20 Poker Tells and What They Tell You About Your Opponents
Poker tells are types of body language, like gestures, facial expressions, and posture, or changes in poker behavior, like betting or situational decision-making, that can indicate how a player is feeling or what’s really going on in their head.
Here’s everything you need to know about poker tells.
Identifying Poker Tells
Everyone has a default profile, or a baseline, of body language, facial expressions, behavior and mood, poker play style, etc. when they play poker. You first have to figure out what each opponent’s baseline is. Then, you can use that information as a touchstone to spot any slight or significant changes in their body language or strategy that could give you information about their hand.
These are the most common elements to pay attention to at the poker table to determine a default profile for your opponents:
Whether they engage in conversation and how much
How long and how often they look at their starting hand
Spotting poker tells is not an exact science — it takes a lot of time and practice to be able to study opponents, find their baseline, and then dissect outliers in their behavior at the table. In fact, you’re best able to identify poker tells for players you’ve played with for an extended period of time. Depending on the other player’s skill, you might be able to crack their code in a few hands, over multiple table games, or after years of playing against them.
20 Poker Tells To Look Out For
Here are some of the most common poker tells and what they could mean:
Not holding eye contact
Reaching for chips before it’s their turn
Odd or inconsistent bet sizing
Trying to advise you at the table
Heavy breathing or short breaths
Changes in posture
Checking their cards more often
Changes in their card apex
Glancing at your stack depth
Aggressively sliding chips
Talking a lot
Requesting a chip count
Being too comfortable or relaxed
Experienced players stare to create pressure or tension for other players at the table. But amateur players may go overboard — too much intense staring can mean they’re overcompensating for a lack of finesse and skill. Or, if they do it after making a really big bet, they’re probably bluffing with a weak hand.
Staring isn’t the end-all, be-all. So use any sudden changes in staring habits with other poker tells to determine what’s going on.
Not Holding Eye Contact
If a player avoids eye contact, they could just be uncomfortable with the overall tension in the game. They could also have a weaker hand and don’t want to act too obvious.
On the other hand, players may never make eye contact with opponents. As a baseline, this means they try to keep everything close, which can be to their benefit. That just means you have to look for other physical and behavioral poker tells.
Timing is key in poker, so pay close attention. If a player suddenly starts calling immediately in a hand, they could be drawing for something, meaning they’re waiting for cards to hit the table that will help them complete a killer combination. Alternatively, a quick bet after someone checks could indicate a bluff.
Tanking means that someone is taking a long time to make their move. In many cases, tanking indicates that a player is trying to signal weakness and indecisiveness when they actually have a strong hand. First, try to keep a mental tally of how long each opponent takes to make bets, then keep an eye out for anyone who strays.
Reaching for Chips Before It’s Their Turn
If you reach for your chips to bet and your opponent does the same before you’ve made your move, this generally indicates that they have a weak hand and they’re going into defensive mode. Even the slightest movements toward their chips before it’s their turn could give this defensive position away. But don’t rely on this poker tell too much if your target opponent is naturally fidgety.
Odd or Inconsistent Bet Sizing
Bad bet sizing could just indicate that you’re playing with an inexperienced player. But when you have a player who makes “normal” bets but then suddenly pushes out a big stack, this is a relatively obvious sign of bluffing. It could also be a way for them to showboat a winning hand or just to shake things up for fun.
The flop looks like garbage, but a player calls when it makes more sense to check. Or, you’ve both been checking until the river hits and suddenly they’re betting into oblivion. You have to take stock of the whole story of the hand, determine what’s changed on the table, and decide whether they’re acting in aggression or confidence.
Pay attention to how these kinds of hands unfold, whether you’re in or not, to try to decipher what this outlier behavior means.
Trying To Advise You at the Table
Say your opponent is trying to “advise” you into making a specific move — either goading you into folding or getting in on the action. They may be trying to get you to give up on a hand they’re sure they’re going to lose or play into a bad hand that they’re confident they could win.
Unless you’re playing with friends, these players probably don’t have your best interest at heart. Do the opposite of what they recommend.
Fidgeting can indicate nervousness, or it could be their regular disposition. If they’ve been stone-cold all game and then suddenly start shaking their leg under the table, tapping on the felt, fiddling with their cards, or fidgeting in another way, they could be getting antsy. Use their bet sizing and timing to determine if they’re fidgeting because they think they have the hand or because they’re bluffing.
Similar to fidgeting, involuntary shaky hands could indicate nerves about a great hand, bad bluffing, or overall discomfort with the pressure. Or, a player could be faking shaky hands to throw you off the scent either way.
