The way a player presents his or herself at the table can tell you a lot about their game. There are plenty of give-aways that can give you a clue as to what’s in their hand, whether they are bluffing and so on. In this article we’ll focus on the hands and the player’s interaction with their chips. The following observations give you a guide as to whether someone has a strong or weak hand and if they are telling the truth or not.
1. Fast, aggressive moves such as flicking chips onto the board instead of sliding the stack over the line tend to represent a bluff.
2. Nonchalantly entered chips into a pot, however, can suggest someone is playing a strong hand weakly i.e. ‘I better bet then I suppose’ whilst holding a pocket rockets.
3. Counting out bets quickly, or more quickly than usual, indicates bluffing.
4. Slow movements or carefully counted bets suggests strength. Chips entered softly to the board is often faked weakness (in players with some skill in running bluffs) and could mean they are hiding a good hand.
5. Placing bets with more or less force onto the board can mirror the strength of the hand or indicate ‘faked’ strength.
6. Chip tricks are designed to intimidate other players but they can represent bluffing. As a peacock would display his feathers to show-off or impress a potential mate, the poker player demonstrating the knuckle roll or snake charmer is putting on a show of dominance over the rest of the table. This can lead up to a bluff as often someone playing a genuinely strong hand will want people to go with them to fill the pot.
7. Fumbling chips could be pure accident but can suggest over-eagerness to play a hand. Excitement can give a player a heart-racing head-rush and throw them off balance. So while this gesture can look like the nervousness of inexperience (and it may well be) it can also give away an attacking position.
8. A hand resting on top of hole cards suggests a strong hand. The player is subconsciously protecting something valuable to them.
9. Fiddling with chips or reorganising them subconsciously can reflect the thought behind the next action i.e. the weighing up of risk. They may be subconsciously counting the chips they have left and nurturing their precious belongings. A player may feel vulnerable displaying this behaviour and lack confidence to follow you if you push them. Conversely, if they are confident with a big stack, the value of their chips is psychologically less to them and interaction with their stack will be less – these players may call you for the hell of it. Watch out for the considered big bet though, a high value bet requires consideration so chips may be fingered when a hand is strong as the player may be projecting the total value they’ll stake for a big win.
10. Shaking hands indicate a really good hand in most cases. This is a sign of increased excitement and anticipation of the close.
11. Hands moved from the chips to cover the mouth when speaking or making an action can suggest dishonesty. When we lie, we don’t want to get caught, we want to hide so mouth covering, nose touching or ear tugging are quite common tells in a bluff.
12. Hands deliberately controlled can also suggest lying. If a person has hidden their palms or clenched their hands to stop them moving, it is likely that they are controlling their natural body language in a lie. In normal situations, the hands are used as aids to describe events and are generally very active. This is less pronounced at the poker table but still applicable.
13. Timing is a dead giveaway. If someone if lying they tend to display an emotional gesture after they have said something as opposed to at the same time. The emotion will also last longer than normal but come to a quicker end than usual i.e. If someone tosses their chips into the pot and gives a confident smile afterwards that lasts a few seconds then disappears, it could be that they are bluffing. A genuine display would see the smile appear in the split second of the action and fade naturally from their face.
Regardless of your prowess at the poker table, it is likely that you will leak one or more of the above non verbal cues at some point in your poker playing life. Rather than attempt to fake any behaviours, it is far better to be consistent. Advanced poker players can spot a faked tell quite easily so unless you are a master of deception you are better advised to standardise your play and body language so that they can’t real you at all. For example, if you splash your chips onto the board (poor form by the way), you should splash them every time. Fewer movements with your hands or interactions with your chips will mean there is less information given about your internal state, or about those important pocket cards you’re protecting. If your opponents cannot distinguish between you in a bluff and you in a truth you are onto a winner.