How To Read Poker Players

Top Tips To Read Poker Players

A crucial skill to learn if you want to be successful at poker, is how to read other players and notice subtle changes in their playing style. Known as 'Poker Tells', these changes in behavior can unintentionally broadcast what cards someone has to the entire table. Some people spend their entire playing careers trying to perfect the art of reading other poker players, and it can sometimes be the difference between winning big and losing your entire stack.

Every poker tell can be placed into two categories – Gameplay Tells, and Physical Tells. Understanding the difference and learning to read other players won't guarantee a win, but it will allow you to make better decisions and increase the odds of getting the best possible outcome in each situation.

Gameplay Tells

Betting Patterns

Betting too much or not enough is one of the easiest tells to look for, and the best part is, it doesn't require a lot of effort to learn this skill, just an understanding of the game. A general rule of thumb, especially when up against newer players, is – big bets mean good cards, small wagers mean weak cards. If an opponent only bets small amounts for twenty hands in a row, then suddenly makes a sizable wager, odds are, they have high-ranked cards.

Not betting correct sizes can also be a good indication of the strength of someone's hand. If the pot is SC100, the last bet was SC60, and a player wagers SC10, it shows a severe weakness and lack of confidence in their cards.

Folding

Folding might save chips in the short term; in the long run however, it can prove quite costly. Poker can be a very temperamental game; one minute you’re getting dynamite cards, the next you’re receiving utter garbage. Players who only bet on a handful of high-ranked hands in a gaming session are setting themselves up for failure because it shows an aversion to risk and makes them predictable. If an opponent folds 30 hands in a row, then suddenly starts betting aggressively, the chances are, they've been dealt decent cards.

Bluffing Too Often

Just like folding every hand can help get a read on someone, bluffing frequently can also provide much needed insight into someone’s playstyle. Once everyone knows which players overuse bluffing, then they might as well hand over their stack because it’s all over, nobody will respect their bets anymore and will call nearly every time.

Physical Tells

Physical Tells have a far more extensive list than Gameplay ones, but many of them are also harder to learn because it requires an understanding of the person you’re trying to read. You have to know if another player is acting nervous because they are unsure about their hand, or because they are just a jittery person in general. There are four easy tells to look out for at the poker table, everyone is guilty of them at some point, and some are harder to mask than others.

1. Talking

Many expert poker players will stay silent the whole game, regardless of what happens at the table or if someone asks them questions. Talking is the easiest way to get a read on someone; their tone of voice can often betray their cards. If a player has been talking non-stop all game, then suddenly stops, it’s an indication of what their hand might be. A shaky voice can mean nervousness and weak cards, while being overly talkative might be because of a good mood brought on by high-ranked cards.

2. Eye Contact

Poker is at its heart a game of deception, staring someone dead in the eye projects strength and is generally what people who are telling the truth do. Looking away, especially after a big bet can mean there is a fear of being caught out. When people are lying, they tend to look elsewhere and avoid eye contact as a reflex. It’s usually an involuntary action, anyone who intends to play a bit of poker should be aware that eyes can give away information about someone’s hand. That’s why you’ll see many players wearing sunglasses and hats and even headphones at the table – they want to isolate themselves from the other players to reduce the chance they’ll give away some information other players can use against them.

3. Shaking

Seasoned poker players spend years learning to hide their tells, however, the involuntary shakes that come with being in a big hand are hard to hide. Watching for nervous ticks, and another abnormal behavior can often give an insight into an opponent’s cards.

4. Sudden changes

Random pauses in speech and other changes in behavior is another excellent way to read poker players. If someone has been playing with their chips the whole game, then suddenly stops, take note, it might mean they’ve been dealt high-ranked cards and are taking the round seriously. Be observant and watch everything that happens at the table.

Other Common Poker Tells

Poker Tells That May Indicate Strength

  • Staring at the flop, then looking at everyone else at the table
  • Fluid Speech
  • Smiling
  • Drawing in a big breath or rapid breathing could all be indications of being ready for action
  • Glancing at chip stacks and sizing up how much other players have
  • Being impatient during the betting phase
  • Acting suspiciously relaxed while playing, watching TV while betting, and generally feigning disinterest in the hand can all be indications your opponent might have good cards and is trying to pretend otherwise

Poker Tells That May indicate weakness

  • Holding breath
  • Biting lips, chewing tongue
  • Being tense after betting
  • Covering mouth
  • Fake joviality
  • Wringing hands
  • Covering face
  • Red face, notably agitated

One Last thing to Remember

Reading other poker players is a subtle art that takes years to learn and is almost impossible to master. Every person at the table knows to try and hide their real intent, and most will actively try and deceive you by acting weak when they are strong and acting strong when they are vulnerable. Usually, the most obvious tells, like appearing nervous or shaking are going to be the most accurate, especially if the other person is a beginner. The key is to just practice every time you play, and you’ll slowly start to learn how to read poker players.