Many players tend to stare longer at weak hole cards than they do at strong hole cards.
As noted in the previous tell, players have an inclination to look away quickly from cards that have helped, and to stare at cards that haven’t helped. This tell can be especially pronounced with hole cards.
Many players will tend to glance away quickly from good hole cards. They will tend to put them down quickly as an instinct to hide their good fortune. (See ‘Looking away from good cards’ for more on this.) Understanding this reaction allows us to understand the opposite behavior these players exhibit when looking down at weak cards. For most players, the longer they look at their hole cards, the less likely it is that they have a strong hand. This tell doesn’t have to be extremely pronounced to be useful. Depending on the player, it might only be the difference of a few fractions of a second.
To put it simply: in a typical game of average players, if I see a player look down at his cards for the first time, and stare at them for a couple seconds, I’d say that player has a weak hand about 90% of the time. (This tell is much more meaningful than its opposite: putting cards down immediately. If I saw a player take a first glance at his hole cards and put them down immediately, in a fraction of a second, I would guess that player has a strong hand maybe a little more than 50% of the time.)
This tell is useful in all poker games. In 5-Card Draw, you can often see this tell when a player picks up his cards all at once, and stares at his hand, trying to see if anything is playable. Conversely, when he gets a big hand, he will look at the cards quickly and then put them down quickly. Or when a player draws a single card, fans his cards, and then just stares at the hand because it hasn’t been helped. Or in 7-Card Stud, when a player receives his last card down and just stares at it and his board cards because he still doesn’t have a hand.
Peripheral vision can help you spot this tell in most games. As the cards are dealt, you can look towards the center of the table and use peripheral vision to see who’s putting cards down quickly and who’s staring at their hand for a few seconds. If you see all your opponents staring at their cards for a couple seconds, you can feel more comfortable entering the pot with weaker holdings.
Many times, spotting this tell will make up my decision if I am contemplating an aggressive pre-flop raise. If I’ve spotted a few people who have looked at their cards for a few seconds, I know that the level of risk has decreased and that these players will likely be folding to a raise. My favorite use of this tell is in no-limit games when I’ve seen a player stare at his cards for a few seconds and I’m quite certain, based on previous observations, that he’s weak. If this player gets involved in a pot with me, I can raise him pre-flop much more aggressively than I otherwise would.
This tell is very helpful in Guts-style games (popular in some home games), where a player’s hand is usually only two or three cards. In Guts games, players usually have to put their hands in position above the table, and then either hold onto their cards or drop their cards at the end of a countdown; this indicates if they are contesting the pot or are folding. This tell alone will let you crush these games, simply by using peripheral vision to see who’s ready to play quickly and who’s staring at their cards for a few seconds before being ready.
Indian poker is popular in some very friendly home games. It typically is played as a variant of a five-card stud game, except you hold up your single hole card on your forehead, so that everyone can see your hole card except you, and so that you can see everyone else’s hole cards. People’s tendency to look away from good hands is a very valuable tell in this game. It’s often possible to tell when you hold a strong hand because your opponents will avoid looking at the card on your forehead when it’s good for you, whereas they will often appear to “study” the cards of players who hold weak hands.
Indian poker and guts poker are not played at casinos and rarely played for significant stakes, but if you get a chance to play them, you will clearly see this tendency of glancing away from good cards and staring at bad cards. Observing this tell in these games where it is more obvious will help you spot this behavior when it is displayed more subtly in other, more serious games.