Utilizing Live Poker Tells to Your Advantage – Expert Tips by Fedor Holz
Last Updated: November 5, 2023
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As you move up in the poker world and get to the higher stakes, you’ll find yourself facing a smaller pool of better players.
This is just the nature of the game, and as the competition grows stronger, you’ll need more weapons in your arsenal to stay on the winning side.
Knowing how to pick up on live poker tells is one such weapon.
There is no easy way to become good at reading live tells. The only real solution is the volume, i.e. playing thousands of hours against different opponents.
As you do this, you’ll notice certain patterns emerge and repeat.
Context Is Important in Poker Tells
When it comes to live tells, there isn’t a “one-fit-all” formula. For example, someone betting big on the river while sweating profusely doesn’t have to mean they are either strong or weak.
Putting things in the right context is crucial. It is all the different pieces of information put together that will help you come up with the correct decision.
Of course, you won’t always have a wealth of information on your opponents.
For example, in the WSOP Main Event, with thousands of players on the field, you won’t have much (if any) specific info about individual players.
In these scenarios, we can use what’s known as “population reads,” i.e., more general tendencies, to help us discern who a particular opponent is not and what they are likely not to do or know.
For example, a middle-aged player who qualified for their seat through a home game or a local league is almost certainly not an online professional.
Knowing this, when you see this player over-betting, you can be pretty sure they’re not worried about balancing their ranges and frequencies. If they’re betting huge, they probably have a big hand and are looking to extract value.
Game-related Tells to Fall Back On
There are two main types of live tells you can utilize, and the first category is directly related to the game itself.
One of the biggest things to focus on in this category is betting. This doesn’t mean just bet sizing (which is a big part of the picture), but also some general tendencies people have when betting with strong and weak hands.
In terms of sizing, many players will tend to go bigger when they have a value hand and will stick to lower bets with their bluffs, trying to conserve some chips if they’re caught.
Another general tendency is to be more thoughtful when constructing bets with big hands.
With weak hands and bluffs, many players will subconsciously reach for smaller denomination chips.
It will take some observation to pick up on these tendencies, but when you, they can be very helpful in tough spots, especially against non-professional players.
Player images courtesy of PokerGO
In addition to betting, just the way a player stacks their chips can often tell you a lot about their tendencies.
Tighter players will usually stack their chips neatly. More aggressive ones will not be as organized, partially because their chips are constantly in action, moving from their stacks to the pot and back.
Physical Reads at the Tables
The other large category of live tells is the physical tells. These can also help you make more money at the tables if you know how to read them right.
The player’s pulse is perhaps the biggest one in this group. Someone’s pulse rate will likely increase when they make a big bet on the river, for example.
Knowing this alone isn’t as valuable. However, if you stay observant, you can pick up valuable information from your opponent.
For someone holding the nuts, the pulse may increase for a brief period, but it will steadily slow down as they sit waiting for the decision, knowing they can’t lose.
If someone is bluffing, though, their pulse might not calm down and will instead continue to increase as time goes by, and they are sat waiting for the decision that could cost them a huge chunk of their stack or even their tournament life.
Eye Movements & Posture
Like other live reads, eye movements aren’t finite and can mean different things to different people. However, there are some general tendencies to be aware of.
Blinking is one of the biggest and most visible eye-related tells. To take advantage of it, though, you’ll need to study your opponent and figure out if there are changes in their blinking patterns when they are strong vs. when they’re bluffing.
Finally, a player’s overall posture can provide you with a lot of information.
There will be a difference in posture between a player who is genuinely thinking about the decision and someone who already knows what they are doing and is just acting to try and avoid timing tells.
These can be very subtle, but if you can figure them out, it can be very helpful. Knowing someone genuinely needs to think about the decision will, for example, allow you to eliminate certain hands from their range.
There is much more to live poker tells, and this article only scratches the surface. To continue learning and develop a much deeper understanding of live tells, check out the video above!