A couple of myths about tells before we start really getting into the good stuff.
The first myth that I hear all the time, and you will see that in discussion forums when I talk to players, is that poker tells are useless.
Now, Dan Harrington, who I have the most respect for, he’s a world champion. He did that back to back final table in 2003 and 2004 of the main event. You know, a tremendous accomplishment but in his book Harrington on Cash Games Volume 2, he has a section on tells and basically he says that tells are useless. That’s basically what he’s saying because you can’t know what a person means, what a gesture means and something he says is that a player shifts in his seat as he plays a hand. Is this a tell or did he just shift in his seat?
People move around from time to time and sure people move around from time to time. But what the science tells us and all the studies that have been done in the past years tell us more and more that every shift, every body movement, every gesture has a meaning. There’s something behind them.
Now if you stand up from a table, for example, you’re sitting down and you stand up, there are many reasons why you might do that. I mean you might stand up because you just want to stretch, because you want to go and grab a drink, because you saw someone from a distance. You want to wave at them but also these are legitimate reasons why you’re standing up. But also it might be because you’re distancing yourself and I will talk about that as part of a flight response later on but there are other reasons that maybe you’re responding to a threat and you’re trying to create some distance between you and the threat and that’s possible.
So to say that people move around from time to time is sure but what I think Dan Harrington is missing, and we will look at other myths that he talks about, is that he’s almost saying that since he doesn’t understand if that’s a tell, if he doesn’t – because he doesn’t understand what that specific shift means, he kind of discards them and that’s why I think that’s the mistake he’s making, I think, in my opinion.
The second myth that you will hear all the time is that good players don’t have tells and that’s really not true. I have never seen a player who doesn’t have any tells and if you look at our videos on Tells Kitchen, in all the videos I’m going to present to you today, you will see that I’m featuring topnotch players.
The reason is, well, usually the players you see more on television so I have more tells on them than random Joe but also to prove a point that everybody has a tell, even those guys that have 10 bracelets, even those guys that have been playing live poker for 30 years, even those guys that make the most amount of money per year playing poker. Everybody has a tell.
Now the great thing about that is that 99.9 percent of players have no clue what they’re looking for and that’s why I think – that’s for example like a guy like Dan Harrington makes a mistake. He makes a mistake of thinking that since he has won and accomplished so much and obviously he doesn’t necessarily pay attention to tells that much, then they don’t have any use or they’re useless, right?
So it’s a mistake to think that because you’re having success in something, you’re lacking something else. You might be lacking – you’re not lacking something else. So I have heard past world champions say that good players don’t have tells. They’re good at hiding tells and that it’s more important to pay attention to hand ranges and all that stuff and as far as good players not having tells, that’s total crap. Everybody has a tell. You just have to know what to look for and most people don’t.
So myth number three is a gesture or a tell, an expression real or deception. So Harrington goes on to say some of your opponents will actively send out false tells. Can you tell the real from the fake? You may have to observe someone for quite a while before you can sort things out.
Well, that might be true. However, that’s not a reason to discard tells as a whole. I mean your worst opponents, those are really who are really, really bad will not send out false tells or if they do, they will be so obvious like the strong means weak acting that you’re going to figure that out pretty easily and your best opponents and your toughest opponents have learned to hide their tells more and better. But like I said earlier, they do have some.
It might take you longer to figure them out but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some because it doesn’t mean you should dismiss tell because it’s harder to find a tell in a good player. It will be harder too to figure out what his hand range is, where his leaks are and all that stuff.
When someone is good, it will take you a longer time to figure out his game and how you can exploit it and so, nobody says that you have to – you’re going to learn tells and spot tells in 15 minutes and then you can totally exploit your opponents. Some of your opponents will take longer to see but when we play sessions of 15 hours, when we play multiday tournaments and if you’re on the circuit, then playing against the same players over and over again, you’re going to spend a lot of time with them. So why not try to find out what their tells are?
Most likely you will eventually find them out and you can exploit them after and probably forever. So that’s just, I mean, a statement that I really don’t – sure, some people send false tells but if you really know what you’re looking for, you will see some discrepancies in the timing and the way that they send false tells and you will be able to know when someone is setting up false tells and when it’s a genuine tell.
Myth number four is, “What does it mean?” So Harrington goes on to say, “Even if we are sure a player is strong because of a tell, it does not tell us how big his hand is.” Well, that’s true in the sense that sure, if I see a high confidence tell and that tells me that the opponent has hit the flop pretty big, it doesn’t tell me exactly what he has. Well, no, but when he pushes all in on the flop, he’s basically telling me he has got something usually. I mean it could be a bluff but – and I still don’t know exactly what he has and going on a hand range, right?
If the flop is a – I don’t know. Queen or maybe a Jack 8, a deuce, and he pushes all in, a player that had raised pre-flop, that’s pretty tight and all that stuff, what could he have? Jack 8 deuce. Well, he could have a set. He could have an overpair. You still don’t know exactly what he has. You’re still not sure that he has got – that was exactly what hands he has but you’re pretty sure that he has got a pretty strong hand.
Well, it’s the same thing with tells. If you have a tell that tells you that your opponent is strong or that he’s bluffing, it can totally help you narrow his hand range and even if you can’t pinpoint exactly the cards he has, that doesn’t mean you have to dismiss tells as a whole because of that. I mean it’s just one more piece of information at your disposal that you can use to figure out what he has. Say that same player pushes all in and you think that most of the time he’s very strong. Sometimes he’ll be bluffing. Well, if you pick up that tell that tells you he’s strong, then you can disregard the bluffing part and that gives you a lot more information to play against him.
So I think the biggest mistake that Dan Harrington makes is that he doesn’t understand that some people out there know non-verbal behavior more than he does. I’m not saying he’s – in the sense that because he doesn’t see, he doesn’t understand that non-verbal behavior exists, that some people can teach others about which gesture means something in that circumstance and other – what that gesture means in other situations, he totally disregards the value of tells and that’s why – I think that’s where the mistake is in my opinion. He can’t do that and that’s what most players do and I hope you don’t make that mistake.
If you’re listening to this today, then you probably are interested in that stuff at least enough to want to know more so that’s good. And then really don’t make the mistake of dismissing tells because most players out there, even some who are having success are not good at spotting them.
I’ve seen countless videos of a topnotch player playing against an amateur and the amateur goes all in, displays two or three tells, classic tells of low confidence, that he’s totally bluffing, totally giving out the strength of his hand and the topnotch world class player folds. I’ve seen this time and time again.
So even the big names of the poker world don’t know what they’re looking for. So in a good sense, that’s good news for you because you can really get an edge over your opponents in that sense but also be one of the very few that get tells in general.