Poker Tells That Made Fedor Holz a Millionaire – Learn To Read Your Opponents
Last Updated: August 11, 2023
The value of poker tells in live games is one of the most debated and controversial topics in poker. While some players believe tells to be a critical part of the game, others tend to dismiss them altogether.
Fedor Holz has made millions of dollars by exploiting live poker tells in his career and has often discussed their value openly in his coaching videos.
While the exact value of poker tells can vary quite a bit and depends on the players you are playing against, Fedor strongly believes that there is a lot to be gained from looking at what your opponents are doing closely at all times.
Let’s take a look at the top five live poker tells that have made Fedor Holz a poker millionaire and ways you can incorporate these into your game to start making better decisions.
Poker Tell #1. Bodily Posture
It is often said that the eyes are windows to the soul, and this is definitely true in poker. You can tell quite a bit by looking a player in the eye, especially if they don’t know how to hide the truth very well.
Some of the key things Fedor looks for in his opponents are related to the way they hold their eyes and the way they hold their entire body when they are thinking in a poker hand.
With amateur players who like to make a show, strong usually means weak, and weak usually means strong.
If a recreational player is leaning back in his chair and looking confident, he is more likely to be bluffing. Likewise, if he is sitting there and staring at one spot on the table, trying to look intimidated, chances are he has a monster hand.
It gets a lot trickier with pro players who try to hide live poker tells by taking some time in every hand and always maintaining a similar posture.
One great poker tells that Holz revealed to the public has to do with trying to figure out if a player is actually thinking or has already made his decision a while ago.
Pro players will often spend some time staring into the abyss after already making their decision to stop their opponents from finding timing tells. Yet, if you realize they are no longer thinking based on their eyes and posture, you can eliminate some hands from their poker range. If the player can make a decision quickly, it means they have a hand that's easy to play.
Poker Tell #2. Signs of Excitement
Making a big river bet is always exciting, whether you have it or not, and that’s especially true for amateur players who don’t exactly play poker every single day.
Such players tend to get very excited when they make big bets, especially ones that are for all their chips. Even many pros will have visible physical poker tells when they make big bets.
However, just being excited is not exactly the sign of anything. A player's pulse will get faster, and their face will get red whether they are bluffing with their tournament life or making a big value bet on the river.
This is why Holz advises you to stay on your guard and keep looking. Let some time go by for the situation to sink in with the player.
As seconds go by, the player will realize that he can't lose if he has a strong hand and that he could lose a huge pot if he is bluffing. If the player has a strong hand, his pulse will eventually even out, and his excitement level will go down, often in visible ways.
On the other hand, a player holding a pure bluff will often stay excited and visibly intimidated in ways that can’t really be hidden.
If the blood continues to rush to their face and their neck vein continues to pump strongly, they are a lot more likely to be bluffing.
Professional players will often be able to hide these live poker tells and even out their physical reactions regardless of their hand, but recreational players may have a lot to disclose with poker tells they don’t even know they are giving away.
Poker Tell #3. Chip Stacking and Bet Sizing
Looking for poker tells can start well before any play is made and even before the cards are dealt, starting with how players stack their chips. While you should not look to use this tell against professional players, amateurs are usually completely unaware of many things they do at the tables.
How a player stacks his chips can also help you determine how a certain player approaches the game overall. Passive and tight players tend to stack their chips neatly and in proper stacks, keep those stacks together, and never mix their colors. Conversely, players with loose and aggressive playing styles will often stack their chips randomly and keep different denominations stacked on top of each other.
While this is not a tell you should rely on its own, it can give you some indications on what to observe for a particular player.
The next chip-related poker tell you can look for is how players put their chips into the middle when making bets or calls.
When players use their lower denomination chips to make bets, despite having big chips available, they tend to be on the weaker/bluffy side.
On the other hand, making a bet with the big chip will often mean strength, as the player will be thinking the chip is coming right back into their stack anyway.
Finally, looking at bet sizing in every spot is also critical. While online, you can use the % buttons to get an exact sizing, in live poker, you have to decide on every bet size yourself.
For that reason, players tend to make slightly smaller bets than expected when they are bluffing and slightly bigger when they are value betting.
While these are not foolproof poker tells that you can bet your life on, they are all small indicators that can help inform your decisions and give you a chance to make a better play.
If a player is showing multiple poker tells that indicate their weakness, chances are they are actually weak, and you can make calls with a wider range of hands.
