Reading Your Opponents: How to Spot Poker Tells Like a Pro

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Poker is a game of strategy, but it’s also a game of psychology. To be a truly successful poker player, you need to be able to read your opponents and spot tells.

Tells are any kind of physical or verbal clue that gives away information about a player’s hand. They can be incredibly subtle, or they can be blatant. Either way, you need to watch out for these cues as they can distinguish between winning and losing a poker game.

Six-time World Series of Poker champion and GGPoker ambassador Daniel Negreanu is known to spot opponents’ tells like magic. He’s sometimes even able to tell the exact cards a player is holding from one look at them.

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Of course, it isn’t spellcraft but rather years of poker experience and keen observation which has helped Negreanu become a master at poker tells. With enough practice and experience, you, too, can learn to read people as well as he does.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Look beyond bluffing

Bluffing is such a fundamental and popular ingredient of poker that players almost automatically look for signs of it among their opponents. And for a good reason—bluffing can bring out significant tells if a player isn’t convincing enough.

It’s good to watch out for signs of bluffing around the poker table. But as you do, don’t also forget to pay attention to non-bluffing cues. That is mannerisms or actions that may indicate a player is confident about their hand or their position in the game. This will give you a more comprehensive view of the table and help you make better decisions.

Be patient

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Patience is a virtue in poker, and it’s also important when trying to read poker tells. The thing about poker tells is they don’t always happen right away or even every time a player is dealt a winning hand.

Sometimes it takes a few minutes (or even an entire hand) for a poker tell to reveal itself. So, be patient, and try not to get too fixated on one particular player or one particular tell. Watch the whole table, and eventually, you’ll start to see the tells you’re looking for.

Look for changes in breathing

One of the most telling signs of stress is an alteration in breathing patterns. If a player who is normally calm and collected at the poker table suddenly starts gasping for air, it’s a good indication that they are bluffing or feeling nervous about their hand.

On the other end of the spectrum, if an ordinarily fidgety and restless player suddenly becomes calm, it may indicate that they have a strong hand. As earlier mentioned, you must try to catch all of these details to get a better picture of the table.

Pay attention to their playing speed

This is a relatively subtler tell mainly because most poker players might focus on changes in an opponent’s body language and mannerisms but overlook how fast or slow they are playing.

Additionally, some players might be such pros at keeping a poker face, but their playing speed would still betray them.

A player’s speed of play can give you insight into their mental state and hand strength. If a player is quick to act on each round, it might indicate that they have a strong hand they’re confident about.

On the other hand, if a player is taking a while to act, it might suggest that they are thinking long and hard about how to play a weak poker combination like the Dead Man’s Hand.

Note their level of attentiveness to the game

How focused a player is on the poker table (or otherwise) can also tell you much about their stake in the game. Some might lose interest in their cards and relegate their attention to other objects, activities, or matters if they feel their hand isn’t good enough to win.

In contrast, a player who is laser-focused on the game and their cards is likely playing a substantial hand and has a good chance of winning the pot.

This is another poker tell that can be pretty subtle, so it’s essential to be observant and try to catch all the little details. Look around the table and find clues indicating whether your opponents’ interest in the game is waning or strengthening.

If you notice a player constantly checking their phone, taking their sweet time scrolling through social media, it might indicate that they are no longer as invested in the game as they were earlier.

Watch out for poker table talk

Chatting with fellow players might sound harmless, but not when you remember that everything that happens on the poker table can tell you something.

Many players use table banter to trick opponents into thinking they’re calm and relaxed because they have a great hand or throw them off their game. Remember that the next time someone chats you up at the poker table.

Picking up on poker tells will take time, practice, and experience. The best way to get better at it is to play more poker and pay close attention to your opponents’ tells. With time, you’ll start to see patterns, and eventually, you’ll be able to read poker tells like a pro.