Psychology plays a key role in poker.
Successful players have learned to watch and study the behavior of their opponents, so that they can get an idea of the hand they’re holding.
Some poker tells can clearly indicate weakness; other tells can clearly indicate strength.
So if you want to become a better player, you want to make sure your behavior at the table doesn’t convey too much information.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to hide all tells. But you can definitely learn to hide the most obvious ones…
What tells are and why you want to hide them
In poker, tells are unconscious actions which may give away information about the player’s hand or their intention.
For example, if a player checks their hole cards after the flop, this could tell you they may have a straight or flush draw.
Literally all poker players have tells. Experienced players have learned to hide the most obvious tells, but they’re not robots.
Poker tells are usually divided into verbal tells — what the player says, when they say it, and how they say it — and physical tells.
Examples of poker tells
- Facial expressions
- Posture changes
- Instant calls
- Taking too long to act
- Showing strength/weakness
- Touching one’s face
- Acting uninterested
- Fiddling with the chips/cards
For those who play seriously, poker is an incredibly complex game, and being able to recognize and hide tells won’t be enough to win consistently.
That being said, if you become one of the few players who manage to be emotionally detached, and control things like your posture and how you act at the table in general, you’ll have a big advantage.
Hopefully this article will help you do so — have a look at the following five tips to avoid giving away information at the table…
How to hide poker tells
1. Learn to spot your own tells
It’s hard to hide things you’re not aware of. Although some players have learned to use fake tells, actual poker tells are unconscious.
This means that the player who e.g. always pushes their chips a certain way when they bluff does not know they do so. They are not aware they have a tell, and that their opponents may spot it.
So the first tip would be to pay attention to your own behavior at the table. It’s not easy, but it gets easier with experience.
And if you’re serious about it, you could even record yourself during a session (for example, if you play online, although obviously it won’t be the same as a live table).
2. Be as emotionally detached as possible
Some poker tells, such as bet sizing or the way you stack up your chips after you win a pot, may reveal information about your play style and personality rather than your emotions.
But emotions do play a big role at the poker table, and there are many tells that could be suppressed by simply being less involved.
A common example is a player whose hands are shaking, or a player who looks nervous — that usually indicates strength.
With experience and discipline, you’ll learn to become as emotionally detached as possible. This will make you a much better player overall, and also help you hide possible tells.
3. Be consistent
Try to develop a routine and stick to it.
When you look at your hole cards, always do it the same way — whether you have aces or 7-2 offsuit.
When you bet, always do it the same way — whether you are betting for value or bluffing with king-high. And so on.
After a few sessions, it will pretty much become a habit. Not only will this help you hide possible tells, I find that it also helps you stay in control and manage tilt/frustration.
4. When in doubt, avoid speech play
Some experienced players have learned to use speech play (talking during a hand, usually allowed in heads-up only) to their advantage.
For example, an experienced player may hold a very strong hand, bet for value, and get their opponent to call by saying certain words.
That being said, if you’re a beginner, or you simply don’t feel comfortable doing it, the best advice would be to avoid speech play.
This is because what you say and the way you say it can actually work against you unless you know what you’re doing. When in doubt, don’t say anything.
5. Ask your opponents
And finally, a bit of an obvious one — ask your opponents.
This would be ridiculous in the case of, say, the final table of a major tournament. Or a high stakes cash game.
But assuming you’re at a friendly or relatively friendly table, some of your opponents may actually mention things that you do or say that can give away information.
Don’t ask them directly — you could ask questions like why did they call your bet, whether you looked nervous, etc. A single question may help you spot one of your tells, which you can then learn to hide.
Tells vs fake tells
Some players, including less experienced ones, like to use fake tells to make their opponent think they have a strong or weak hand.
For example, they may flop the absolute nuts but then look at the community cards as if they were disappointed, in a subtle way.
Their opponent may then interpret their subtle reaction as a sign of weakness and decide to make a big bet.
In general, from what I’ve seen at the table, fake tells work.
And even when a player does realize that a tell may indeed be a fake one, usually they decide to interpret it as a real tell, simply because it’s unlikely for most players to actually use fake tells.
But this is definitely something you want to do once in a while.
Experienced players will notice everything you do at the table, including fake tells, so if you overdo it it will work against you.
Not all tells are 100 percent reliable
Don’t underestimate the importance of poker tells. But don’t overestimate it either.
Your opponent may move their hands a certain way, or place a bet a certain way, and you may interpret that as a tell that indicates weakness.
But sometimes those are pure coincidences. And no poker tell is 100 percent reliable. This applies to your tells, too.
Even if you’re playing against a good player, and you believe somehow you have given it away because of a facial expression or any other tell, it doesn’t automatically imply your opponent knows what you have.
Learn to spot, interpret, and hide poker tells, but don’t always rely on them.