Poker Tell #4. Eye Related Tells
Going back to the players’ eyes, Fedor always says it’s very important to look at your opponent’s eyes before you make a decision. Many players seem to think they can read their opponent’s hand from their eyes, and while this is pure nonsense, there is some information you can get from it.
Recreational players often give away quite a bit with how they hold their eyes in Texas Holdem, as they will make unconscious gestures such as blinking or looking away when they are bluffing.
On the other hand, professional players will often try to mimic some of the signs of weakness when they actually have a strong hand.
If you can catch your opponent consciously staring at a single spot and not blinking an eye, chances are they actually have a very strong hand and are begging for a call.
On the other hand, when genuine, the same reaction is a sign of a bluff or a very weak hand that would much prefer a fold over a call.
Out of all the live poker tells you can have, ones related to the eyes are often the least reliable, as you can be wrong and read too much into something in many ways.
Yet, if you play with someone very often, you should be able to try and get some ideas as to what they do with their eyes when they are strong and what they do when they are bluffing.
Poker Tell #5. Speech Play
Talking is an integral part of live poker. Some players try to avoid talking much at the tables to avoid giving anything away, while others just can’t seem to keep their mouths closed.
Players who often talk are more likely to hurt themselves than to help themselves, although there are a few notable exceptions, like Daniel Negreanu.
Reading into a player’s speech play takes time, and you should only try to do it against players you play with often.
First and foremost, try to figure out if the player usually talks when he is strong or bluffing. With many players, there is a clear distinction between the two.
There is also some difference between what they will ask you and tell you when they have it and when they don’t, so you should carefully listen and observe, always collecting information.
When you play with a player who applies speech play a lot, you should be able to figure out what they are trying to do every time they open their mouth.
On the other hand, a good tip for you is to talk as little as possible at live poker tables unless you are in a spot where your opponent can’t exploit it anymore, such as facing a river all-in bet.
Since your opponent has no further decisions, talking to them now is a good idea. Try to get any information you can and read into that information the best you can.
Poker Tells – Understanding What Matters
Each poker player is different from another, and the ability to notice poker tells comes from spending a lot of time at the tables and being mindful of what’s happening at all times. Meeting many different poker players will allow you to distinguish between different player types and groups and to profile players after only seeing them play a few hands.
While profiling may not always be the best idea in life in general, it is of great value at the poker tables, and it is something that can give you a big edge from the very start.
You should start making assumptions about how a player will likely play when you see them making their first few moves. Be aware of how many hands a player is playing, how often they get involved on later streets, and how they put their chips into the pot.
Each move a player makes is another poker tell you can use to get a good general idea of how they play, which can help you make more specific decisions later.
Online Poker Tells
While you will surely be able to utilize additional information while playing at online poker sites, you should not rely on these tells as much as in live games.
We will not expand on this too much, but the most important thing you can track is how much time they take to make the decision and the bet sizing they use.
Bet sizing can give away a lot of information, so look for unusual patterns of players betting big with strong hands or vice versa, and exploit it when you notice someone not being balanced.
People don’t usually deviate from who they are too much. A player who tends to be too aggressive and loose will hardly ever stop doing that, while a very tight player will be much less likely to make a huge bluff. Outliers always exist, but for the most part, you will see patterns emerge.
Using Poker Tells the Right Way
Perhaps the most important thing with live tells is to use them correctly, which means not relying too much on them. If you spot one of these poker tells, it should not be a direct indication of your opponent’s hand strength. However, if a few of these points lead in the same direction, it is quite likely, that you spotted something valuable.
Poker tells that indicates strength
- Very small bets
- Big sizing on dry boards
- Betting at once
- Looking directly into your eyes
- Talking while it is your turn to make a decision
- Quick glance at the chips
- Nervous betting
Poker tells that indicates weakness
- Checking after thinking for an extended period
- Acting strong
- Shaking voice
- Freezing after making a bet
- Checking the hand again
- Staring at the hole cards or the board
While poker tells are a useful tool at the tables, you should remember to keep playing a strong fundamental poker strategy in the first place and only rely on tells to help you make some hard decisions.
Even when you spot some solid tells, don't let those completely control how you play the game, and remember to make strong mathematical and baseline decisions first.
Trying to rely completely on poker tells and going too far away from the baseline will get you into trouble and cost you more money than any poker tell could ever be worth.