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Body Language and Poker Tells

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If you want to be a master poker player, you have got to master your body language--and know how to be a master at reading tells.

I get asked all the time in my body language and human lie detection trainings if nonverbal science works in poker. And the answer:

Body language is essential for poker players!

Nonverbal science adds a whole new dimension to the game. In this post I have gathered quotes from of the top Poker players around the world, some interesting stats and tips for poker players on reading tells.

Poker Experts Talk Body Language:

Zach Elwood - author of Reading Poker Tells

"There are certain things I tend to look for in inexperienced live players -- things like stillness and movement; as a general rule people who are relaxed will show more movement in spots as opposed to someone who is anxious, they are a little more still and tense. This is also usually when there is a significant bet involved.

Someone who is relaxed might show more looseness in how they gather their chips when they put in a bit, or how they place the bet, or after the bet. Their eyes might move around more. Whereas this is reversed in players who are bluffing. It's about getting a comparison point for that player and knowing when a spot would be a good point to compare.

Another thing I tend to look for is bet timing. There is a very general tendency for people to bet more quickly with a 3-bet/continuation bet/preflop bet with a weaker hand, and take more time with a premium hand. For example if someone immediately puts in a raise as soon as it gets round to them, because they know they will usually raise in that spot with any two cards. That same player might take a few seconds to make it look like they have a decision with a strong hand."

Here are Zach's selected poker tells based on nonverbal:

1. When players buy into a game in a low-key manner, hiding their money, you can expect them to play conservatively. Conversely, if they flash their money, calling for chips with a flair, they'll usually play recklessly. When you use this knowledge against players you've never encountered before, you get a profitable head start. Unless subsequent events make you revise this first impression, call less often and bluff more often against the player who hid his money; call more often and bluff less often against the player who bought in conspicuously. This tell won't be 100 percent accurate, but it's right most of the time. And that gives you an instant advantage against unknown opponents.

2. Players who look at their cards and then gaze away from the action are usually intending to bet or raise. They have strong hands. That wayward gaze falls somewhere between an act and instinctive behavior. That opponent is deliberately trying to seem uninterested and, for you, this usually means trouble!

3. Any seemingly disgusted or reluctant wager means a strong hand. The player is trying to convey uncertainty about the bet. But if it actually were a weak hand, that opponent would do everything possible to disguise the fact. Unless you hold a very strong hand, you should usually fold when an opponent seems unsure or hesitant about betting.

4. When it's your turn to act, if opponents are slightly reaching toward their chips or even moving their hands almost imperceptibly in that direction, they're trying to discourage your bet. This gives you the opportunity to profitably bet medium-strong hands you might otherwise have checked.

Mike Caro - author of Caro's Book of Tells: The Body Language of Poker

"A player gains an advantage if he observes and understands the meaning of another player's tell, particularly if the poker tell is unconscious and reliable. Sometimes a player may even fake a tell, hoping to induce his opponents to make poor judgments in response to the false poker tell. After all, poker is a game of deception. The general rule is that weakness usually means strength, and strength usually means weakness. But, you must decide how much weight to give a tell at any given moment. If you make learning tells fun, it will be an ever-changing, exciting part of your poker arsenal."

David Sasseman - Creator of Pokerology

"Many think that nervousness is a sign of a weak hand. If the nervousness is in fact an act, then all too often the player is holding a monster. Imitations of real nervousness are done badly. It is usually greatly exaggerated and you can easily detect when someone is really nervous. Should an opponent act nervous in a critical game situation, this is usually an indication of a strong hand.

A player's breathing pattern can be a very meaningful tell. His breathing changes are almost never intentional. The closer you are to the player, the better this tell will work for you. Shallow breathing, or an attempt to avoid breathing loudly is a sign of a weak hand.

THE QUICK GLANCE AT THE CHIPS

This is probably the most valuable unconscious tell. If a player quickly looks at his chips then looks away, he probably wants to bet. Alternately, he might also take a quick look at his opponent's chips. It is important that he does not feel he's being under observation.

THE QUICK GLANCE AT THE CARDS

Particularly for beginners, this is a reliable tell. The tell here is an unconscious one, brief look at the player's own cards. If, for example, the flop brings 3 hearts and the player looks at his cards, it is unlikely he has the flush.

This is because with an off-suit hand, a beginner usually takes no notice of the suits at first glance. Only with a suited hand will they remember the suit. Thus you can often assume here that they have at most one heart."

Poker Tells Infographic:

Poker Tells by PokerStrategy.com