Spotting Poker Tells – Definitive Guide (2024)

  • 7 mins read

Could you get information about an opponent’s cards, due to their behaviour (i.e. their poker tells)? How do you avoid giving away any information on your own cards?

  • When playing poker in person, there are a whole host of opportunities for spotting poker tells.
  • Poker tells are voluntarily or involuntarily behaviour, exhibited by players, that give away information about their holding.
  • Did you know that spotting poker tells is possible online too, even though you cannot see your opponent?
  • Of course, you will not want to give away any poker tells yourself! Avoid a savvy opponent to get information from you. We cover some great ways to avoid giving away information.
  • Finally, we cover 2 vital caveats you must consider before using poker tells. These are false tells, and the reliability of a potential tell.
  • Dive straight in to learn just about everything about poker tells you could possibly want to know.

Spotting poker tells: 3 easiest to see

Timing tells, and interfering with your actions, are universal tells than may be useful online and live. In addition, when playing live if your opponent looks away fast, there mat be a tell.

Timing tells (online & live)

poker timing tells

The amount of time a player takes to make a decision may indicate the type of hand he has. For example, with a strong hand, he may need to think about how to best extract value. However, with a drawing hand he may not put much thought into his decision to just call. Although this is one of the few tells that online players can use too, consider caveats. A long time to think, might be because he has a decision on another table if multitabling. Or, he might be distracted by something else.

Looking away fast (live only)

poker quick look away tell

If a player looks at his hole cards, and immediately looks away (even if they then re-look at their cards), this could be a sign they have a strong hand. You will need to compare this with their usual behaviour. The same principle can be applied to when the flop, turn, or river is dealt – do they quickly look away after seeing what has been dealt, when they normally take a longer look? This tell is most useful on the flop, when a player has the most new information to look at.

Interfering your actions (online & live)

poker weak hand tell

In live games, whilst the action is on you, if a player is attempting to indicate he will call your bet, by holding out chips in his hand, or just saying so, usually they are weak and want to discourage your bet. In online games they may say something using the chat facility to try and achieve the same things.

If they had a strong hand, and you were thinking about betting, they would not want to do something that could potentially get you to not bet.

THREE ways to avoid opponents spotting poker tells from YOU!

  1. If you are an online player, think about how long you took to make your actions. Were there any potential tells?
    • You may want to use various free screen recording software to record your screen during a session. Watch it back afterwards, to spot any timing tells.
    • If you are a live player, ideally you would want to watch back a video of your play. Unfortunately, most cardrooms don’t allow filming. However, you could try and get yourself invited on various poker games that are filmed, and watch those.
    • Or, get a trusted poker buddy at the table to make notes on any tells they might observe on you. You can do the same for them.
  2. Playing properly bankrolled at all times. This is so you don’t care about the result of any one particular hand or session.
  3. Have a thought process based on GTO principles which we cover in our Poker Ranges definitive guide. You can then deviate from based on the situation.

TWO vital caveats regarding spotting poker tells

Look out for false tells (but, consider using yourself)!

Of course it is possible for a player to deliberately falsify a tell. They may do this if they think it will cause you to misunderstand the situation, and do what they want. This option is open to you too.

Understand when poker tells might be reliable, and when they probably won’t be.

How Bayesian probability affects tell accuracy

Bayesian probability involves using new or additional information to update prior probabilities. A basic understanding of how Bayesian probability works is vital for poker players.

The probability of event A, given condition B is:

p(A|B) = p(B|A) x p(A) / p(B)

Let’s look at a real world example:

Imagine there is a test for a disease that is 99% accurate. 99% of people who have the disease will be correctly identified as having the disease. 1% will be incorrectly identified as not having the disease, when they actually have it. 99% of people who don’t have the disease will be correctly identified as not having the disease. 1% will be incorrectly identified as having the disease when they don’t.

0.20% of the population have this disease.

You take this 99% accurate test, and receive a positive test. Should you be worried?

Imagine 100,000 people are tested.

  • 99,800 don’t have the disease
    • 98,802 will test negative
    • 998 will test positive
  • 200 have the disease
    • 198 will test positive
    • 2 will test negative

998 + 198 =1,196 will test positive
However, only 198 / 1,196 actually have the disease

This means even though you tested positive in this 99% accurate test you have only a 16.5% chance of having the disease.

How does all this apply to poker tells? Let us imagine you spot a tell that you think is 99% accurate. We use accurate in the same way as above in predicting whether an opponent has a strong hand in a particular situation. However, your range analysis tells you the opponent is likely to only have a strong hand 0.2% of the time. As in the example above, your opponent has a strong hand 16.5% of the time, despite your 99% accurate tell.

Other factors that affect whether tells are present and/or reliability

Some players will hardly ever exhibit any tells. You may also be lucky enough to find a tell box. Other players will exhibit tells sometimes, but not always. It is important to correlate what you think are tells, with showdowns and other information to ascertain whether you can rely on that tell for that player.

Just because you did not observe something, does not make it a tell by itself.

For example, an opponent does not look away fast after seeing his hole cards. This does not mean he does not necessarily have a strong hand. Only, if you have seen him sometimes look away fast too (and those times if it has gone to showdown, he has had a strong hand) can you make this assumption.

Importance of situation

Some tells may only be present, for a given player, depending on the importance of the situation to them. There may be no tells in small pots, and lots of tells in a large pot. However, a player could also be less wary of hiding his behaviour in small pots, and be fully aware not to exhibit any tells in large pots.

Bankroll of players

A properly bankrolled player may not care much about the outcome of this hand, compared to a recreational player.

Pressure on players

You must take into account the pressure the player is under at the time of the supposed tell. For example, is the player waiting to act, or has he already acted? If he has just placed a major bet, and if he was bluffing he really does not want you to call, then he may be really likely to give off a tell here. Whilst he was waiting to act, he is unlikely to give away as much information (even if he was planning this bluff).

Watched players

Some cardrooms allow players to allow someone they know to sit behind them whilst they are playing. You may see this from recreational players who have allowed their partner to sit behind them. Such a player may feel under pressure, when putting a lot of money at stake in pot. They know they are being watched, so are more likely to exhibit tells in big pots.