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Poker tells - hidden body language

To bluff or not to bluff?

Who doesn't wish they had X-ray glasses, not just to allow them to spy on nearby colleagues, but also to see the cards at the poker table? Science isn't expected to provide any help in the next few years, but we can, in fact, get an indication from players as to what they might have. We call these "indications tells".

A tell is a conscious or unconscious signal, for instance, a gesture or the way someone looks, that reveals some information about the opponent's hand. A traitorous twitch of the eyebrow might reveal a bluff.

A poker table is teeming with tells. All you need to do is to look closely to see them. This article will help you out by detailing some common tells that players have.

The unconscious tells

There are two types of tells: an unconscious tell and a deliberate tell. An unconscious tell is one that somebody makes when he feels unobserved, or does not know he is doing it. An example is covering the mouth with his hand, particularly if done frequently. This can be an indication that he does not have a strong hand.

A deliberate tell, on the other hand, is where he intentionally tries to convey something. He may tell you a story, so to speak, and you must figure out whether what he is saying is true or not. We'll cover deliberate tells in the next chapter.

We'll be covering the unconscious tells first. We all have our little giveaways: if we're nervous, we run our hand through our hair; some of us wiggle our feet or press our limbs together. An unconscious tell may be something else, such as the nature of your clothing.


What a person wears also reveals much about him. Is your opponent a wild daredevil or a silent wall flower? This can give you an indication of his playing style.

The way he stacks his chips may also be of note. If carefully sort them, you are usually facing a conservative player who doesn't make crazy plays. If the chips are unorganized, he more likely varies his play and is not afraid to take risks.


Quite a few players' posture betrays the nature of their cards. An unconscious change in their sitting position, such as leaning forward, likely indicates a strong hand. With a weak hand they often show less body tension, for example, having hanging shoulders.


Many think that nervousness is a sign of a weak hand. If the nervousness is in fact an act, then all too often the player is holding a monster.

Imitations of real nervousness are done badly. It is usually greatly exaggerated and you can easily detect when someone is really nervous.

Should an opponent act nervous in a critical game situation, this is usually an indication of a strong hand.


A player's breathing pattern can be a very meaningful tell. His breathing changes are almost never intentional. The closer you are to the player, the better this tell will work for you. Shallow breathing, or an attempt to avoid breathing loudly is a sign of a weak hand.


Bluffers will try everything to try appear as normal as possible. The reason for this is known as the "calling-reflex".

Inexperienced players, in particular, like to see a showdown whereby they can look for signals that might give away their opponent's hand in the future.

Nearly all bluffers, therefore, instinctively try to remain as calm and inconspicuous as possible.


If someone has concealed his mouth with his hand, he often holds a weak hand - he wants to hide his emotions. In a sense, he does not want his expression to betray his hand.

The same is true for a player who is reluctant to glance at you: he is worried that his eyes might indicate he is afraid.


This is probably the most valuable unconscious tell. If a player quickly looks at his chips then looks away, he probably wants to bet. Alternately, he might also take a quick look at his opponent's chips. It is important that he does not feel he's being under observation.


Particularly for beginners, this is a reliable tell. The tell here is an unconscious one, brief look at the player's own cards. If, for example, the flop brings 3 hearts and the player looks at his cards, it is unlikely he has the flush.

This is because with an off-suit hand, a beginner usually takes no notice of the suits at first glance. Only with a suited hand will they remember the suit. Thus you can often assume here that they have at most one heart.


If an opponent acts friendly towards you after he bets, it is probably a bluff. He does not want a personal confrontation with you and you should concentrate instead on the hand.

On the other hand, a friendly player who suddenly becomes unfriendly is more likely to want you to call his bets.

Another tell is the grin: someone who is trying to look serious and involuntarily exposes a smile most likely holds a monster. A player with a natural smile tends to have a good hand, rather than those who force a smile.


As one would guard a treasure, so do many players guard a good starting hand. They briefly look at their cards, conceal them quickly and cover them with their hands.


Inexperienced players will often show their hand to a friend or playing partners. Here, they most likely tend to hold strong hands.

There are two reasons for this: first, the person wants to show that he is a good player. He can only do this with a legitimate hand, probably a made hand, that the other inexperienced player can recognize as such. Secondly, those who look at the cards might betray a bluff to the opponent.


If someone looks at their hand and bets immediately, then, with inexperienced players, this is a good indication of an honest play. Before a bluff, people will usually take some time to consider whether they think it'll work. Moreover, they'll try to avoid displaying any remarkable action, so as not to arouse distrust.


When your opponent finds himself in a special game situation, for example when he tries to bluff or has a monster hand, you will often see him grab a drink after his move. Although this is supposed to look casual, it is definitely something that should catch your attention.

You can also draw conclusions about someone's hands from the way some people smoke their cigarettes. Exhaling a large smoke cloud is an indication that they have a strong hand, since they are not worried about you calling. If he tries to breathe out as inconspicuously as possible this usually indicates a bluff. This tell is a little vague, however, and should be used in conjunction with others.


The way someone puts their chips into the middle of the table can reveal information about their hand. If he has a strong hand and wants to encourage calls from opponents, he will not put on much of a show. He does not want to frighten anybody and will either say nothing or casually announce the value of his chips.

A player with a weak hand behaves differently. He will appear optimistic or announce the bet in an authoritarian manner. Isn't this odd, considering this draws attention to the bluffer? Nevertheless, this is understandable, since he is trying to chase the opponent away by appearing to be in control of the hand. Only after will he try to appear inconspicuous.

A further signal is exaggerating the betting of the chips. Someone who emphasizes pushing the chips in the direction of the opponent or even throwing the chips in, probably wants to intimidate. Good indications are a stretched lower forearm and an extension of the fingers.

