Top 5 Live Tells in Poker

Let's talk about live tells! I'm someone who has played live poker professionally in Las Vegas for about 1.5 years, and as such, I thought it’d be good for me to take a week to talk about live tells. I wanna take today to talk about some classic live tells, live tells that I've learned from other great players, and some live tells that have worked great for me personally in Las Vegas. There are two things that you must understand about live tells. First, the most critical thing to understand about live tells is that they aren't universal. Sometimes people will have tells that look strong when they are actually weak, and it's important to gather as much information on people to build a sample size. You can only truly feel strong about a live tell if you have seen the action repeated multiple times. This is also why it's important to pay attention when you aren't involved in a hand. In fact, it's much easier to focus on people’s body language when you aren't in a hand. So make sure that you're paying attention to body language, and the hands that people showdown when you are playing live. Secondly, live tells are not a substitute for good poker. If you don't have a strong theoretical strategy when you show up to the poker table then live tells will get you nowhere. People like Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu don't show up and rely on live tells to make them money. They have strong strategies and use live tells to supplement and help guide those strategies. So, without further ado, let's talk about some live tells:


Live Tell #1: Happy Feet

I remember reading about this tell in a book on body language, and it’s a tell that has been fairly consistent for me in my poker career. People’s feet give away more than you might think. When you see someone’s feet bouncing up and down it's usually because they are excited about something. If they look down at their cards and start bouncing their feet then you can probably expect that they have a strong hand. Now, I'm not recommending that you look under the table to see if someone is bouncing their feet every hand. Usually, though, when someone is bouncing their feet their arms and shoulders will also be bouncing a bit too, and that's how you can most easily spot this tell.


Live Tell #2: The Chip Glance

I think this tell was popularized by Daniel Negreanu. The idea is that if someone immediately glances down at their chip stack, say after seeing the flop dealt, then they probably have a strong hand. People will often see a flop, turn, or river that they love so much that they can't help but immediately think about betting and looking down at their chip stack. So if you see someone glance down at their chip stack after seeing a street being dealt then they probably have a strong hand.


Live Tell #3: Counting out calling chips, then raising

This is a live tell that you will see from weaker players, especially at lower stakes, where they will count out calling chips, but then raise. In my experience, this has always represented strength. People will try to make it look like they aren't that strong by just counting out calling chips, but when they end up raising, you should be terrified. This is one of the few tells that have universally represented strength in my experience.


Live Tell #4: Looking back at your hand

This is a tell that I learned from legendary live cash game player, Garrett Adelstein. He said that if people look back at their hand, especially in big pots on the river, it is rarely a bluff. Usually when people are bluffing they don't want to draw attention to the fact that they are bluffing. So bluffers don't usually look back at their cards on the river because it draws attention to them. Now this tell doesn't usually apply to preflop or the flop where maybe someone is just trying to remember their suits or whatever, but by the river, in big pots, if someone feels comfortable enough to look back at their hand then it usually represents strength.


Live Tell #5: The other player reaching for chips when you’re about to bet

If you've played live poker for a decent amount of time you’ve probably seen this tell a thousand times. You start to load up a bet, and then the other player reaches for chips to signify that they are going to snap call. This is almost always a sign of weakness by the player pretending like they are going to snap call. The truth is that they have a weak hand that doesn't want to face a bet so they want to disincentivize you from betting. When I'm debating whether or not to bet, and I see another player reaching for their chips, then I'll usually lean towards betting under the presumption that they are weak.


Alright, there’s 5 live tells that I've gathered over my poker career. Again, sample size is king for live tells. The better the sample size you have on someone, the more confident you can be in your reading abilities. If you enjoyed this content and want me to do more poker blogs then leave a comment below or reach out to me on twitter @thirstloungemat. Thanks, and I'll see you all next time.

© 2019 by the Thirst Lounge.

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