In my last column I explored some basic skills that would help players figure out what their opponents were likely to hold. These weren't the giveaway tells that you see in the movies – but were skills of observation, typing opponents, and deduction based on the action and the exposed cards. In this column I'll address a few of the more obvious unconscious actions that poker players make that give away the strength of their hands,
I see this among older guys mostly – as a bluff of sorts. They want to represent strength. So they grab some chips before someone else's turn to bet, as if they are ready to open the betting or call a bet made by someone else. They do this to try and intimidate others into not betting. But then when the bet comes to them they fold or, if no one has yet bet, they check.
This tell is easy to exploit. It represents weakness. So if you see it, bet into them and watch them fold.
One word of caution. There are some players who are so inexperienced and inept that they grab their chips out of turn without artifice. They lose track of who has the action or their eagerness overcomes them and they show signs of interest in betting prematurely. Make sure that you are not giving the clueless too much credit. If someone seems completely new to the game, tend to respect a passive chip grab as a sign of a hand they like.
Rechecking Down Cards
This is one of the most useful tells in stud. And it has a few different varieties. In its most frequent form it happens on fifth or sixth street when a player hits a third suited up card and then quickly looks again at his hole cards. He is checking to see if he made a four-flush. He remembered the rank, probably, of his hole cards, but since his cards weren't suited, he didn't recall their suits. So he has to check again.
This is a wonderful moment of transparency. You know he doesn't have a flush. If he had two suited cards in the hole he wouldn't have to check to see what they were; he would have remembered them from third street. So act accordingly. If you are also on a draw, call. If you have been pushing a pair or two pair, continue to do so even though he has a scary board.
Here's another variation of that tell. A player with a high card bets third. Similarly, he bets fourth – with no hesitation. On fifth, he is still high, his cards are not suited or coordinated by rank, but he rechecks his down card after getting his third exposed card.
Chances are he's checking to see if he made two pair. He wouldn't need to check if he started with a wired pair and just made trips. He wouldn't be betting third and fourth street on a flush draw with unsuited up cards. But he might well not recall the side card when he started with a split pair.
I love this tell. It usually happens on the last card of a round. A player looks at his final down card, looks up, and stares aggressively at you while making a physically forceful bet – sometimes literally flinging or pounding his chips into the pot.
Most of the time – though surely not all of the time – this indicates weakness. The guy is trying to look strong to scare you into folding when, in fact, he has a mediocre or busted hand.
I'd say the tell is only about 60% accurate. This is because this tell, more than any other, seems to lend itself to being "reversed". Many players know that staring is seen as a "strong means weak" tell. So they reverse it on you – acting strong by staring when in fact they are strong. Over time, you should be able to separate out those who are slick enough to know this tell from those who are just using first level trickery. Tend to discount this tell in the former and respond to it in the latter.
In my next column I'll address a few more tells as well as pointing out ways to prevent yourself from revealing the true strength of your hand.