ACTING STRANGELY

A player who does something “strange” after he bets probably holds a strong hand.

This is a subset of the previous ‘getting loose’ category of tells. A player who is willing to attract attention to himself by doing something strange and out-of-the-ordinary during a hand is probably not afraid of too much. Also, a player who is willing to potentially piss off his opponent is also probably not afraid of too much. A bluffing player generally would not risk increased observation by acting weirdly.

Strange actions could include: making exaggerated betting motions, making strange faces, saying strange things, or anything that is out-of-the-ordinary for that player.

One example of a “strange” action you can sometimes see players make is prematurely tipping the dealer after betting and before an opponent has called. This kind of irritating move is not something you see bluffers do, because bluffers, as you know, are more prone to engage in conciliatory behavior.

Another example of a strange behavior could be your opponent calling the clock on you. If your opponent does this, he’s probably not bluffing. A bluffer wouldn’t risk arousing your anger or curiosity by calling the clock on you.

However, both this example and the previous prematurely-tipping-the-dealer are pretty basic psychology, so it’s always possible better players will try to mix it up a bit.

See ‘Exaggerated betting actions’ in the during-action section for more on strange behavior.

LOOKING IRRITATED, WORRIED, OR FEARFUL

Some players with good hands will appear worried or fearful after making a bet.

Similar to the waiting-for-action behavior of acting disappointed when seeing good cards, a player who has just bet for value may look irritated, worried, or fearful. In the classic weak-means-strong interpretation, these players are putting on an appearance of weakness and so should be read as strong.

A player’s expression of fear or worry will generally be subtle. Most players are not making a conscious effort to appear fearful of being called; rather, they are instinctually putting on a show of weakness so that they seem less threatening to their “prey”. This might show up in the face as slightly knitted eyebrows, downward-angled eyebrows, slightly pursed lips, slightly pouting lips, or a combination thereof. The posture could also be affected; shoulders could be slumped, the neck could be lowered, arms could be drawn inward slightly, etc.

There are many players who have a natural, baseline look of irritation or anger when they play. This might include a knitted brow and pursed lips. Others may have other emotional-looking baseline appearances. You have to take this behavior into account when trying to interpret their tells. Sometimes this will make them harder to read if they are consistent in their behavior. With some players, this will make them easier to read because they’ll lose their irritated appearance only when they are trying to bluff.

A small note: the post-bet display of disappointment or worry is related to the similar waiting-for- action tell, but slightly different. A player with a strong hand who is waiting for you to act might look more disappointed with the situation, whereas a player who has bet with a strong hand might look more worried or fearful. They are related emotional displays, but they do have different manifestations. If a player is attempting to communicate any of these negative emotions, then it probably has the same meaning (a strong hand), but it is still a distinction worth making. (For a more in-depth analysis, I recommend Paul Ekman’s book Unmasking the Face, in which he teaches the specific facial movements associated with different emotions.)

TALKING

A player who is more chatty than usual frequently holds a strong hand.

The general rule is: the more a player talks, the more likely it is that he’s got a strong hand.1 This is regardless of the actual content of what he is saying. A player who’s willing to be talkative is generally going to be more relaxed about the situation than a player who stays quiet. (See the post-bet ‘Silence’ chapter for more information.)

1This behavior is more meaningful in post-bet situations, so that’s why I’ve placed it in this section. In waiting-for-action situations, some players who hold weak hands will try to talk an opponent out of betting.

A player who is talking may be trying to deceive you in some way, so you may be able to deduce other clues about the nature of their hand (see General Verbal Tells for more information on this). However, if you are uncertain about the interpretation of what they’re saying, or if you’d rather not get involved in trying to interpret what they’ve said, you might simply judge the sheer wordiness as a clue to their strength.

Another note: if a player is waiting for you to act and starts talking specifically about how the hand is being played, the player is more likely than usual to be strong. An example would be a player who suddenly, on the river, starts saying something like, “Hmmm, let’s see. You raised on the turn, and I called. Then you bet the pot on the river. Who raised pre-flop?” A player with a vulnerable holding is unlikely to go out of his way to draw attention to how the hand has been played, or the specific strategies that he or his opponent might be using. Think about it this way; a player with a weak hand will usually not wish to remind an opponent what has occurred in a hand, because it might give their opponents clues as to their holdings.

HANDLING CARDS LOOSELY

Some players with good cards will tend to move their cards around a lot because they are so relaxed.

This is a subset of the idea that players with good cards tend to get more loose, but it’s a distinctive enough tell that it deserves its own section.

Players with good cards don’t have anything to hide. Often, they’ll move their arms or hands around loosely. This behavior can translate to how they hold their cards. You’ll often see players who have bet and are hoping for a call lift their cards up high in front of them, almost as if showing the cards to an imaginary player seated behind them. They may pick up and look at the cards and put them back down a few times in a row. They may shuffle them impatiently. All of these physically loose behaviors are indicators of relaxation and of high hand strength.

This tell shouldn’t be confused with the tell of threatening-to-turn-over-a-hand.


The player on the left has bet. He is holding his cards up high, as if showing them to a player behind him. This will usually indicate a player who is relaxed because he has a good hand.

ACTING READY TO MUCK

A player with a good hand may act as if he’s impatiently ready to muck.

Another indication of strength is when a player has bet and, while he waits for his opponent to act, he holds his cards loosely between two fingers as if he’s ready to muck. (You see this in limit a lot more than in no-limit.) This motion can be interpreted as a borderline insulting statement, basically saying something like “we both know you’re folding, hurry up and fold so I can muck and we can play the next hand.” This statement acts as a kind of dare to the opponent who’s thinking of calling. Because we know that bluffers avoid making any statement (verbal or physical) that could be interpreted as insulting or aggressive, it’s easy to see why a player who performs this action will not usually be bluffing.

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