Post-bet tells refer to those tells that a player exhibits after he has made a bet or raise. The tells in this section are post-bet tells that indicate a player has a weak hand and doesn’t want a call. They are in a very rough order so that the tells I consider most important are listed first.
Some players will be more still than usual after they bluff.
When animals are in danger, they freeze up. It’s a physiological response to fear and anxiety: the deer-in-the-headlights reaction that we’re all familiar with. And this is how most people react at the poker table when they’re anxious.
Some bluffers will try to act relaxed by smiling or talking or moving around a bit. Where you can sometimes find the stillness is in the hands, the eyes, or the chest. The hands will often be frozen in place, placed in a pose on their cards or resting on the table. The eyes will often be very still, not looking around at all, or they will move in small, self-conscious jerks. Blinking may be less frequent, or very stiff and repeated at set intervals. A player’s breathing may be more shallow, less frequent, or may even stop altogether for a while. Even if a player is making an effort to move or look around in a relaxed way, you may notice a stiffness to his movements.
The best way to look for this tell is to observe its opposite first. Players are more prone to being physically loose when they hold a good hand. If you’ve noticed that a player has been physically loose in a few pots when he’s strong, then you would like to observe him in a pot when he’s bluffing. The more you can study a player in these key spots, the more chance you have of getting a reliable read.
Stillness of a player’s legs and feet can be very meaningful, provided you’ve noticed that a player has the tendency to move his feet when he has a good hand. I’ve played with some players who shake their legs constantly throughout a game, and then when they bluff their leg or legs stop shaking. This can be a great place to look because many players are not as consciously aware of that part of their body.
Inducing this tell
The stillness tell can sometimes be induced when you’re contemplating a call. Your opponent may be engaged in some motion or gesture, but when you reach for your chips, the player’s actions suddenly slow or stop. For example, your opponent may stop shuffling his chips, stop bouncing his leg, or pause his breathing for a couple of seconds. Or, he may be talking to his neighbor, trying to seem relaxed, but when you reach for chips, his face will get still and he’ll stop talking.
Basically, you want to try to be in tune with your opponent’s physicality. You want to try to feel how your opponent reacts to your actions. You want to sniff out the tension that they want to hide from you.
When this is working well, it can feel like a psychic connection.
A note about good players
Most decent players will have it as their general strategy to stay very still and unreadable after betting, no matter the strength of their hands. (Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius are examples of players who remain very still and stoic in significant post-bet situations.) This is especially true when good players are playing in tough games against their peers. When they are playing amateurs, good players will be more relaxed and less worried about leaking information. As always, before relying on a tell, you should have correlated that the tell is meaningful for a particular player.
AVOIDING EYE CONTACT
Players who are bluffing will often not be able to meet your gaze and will avoid looking in your general direction.
You may have heard that bluffers will try to stare you down. This is oft-repeated in many poker tell books and articles. While it is true for some people, it is not generally true. In my experience, most bluffers will not want to look you in the eye, and their eye contact with an opponent will be greatly reduced compared to the times they are value-betting. When most bluffers do look at you, their eye contact will be fleeting, and possibly accompanied with neutral (or even friendly) facial expressions or verbal statements.
When a no-limit opponent makes a big bet, and I am uncertain of what to do, I will typically wait for a little while, looking for clues. Players with good hands are more likely to engage you in some way. They might sneak glances at you, or look at you openly, or they might talk, or they might make a physical gesture that indicates relaxation. If I don’t get any kind of relaxed response like that after a few moments of waiting, the chances of the person bluffing has increased in my mind. If an opponent completely refuses to meet my eyes after he’s bet (and always assuming I’ve already noticed that he tends to look at me after value-betting) then it’s very likely that he’s bluffing.
I don’t recommend frequently burning up a lot of time by always waiting for a while when it’s your turn to act, but for large, important pots a longer pause will sometimes give you really good opportunities to gather information. Players with good hands will sometimes show signs of irritation and anger in these spots, either from you taking too much time or just from being studied. They may start looking at you more openly, and even giving you some hostile expressions. Many players take it as a personal affront that someone might try to read them, which (perhaps ironically) can lead to them being easier to read. Seeing a player who has bet into you get irritated is great information, because bluffing players will virtually never show those emotions; they will just want to remain neutral.
As I mentioned, while I think this tell I’ve described is more common, there are some players who have the opposite tendency, and who avoid eye contact when they have a strong hand. Go to the post- bet section ‘Looking away from you’ for more information on that.
Many players will tend to be very quiet after making a bluff.
A bluffer is generally anxious and wants to avoid notice. Silence is one of the instinctual ways a player tries to make himself invisible. This tell goes hand-in-hand with the stillness of a bluffer mentioned in the last section.
Just as with the last tell, you should try to observe a player when they have a strong hand first, because that will give you a baseline for their relaxed behavior. Then you’ll more easily be able to see how their behavior varies when they’re bluffing.
This tell is most useful for the talkers—the guys who haven’t figured out that they should probably just be quiet when they’re involved in a hand. These guys can sometimes make their hands very obvious. Many of them will talk a lot when they’ve got a strong hand, and then clam up completely when they’re bluffing. It can sometimes be surprising that people will make the differences in their behavior this obvious. You may often wonder if you are being set up by a false tell, but you’ll find that this happens far less than you’d think. If you’ve correlated a player’s behavior over several significant hands, then chances are you are seeing a real tell. Most people are pretty oblivious to the fact that other people are observing them and paying attention.
Sometimes the talkative guys, when bluffing, will go out of their way to make small talk with their neighbor in the hopes of appearing relaxed and normal. These players might also put on a relaxed smile to go with the talk, which may stand out as being unusual. Sometimes this talk will seem distracted and forced when compared to the player’s usual manner of speech. Your particular read in such spots is going to depend on how much you’ve studied the player and how relaxed you think he is.
Most players aren’t super talkative, but will still give you occasional clues those few times they do talk. As with the last tell, a pause after your opponent has bet can occasionally induce that player to interact with you verbally. Some players who hold strong hands will be more likely to talk to you after you’ve deliberated for a while. They might spontaneously say something like “What have you got?” or “Tough decision, huh?” Whereas most bluffers will stay pretty clammed up if not prompted to speak.
Some good players like to ask questions of an opponent who has just bet in the hopes of getting a read. How much an opponent engages them verbally or with eye contact can tell a good player a lot. This is addressed more in the section on ‘conversational probes’.
A note about good players
Assuming they’re playing against tough competition, good players will mostly keep quiet after betting, no matter what they hold. When playing bad players, a good player is more likely to be verbally tricky. A good player is more aware of how his table image is perceived, and is more capable of effectively manipulating his opponents.