Heavy Breathing or Exhales
Heavy breathing is another physical poker tell that can indicate nerves about hand strength or weakness. But since physical poker tells are tricky, you should combine this behavior with baseline information and other tells.
A hard swallow — like you’d see a cartoon character do when they’re scared — is a pretty obvious sign of someone trying to fake nerves/weakness.
Changes in Posture
Understand a player’s baseline posture throughout the game, whether they’re relaxed or a little jittery. Watch if — and how — their posture changes with different decisions, card turns, and finishes. If they suddenly perk up after they check their hole cards or once the flop is turned, you could have someone who has a strong hand, or at least an interesting one. If they deflate, they’re likely trying to feign weakness.
Checking Their Cards More Often
Checking their hole cards regularly could mean they’re inexperienced or have a bad memory. But it more likely means that they’re checking to see if the community cards have yielded them a strong hand. It’s also likely that, when a player has a pocket pair, they won’t be checking that often because pocket pairs are easy to remember.
Pay attention to what’s on the felt and how often players are checking their cards.
Changes in Their Card Apex
The card apex is the highest point the top corner of the top hole card reaches when we check our cards. Generally, the apex is pretty low pre-flop because we’re just seeing what we’ve started with. But when we go to recheck and need to lift a little higher to see better, that’s giving away that we’ve got something interesting.
Glancing at Your Stack Depth
Another player may look at your chip stack after the turn or river is drawn. When this happens, they probably have a strong hand and are trying to figure out how much they can win from you.
Requesting a Chip Count
Alternatively, a player may ask for you or the dealer to count up your chips. It’s usually a sign of weakness. They’re trying to intimidate you into folding. If you have a good hand or medium-strength hand, see it through.
Aggressively Sliding Chips
Confidence when you have a strong hand is all about being calm and collected. But some amateur players may overcompensate and push their chips into the pot forcefully to signal strength when they’re actually weak.
Talking a Lot
As a baseline, someone could just be generally chatty, or their chattiness could be a distraction technique. If someone suddenly becomes talkative during a hand, take a look at the community cards and see what’s changed. Maybe they’re trying to convey confidence and distract you from their weakness.
Being Too Comfortable or Relaxed
A consistently relaxed posture is hard to decipher tells from. But some players will act more comfortable or even nonchalant (like looking away from the table during gameplay) to convey a non-threatening demeanor. This player probably has a strong hand but they don’t want you to fold.
How To Use Poker Tells to Your Advantage
Use these tips to take advantage of a poker tell when you see one:
Test your hypothesis before deciding that the tell means what you think it means. Don’t make big moves when you think an opponent is exhibiting a tell, either to shield weakness or strength. Bet smart and see the hand through, then take note of what the tell really meant once the hand’s done.
Play to an opponent’s tell when your understanding of their baseline and possible tells indicates they’re bluffing. If you want to keep their status quo, play weak or neutral to keep them thinking their bluffing is working. If you want to shake up their game or take them out, be assertive and push their limits.
Frequently Asked Questions About Poker Tells
Are there online poker tells?
Yes, there are tells in online poker. But these don’t include any physical behaviors because you can’t see your opponents. Rather, you have to focus on:
Activity in the chat
What is a reverse poker tell?
Some tells are subconscious, which are genuine poker tells. Some players use body language and behavior consciously to create fake tells to trick other players — this is known as a reverse tell. Some players may be skilled enough to use reverse tells to trick you, especially if they’ve figured out your play style and how to exploit it.
How do you identify and prevent your own poker tells?
Many tells are involuntary actions. So you need to develop incredible control over your body — and mind — to make sure as many of your actions at the poker table are voluntary and successful at shielding information from opponents.
Some of the best ways to identify and train out of your poker tells include:
Developing a routine at the table — including how you sit, check your cards, stack your chips, push your chips forward, where you look after each move, how long it takes you to bet — that you stick to.
Paying attention to your betting patterns and making sure to mix it up as the game progresses to throw astute players off the scent.
Getting a poker coach to watch you play, identify your poker tells, and guide you in creating a routine that hides those tells.
Alternatively, acting randomly at the table and being inconsistent in your behaviors to keep people from getting a baseline. However, this can be incredibly difficult to do and can yield inconsistent results.
Where can I learn more about poker tells?
There is a lot of poker training content out there that you can use to learn more about identifying, interpreting, and exploiting poker tells. Some of the most common places to learn more about poker tells include: