Poker Tips By George: Three Types of Tells

Poker is a game of partial information. The more knowledge and data you can glean, the better your chance of winning. Skilled players seek it out before and during play of a hand, and while sitting out a hand. Obviously live poker and online poker are different, and one of the main ways in which this is so is that in live poker tells come into play. In this piece we’ll be focusing on live poker and some of the tells you might see.



Some vital information stares you in the face, such as your opponent’s playing traits – tight (invests in few starting hands), loose (stays to see the flop, on the average, more than 1 out of 4 hands), passive (rarely open-bets or raises), or aggressive (often raises and re-raises). Then, too, there are deceptive players (they love to bluff and slow-play to build the pot). Calling-stations seem to have forgotten how to fold their cards (once they have invested preflop, they are prone to stay the rest of the way).

Tells are great sources of information – changes in a player’s betting patterns, movements or behavior, often indicating the strength or weakness of their hands. Be alert. Always seek out your opponents’ tells. Be careful not to give any tells – unless they are Reverse Tells (see below).

Look to your left

One of the most basic things you ought to always be doing at the poker table is looking to your left as the hole cards are being dealt out. Why? Before the flop, the players seated to your left will be betting after you. By observing their tells as they first peek at their hole cards, you will be better prepared to make the best decision when it is your turn to act.

Of note for online poker players, while noticing physical tells is impossible (e.g., if you look to your left, you’ll probably just see the walls of your living room), there are some bet-sizing tells you may be able to detect. So if you’re playing online, for instance at some of the Asian-facing rooms recommended on sites like w88, it’s best to just focus on the mathematics of the game and playing optimal strategy.

Three types of tells:

  1. Involuntary Tells (These are unintentional.)
  2. Voluntary Tells (These are Reverse Tells. They are made intentionally, for a purpose.)
  3. Inconclusive Tells (These tells could be either voluntary or involuntary. Observe results to determine their meaning for that player.)

Below, I list some common, typical tells in low/middle limit hold’em.

Just starting out at the table (Usually involuntary)

  • A minimum buy-in suggests a tight player.
  • A conservatively dressed player is likely to play with caution.
  • Neatly stacked chips indicates a wary player – on the tight side; less likely to bluff.
  • Carelessly stacked chips indicates a loose-aggressive player.

Tells that usually indicate a strong hand

  • Eyes open wide, looks around the table
  • Stares at flop, then glances at opponents
  • Taking a deep breath, and rapid breathing – ready for action
  • Glancing at chip stacks (their own or yours); deciding whether to raise
  • Impatient – anxious for action
  • Suddenly sits up with back firmly in chair
  • Hand is trembling
  • Swallows deeply
  • Touches, strokes, or rubs his neck
  • Puts down his drink
  • Grabs a bunch of chips
  • Places a chip (or card guard) atop his hole cards
  • Suddenly stops talking to his neighbor

Tells that usually indicate a weak hand

  • Holding breath and immobile
  • Shaking head from side to side
  • Eyes closed tight
  • Breathes through open mouth

Inconclusive Tells (Done intentionally, such as Reverse Tells)

Many of the tells for strong and weak hands may fit this classification. Here are several others. When you see them, try to relate it to your opponent’s action.

  • Covers mouth with hand (Avoid when bluffing)
  • Acting relaxed or disinterested in the game, looking away from table, then betting
  • Eyes narrowed, staring at opponent
  • Acting more confident than usual

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About George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.”

George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for our defense and space programs; teaching specialized engineering courses at UCLA, other colleges, and at seven NASA centers; introducing advanced composites into Air Force space systems; and creating the Air Force Manufacturing Problem Prevention Program (has helped avoid costly failures and anomalies for space systems),

He has authored many engineering reports and books; and is listed in American Men of Science; Leaders in American Science; Who’s Who in the West; Dictionary of International Biography; and Personalities in the West and Midwest.

Since “joining” the poker world, George “The Engineer” Epstein has written three poker books – most recently, Hold’em or Fold’em?– An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and The Art of Bluffing.

George has organized poker groups at two senior centers, at West L.A. College, and at the VA/West Los Angeles, including teaching poker classes.
He is a columnist for several poker and gaming publications.

George has been elected to the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame, and was named Man-of-the-Year by the Westside Optimists, primarily for his efforts in encouraging retirees to learn and enjoy the game of poker.

He firmly believes that playing poker will help to keep seniors/retirees mentally and physically healthy.

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