Reading Poker Tells: Top 10 Common Signs to Look Out For

Poker is a game of skill, and don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. It often doesn’t matter the cards you’re dealt, if you’re a skillful reader of other players’ expressions, body language and behavior, and adept at disguising your own, then you can utilize these poker tells to dominate the game.
Published on: 19 February 2021

Poker Tells Explained

Before we can take you through the best poker tells, it’s essential to know what poker tells really are, and what they can be. Poker tells are essentially the behaviors, physical actions or ticks, and habits of your poker opponents that will allow you to glean some information about what kind of hand they’re holding.

Poker tells can manifest in a number of ways. Say your opponent gets dealt a hand. They get nervous, their heartbeat increases, their pupils dilate. In anticipation of their next move they anxiously play with their chips and although they’ve been chatty the whole evening prior to this, they promptly quieten down. All this behavior indicates that they might have something worthwhile in their hand.

If that poker player above was a quiet player already, then their behavior, quietening down, would not be seen as unusual, and they might subliminally express their good hand in another way. That’s why it’s essential to know your opponents and establish a baseline, as to what behavior is normal for them.

The Top 10 Poker Tells

Poker tells are identified in a wide variety of ways, but what are the best and most common of the lot? Sit tight as we take you through ten poker tells that we’ve identified to be the most useful to gamblers, both beginners and experts, and everything in between, so reading poker tells can become an essential weapon in your poker arsenal, whether you are playing in person or at the best online poker sites.

Before we get into it, it’s essential to remember that while these poker reads are common to express a strong or weak stance at the poker table, they can also be employed to deceive other players, in what’s called a reverse tell. Anything you learn here you can use to your advantage, but you can also be taken advantage of.

Acting Weak

First cab off the rank is the one most common poker tells by beginners to the game: players that act weak tend to have a strong hand. This is the most basic of bluffs, where players try to capitalize on their strong position by drawing as many of their opponents as possible into a trap by appearing weak.

‘Acting weak’ can be understood to be any kind of behavior by a player that conveys the idea that their hand is bad. This can be expressed through body language by shrugging, looking gloomy or sad, and sighing, among many other expressions. This common poker tell must be paired with a raise.

Abrupt Silence or Babbling

As we used as an example above, an abrupt change in character can hint at the strength of a players’ hand. If a chatty player goes quiet, or a usually silent competitor suddenly begins to vomit words, this generally indicates that they are holding something important to them.

Looks at Chips After Deal

When a player looks at their chips, your chips, or any of the other players on the table after a card has been dealt, then you can take that as a sign of the strength of their hand. The flipside of this one is that you should always be looking at your opponents during a deal!

This is due to the player assessing their chip inventory and how much they could potentially raise on any certain opponent with their strong hand. This is one of the advanced poker tells that’s quite easy to stay on top of and use to your advantage.

Pupils Dilating

This is one of the best poker reads, as it’s something that is almost downright impossible to control. When your opponent’s pupils dilate, this means that they have a strong hand and are excited, reacting to the deal that they just received. How to protect yourself? Wear sunglasses.

Straightening of Posture

If your opponent suddenly sits up after slouching for the past while, then this indicates that they are more interested in the cards on the table than they were before, and generally means that they have something of use in their hands.

Being Fidgety

One of the most common signs of weakness, being fidgety, either with your person by rubbing your arms, hands, or hair, or with your jewelry or clothes, generally indicates that a person is vulnerable, and not in a strong position. They are likely bluffing.

Repeatedly Checking Hole Cards

Your hole cards, the ones that are initially dealt to you, should be burned into your memory as soon as you look at them. Often players who are insecure about their weak hands tend to need to check and reaffirm what they have, and that means that they don’t really have a game plan in that hand, and that they’re not in a strong position.

Splashing Chips

Many of the top physical poker tells are expressed through the chips. If a player suddenly becomes a bit more aggressive with their chips, throwing them into the pot, they are likely bluffing and trying to appear overconfident in order to hide their weak hand.

Response Time Online

Bluffing and reading other players is much more difficult online, where ones and zeros are all you’ve got. There is a way to read your players however, and that is in the general rules of online poker timing tells.

Generally speaking, if your opponent is taking a fair amount of time to respond to your moves, then they tend to be inexperienced. A more adept player will know what they are going to do before the turn comes to them. You should try to play more pots with these players in order to capitalize on their inexperience.

Bet Sizing

Someone who is inexperienced at poker will tend to bet big when they have a good hand, and bet small when they don’t, if at all. While this is great to maximize winnings and minimize risk, it becomes quite obvious to the other players when they have a strong hand.

There’s more to bet sizing than that, and it’s quite a complex topic that has fuelled a whole lot of strategizing. For an extensive look at the ideas behind some of the strategies, as well as some tips for basic bet size formulation, check out this handy guide.

How to Bluff

You can use these most common poker tells, and the countless others, to your advantage in the opposite effect, by bluffing and deceiving your opponent. In this way, you use their knowledge of the game and of poker tells against them. Bear in mind however, the same can be done to you!

Bluffing can also be done in other, more nuanced ways. If you’ve got a terrible hand but want or are forced to take it further, remember these handy tips:

  • Bluff one player at a time – The more players in a hand, the more likely it is that one of them has a strong piece in it.
  • Learn and control your tells – Record yourself, or ask other players you trust what exactly your tells are, so you can limit their impact on the game in the future.
  • Remain calm – By keeping your cool you can control the physical reactions your body makes that would undoubtedly otherwise give you away, even pupil dilation!
  • Raise the bet incrementally – Don’t go from zero to a hundred in a matter of seconds, or you’ll undo yourself. Instead, go with the flow of the game, and raise it little by little.
  • Limit your bluffs – Don’t bluff all the chances you get, you’ll reveal your (weak) strategy pretty quickly.
  • Choose the right time – There is a time and a place to bluff, and also a time and a place to stop. Learn to read your opponent, they might be resolute in their hand and will never fold.

Frequently Asked Questions

Poker tells and bluffing are what make poker the huge game that it is today. For such an important facet of the game, we get plenty of questions, from which we’ve collected the most common of them. For other facets of the game, and many others, head over to our guide section.

Are poker tells real?

Yes, poker tells are not only real, they are a crucial part of the game. They are more present in the physical version of poker, but there are still plenty of online poker tells. Playing against real people means that there will always be an element of strategy and bluffing.

What are common tells?

Common tells include behavioral, body language, and verbal poker tells. These may include fidgeting, uncharacteristic silence or chatter, aggressively handling chips, and many, many more. They can indicate strong hands and weak hands, so you’ve got to do your homework. If you think that this is too much work, then you could play casino poker instead, where poker tells don't factor in.

How can you tell a poker tell?

There are some common poker tells that occur frequently, but the best way to identify a tell is to know your opponent. Poker is a game of deception, so tells can be employed to deceive you, but if you study the game and your opponents, you can identify tells that they don’t even know they show. All games against humans are complicated, which is why playing against the house in a game like blackjack can be a breath of fresh air.

Latest Guides

View All Guides