Conscious tells

In 1978, the poker legend Mike Caro wrote:

Most people can not live how they would like. As children, they had to do homework, which they hated, [...] As adults, they must live with people they don't like, pretend to feel fine when miserable, act as though they have things under control, despite being insecure and anxious.

These people are actors. They pretend to be a person they are not. At the poker table, they operate subconsciously under the motto: "If I do not adjust myself, people will see my true nature."

What does a player do with a strong hand? Many will try to act weak. What is a bluff? An attempt to appear strong. If you are good at it, the opponents will not notice you are acting. If they are good at it and understand the theatrics, you have a problem.

Fortunately, many players are bad actors. In order to avoid nasty surprises, there is a simple, basic method for attempting to recognise deceit: your opponent tells you a story. Review not only what he is doing now, but what he has done previously. Then ask yourself: does it make sense?


Pretend weakness can manifest itself as a sigh, drooping of the shoulders or brooding. People who pretend to be weak have a strong hand. They want to encourage a call or even a raise from opponents through their deceptive mannerisms.

Someone who consciously looks away during a hand is usually dangerous. He acts as though the hand does not matter to him in order to provoke action. This happens often when the flop is dealt. A glance at the flop and then a quick look to the side are an indication of strength.

You will see this tell in various forms, with beginners more prone to exaggeration. The situation is similar when people act as though they want to throw their hand away when it is not their turn.

Most players make their decision within a few seconds. If someone broods for a very long time before finally making a large raise, they want to pretend it was a very tough decision. Normally, you can sniff out strong hands and monsters.


If you can correctly use tells to identify faked weakness, you can save a lot of money. Also profitable, but more risky, is identifying faked strength.

Sometimes a correct tell and a brave call can bring you money from hands you would never have considered calling with.

Unlike players with strong hands, who want to encourage you to put chips in the centre, players with weak hands will want to discourage it. Here are the best signs:


If someone is reaching for his chips whilst it is an opponent's turn, it is usually an intimidation attempt. On the other hand, if a player who constantly plays with his chips suddenly stops when it is your turn, this is usually a sign of strength.


Players who make penetrating, rigid glances at their opponent do not usually hold a dangerous hand. The signal "I've watched you closely and know what you're doing" is often a sign of weakness.


If an opponent takes an especially long look at his cards or the board, he is mostly playing a weak hand. If he takes a long time before betting, he is probably on a bluff.

A strong tell is an opponent repeatedly looking at their starting hand after making a bet and then you reaching for your chips. Here you can expect a bluff.


Players with a strong hand will be hoping until the last moment that their opponent continues with the hand. If they want to terminate the action rashly, for example, by saying things like "I'll show as well", or by 'laying claim' to the pot in the middle, he'll usually have a weak hand.


Tells are not always as clear as we would like them to be. Thus, you will not only want to look for one, but for several from your opponent. If they all match, then it can make your decision easier.

If someone, for instance, quickly looks at his starting hand, then hides and protects it with his hands, glimpses his chips, makes a raise and fumbles with his glass, seemingly bored, you can get away from a strong or very strong hand.

It becomes complicated when tells contradict each other. Even for this, there is a solution, however. Often, only one aspect of the player's actions will be conscious. Find out which tell is an act and go with the opposite of what the player wants you to do!


Comments (28)

#2 therockerman, 26 Feb 09 01:03

this article is pretty amazing. ive made 8 final tables in a month just knowing that people arent bluffing me in those tricky situations helps thanks guys.

#3 marcus420, 26 Mar 09 06:41


#4 Aleko1987, 01 Apr 09 20:32

amazing read nice work guys!!

#5 Hilptones, 25 May 09 13:28

I've loved this article. thanks pokerstrategy.

#6 timmydk, 28 May 09 04:49

very nice, it helps me a lot.

#7 ripardo, 12 Jun 09 08:00

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#8 simm1, 24 Jun 09 17:56

very nice article :) now I just wanna play live

#9 IRNMAIDEN, 20 Jul 09 15:06

ill surely be trying this tonight...... i won the tourney last week without this, so i hope to wi tonight.

#10 cerberus210, 06 Sep 09 07:11

This is a pretty nice article. Good job pokerstrategy

#11 hahahihi, 08 Jan 10 14:53

nice things, dude!

#12 Koshburger, 16 Jan 10 11:22


#13 pasqua544, 12 Jun 10 13:11

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#14 pasqua544, 12 Jun 10 13:12

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#15 cheeyang, 05 Jul 10 02:30

Great article!

#16 fisherx34, 27 Mar 11 17:40

article was very useful, thank you.

#17 LittleWolfMike, 09 Apr 11 03:02

Very good article and useful, helps me understand the game a lot.Thank you.

#18 SolidSneak, 14 May 11 00:25

great stuff

#19 leebrian87, 30 Aug 11 11:18

love this article!

#20 caledonia, 18 Nov 11 12:53

playing my first like tourney tonight so this is going to be a big help,cheers pokerstrategy...

#21 caledonia, 18 Nov 11 12:54

first live...lol

#22 SillySaurus, 01 Nov 12 21:32

Gonna play my first homegame in a week. I can't wait to put this great article into use. :D

#23 pkmasters, 16 Oct 13 03:14

good job

#24 meanmachine008, 22 Aug 14 10:23


#25 Dedees89, 20 Oct 14 01:15

Good but boring

#26 briccius, 28 Dec 14 18:27

LOL is that GM Rustem Dautov?

#27 LeNNy010, 15 Mar 15 08:17

Nice article, now I know where to look for with bluffs.

#28 MrPink578, 21 Nov 15 12:10

If you pay attention, body language can tell you a lot.

#29 killadi, 20 Apr 16 06:08

how do you differentiate the unconcisous and conscious actions of the players?