Watch and learn about visual poker tells from a stellar line-up of poker pros. Paul Phua picks the highlights from Sam Trickett, Fedor Holz, Steve O’Dwyer, Timofey Kuznetsov (aka “Trueteller”), Lucas Greenwood and Dan Cates (aka “Jungleman”).
When you have played live poker for a long time, you start to be able to “read” many of the players – that is, you can often work out what cards they probably have from the way they behave, the things they say, or the way they bet. You will find further advice in my video on reading poker tells, along with a guide to 10 common tells.
In this “Ask the poker pros” video, Sam Trickett, Fedor Holz, Steve O’Dwyer, Timofey Kuznetsov (aka Trueteller), Lucas Greenwood and Dan Cates (aka “Jungleman”) all share their considerable experience of visual tells with the Paul Phua Poker School.
Sam Trickett: “If he’s trying to look weak, he’s probably strong”
Sam Trickett, Britain’s No 1 poker player, says that only the most amateur players have genuine, uncontrollable, obvious tells. Most intermediate poker players are aware of what tells are, and try to disguise them. Therefore, you should often draw the opposite conclusion from what they are trying to make you think!
“I look at my opponent,” says Sam Trickett, “and I try and think what message he’s trying to give off to me. For example, if he’s trying to look weak, I’m probably more inclined to think he’s probably strong, because it’s hard for someone to have the confidence to look weak when they are weak. You know, to double bluff. It’s more common that people try and do the opposite to how they actually are.”
When looking for specific reverse tells, Sam Trickett says, “There’s all sorts of little things. A lot of the time when they give speech play or some sort of movement or they are fidgeting around too much, they’ve more likely got a hand because when they are bluffing they don’t want to give too much away. They’re probably more likely to just sit still if they are bluffing.”
Fedor Holz: “Is he more comfortable or not?”
For the young German poker prodigy Fedor Holz, tells are a confidence trick: “I think it’s mostly just the general feeling for how confident people are. That’s mainly what I rely on is, like, what’s my intuition about that person: is he more comfortable or not?”
Fedor Holz also warns that you cannot rely on tells until you have sat at the poker table for a while to get to know a player’s style. When you see their hand at showdown, think back to how they acted – did they look strong or weak when they had that hand? Over time you can build a profile of tells tailored to that particular player.
Steve O’Dwyer: “Are they nervous with a good hand, or a bad hand?”
Like Fedor Holz, the American poker pro Steve O’Dwyer looks at whether a player seems comfortable or not. He, too, warns that you need to build up a profile on that particular player.
“Some people are nervous and shaky when they have a big hand,” explains Steve O’Dwyer, “some people are nervous and shaky when they have only a bluff and they’re super-calm if they have a good hand. So you just have to watch people closely, and over many, many hours kind of see, like, all right, is this guy the type that gets nervous when he’s got a good hand, or does he get nervous when he has a bad hand. Because usually it’s one or the other.”
Timofey Kuznetsov (“Trueteller”): “The easy tells come from amateur players”
The Russian poker pro Timofey Kuznetsov, better known by his online name of “Trueteller”, cautions against expecting experienced players to give up any tells at all: “The ones you’re going to explain easily will come from amateur players,” he says.
Experienced players may give off tells, he says, but they are so adept at hiding them that it will generally only happen when they are tired and get careless.
Lucas Greenwood: “It’s more about noticing inconsistencies”
The Canadian poker pro Lucas Greenwood believes that betting patterns are by far the most important tell. If their bet on the river does not follow on logically from the hand they are representing on the flop, it is possible they are bluffing.
“If someone for example is trying to represent a really big hand pre-flop,” explains Lucas Greenwood, “and then the board comes out with a bunch of hands or a bunch of cards where, like, Aces suddenly isn’t even a very good hand and he is still going crazy at it, it’s more likely that they’re bluffing because it doesn’t really add up.
Dan Cates (“Jungleman”): “It’s more important what they do when they aren’t bluffing”
Dan Cates, aka “Jungleman”, raises a very good point. Poker players more frequently bet with a good hand than a bluff. Therefore it is more efficient to observe how they act with a good hand: if that behaviour suddenly changes, you might suspect a bluff.
“If someone’s moving freely when they’re not bluffing,” Dan Cates says by way of example, “and then they’re totally still maybe when they are bluffing, then that would be how you might know.”
For further tips, see “Reading poker tells”.