! The Suit Game A variation on the red/black game is the suit game. This game takes it one step further, as it's now not enough for the right colour to come on the flop; the right suit needs to appear for you to win. The exact rules of the game can be deliberated between you and your opponent, but the most common way to play it is for a player to pick either one or two suits, and both players agree to pay the other a set amount depending on how many cards of that suit appear on the flop. For example, if you pick hearts and I pick diamonds, I'll agree to pay you $5 for every heart on the flop, and you'll agree to pay me $5 for every diamond on the flop. So, for a flop of AhKdQh, I owe you $10, but you owe me $5, so you end up with a $5 profit. You can make this game more interesting by adding bonuses for the flop having all three of a particular suit, or by doubling the stakes if the previous round was a push. The Pick a Card/3 Cards Game If suits and colours are too boring, you can play the Pick a Card prop game or the more commonly played 3 Cards game. In this prop bet, you and your opponent pick one or three cards to be your "props.” If your card appears on the flop, you win the bet, and if your opponent's cards come out, you lose the bet. This game is commonly played with three cards, as it's a statistical likelihood that at least one of your three cards will hit the flop, which makes the game a lot more interesting and leads to more bets being won or lost. Again, just like the other prop bets, this game can be as complicated as you'd like. Those of you who watched those early seasons of High Stakes Poker/Poker After Dark will remember this game, as it's the one that Doyle, Ivey, Negraneu, and others were playing during those games. Some examples of the variations they added include things like doubling the amount if your card appears in the middle of the flop, getting a bonus if your suit is on the flop, and doubling the amount you win if you had a winner in the previous round. Why Do People Play Props? The simple answer is because people like to gamble! Many players who sit down at the poker table aren't thinking of GTO ranges and proper postflop strategy ; they're there to have a good time and gamble their money - and prop bets are a good way to do that. Plus, live poker can be very slow, and if you're card dead, it's easy to lose interest. Playing small prop bets such as these is a fun way to keep yourself engaged with what's going on during the hand, even when you're getting bored. However, make sure you don't get too involved in the props and forget to play your hand properly! Should I Play Props? The answer to whether or not you should play props depends on what your goal is when you sit down at the poker table. If the goal is to have as much fun as possible and you find prop bets fun, then by all means, gamble it up with the rest of the table. But, if your goal is to be as profitable as possible, then it's best to give the card-based props like the red/black game a miss. That being said, some of the table-wide prop bets are worth participating in to gain favour with the rest of the players at the table. After all, no one wants to be the nit who wouldn't play the 7-2 game just because they don't want to gamble. Plus, if you're one of the better players at the table, you should be able to adjust to the new dynamic better than your opponents, giving you a bigger edge. Even if you're against these games, it's worth it to join in just so you continue to get action later on in the night - just because you're playing the 7-2 game doesn't mean you actually have to play 72 when you're dealt it. You're well within your rights to just fold it and take the goodwill from the rest of the table. Summary Prop bets are fun side bets that you can make while playing poker. These bets can be about the outcome of certain cards appearing on the board, or they can be bounties awarded to or taken from players based on whether or not they complete a certain task. They can add an interesting dynamic to the game, promote more action from the players, and can even increase the edge of the players who are better able to adjust to the new dynamic.
What Does Your Favourite Poker Hand Say About You?
We all have a favourite poker hand, whether we want to admit it or not, and what that hand is can say a lot about a person. That's why we've decided to take a closer look at people's most common favourite hands and what it says about them. Pocket Aces You're a grinder whose only focus is on making the most money possible. If someone asks you what hand you'd want to play for the rest of your life, there's only one answer - aces. They make the most money and, therefore, are your favourite hand. You're probably not much fun at parties and spend your time at home running sims on your state-of-the-art PC. Sure, you're better at poker than us, but are you truly happy? Think on that the next time you're raking in a pot from us gamblers. Pocket Kings While not quite on the same level as aces, you're someone who likes a strong hand but likes to live with an element of risk . Sure, you're likely to have the best hand, but there are still those pesky aces out there that can beat you, and it's that risk that you can't get enough of. Either that, or you're from Texas and have a thing for cowboys - could be either one. Pocket Queens The hunnies. The dames. The ladies. Whatever name you have for them, you just can't get enough of them. There's something about them that keeps you coming back for more , even when you said you'd quit after running into cowboys and bullets one too many times. You're the kind of player who wears their heart on their sleeve and isn't afraid to show their loyalty to their favourite hand at the table. You don't care what people say; women aren't the rake; they're queens, and you give them the respect they deserve. Pocket Jacks A wise man once said, "There are 10 different ways to play jacks, and all of them are wrong.” Despite this, pocket jacks are still your favourite hand to play. Maybe you're someone who likes a challenge, maybe you've finally figured out how to play them, or maybe you're just a masochist who loves seeing a big pair get cracked. Whichever one it is, we recommend picking a new favourite - for your sanity's sake. Ace King Suited You're a sculptor of chips, a painter of bluffs, a true artist at the table - at least that's what you have to be if a drawing hand is your favourite. You see all these people who love pairs and think, "Where's the challenge?” I want to miss the flop at least ⅔ of the time and really fight for my pots. You love hero-calling AK as it's the "nut no pair” and are willing to risk your whole stack with it at any time. Still, at least it's suited . Ace King Off-Suit Which brings us to AKo. Seriously, your favourite hand is AK, but you don't like it suited? What's wrong with you? Do you hate equity? We get it, it's hard to work out whether or not you have a flush, and you don't want to deal with the pressure while everyone's looking at you, but seriously, it's worth it. Either that, or someone pranked you by saying AKo can make two flushes and is better than AKs, and if that's the case, where are you next playing so I can come? Seven Deuce You've read the poker books telling you to play the good hands and thrown them out for being too bossy. No one tells you what to do , you'll play your own goddamn money the way you goddamn please, and that includes punting off with 72o just to rub it in the faces of the grinders. Nothing beats the sense of satisfaction of throwing this hand in the face of some kid in a hoodie, telling them, "That's how you play poker, kid.” Not even the several trips to the ATM over the course of a night can dampen that feeling, no matter how many sniggers you hear from the table. Ten Deuce Ahhh, finally, someone of culture. "If it's good enough for ol' Texas Dolly, it's good enough for me,” you say. This is a hand that won back-to-back WSOP Main Events, there has to be something to it, right? Right? You're a player who takes superstition very seriously . You never win the first pot of the night, you touch wood for good luck, and you always play your favourite hand. One of these days, it will pay off for you; I can feel it! Nine Six of Hearts You're the comedian of the table, but there's also a romantic side to you . Sure, everyone laughs when you turn over "the sex hand,” but they don't understand that to you, it's more than sex; it's about love. You love the 96 of hearts, almost as much as you love shoving the nuts in the face of that attractive player that just sat down in seat six. Almost, but not quite. Pocket Deuces Deuces never lose…es; that's the saying, right? Well, that's what you've heard, and that's what you're sticking to. Hey, if it rhymes, it has to be true - even if it doesn't completely rhyme. You're someone who likes an underdog , who likes to cheer for the person who's got the lowest chance of winning. It's a good job too, considering your choice of favourite hand - you can always cheer yourself on to pull off a shock win, no matter how unlikely! Can't see your favourite hand? Let us know what it is on Facebook and Instagram and we'll follow up with a part 2!
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