Contrary to all the tells I’ve discussed so far in my articles, this is probably a tell most of you have heard about before. The “glancing at chips” tell was actually first introduced by Mike Caro in his Book of Tells. The idea is that when a player sees a good flop, or a turn or river card that has helped him, he might quickly glance at his stack of chips, signalling unconsciously that he is going to place chips in the pot.
The “glancing at chips” tell is one of those rare tells that is really restricted to poker. Contrarily to micro-expressions, shrugging and other stress displays, you won’t see it in your everyday life (unless you carry stacks of chips with you all the time :-)). However, the premise behind this tell can be seen outside of the poker table, as this tell is actually what is called an intention cue.
Intention cues are gestures and displays that we do that signal our intentions. For example, one of the most common intention cues is to point our feet where we want to go. Say you are talking with friends at a restaurant and suddenly you notice that one of them, who was facing you squarely just moments ago is suddenly pointing his feet, legs and torso towards the door. Basically, this means that he is disengaging from the conversation and wants to get the heck out of there. Now there are many reasons why he might want to leave the table, he might see someone else he wants to talk to, he might have to go through the bathroom, go to the bar to get a drink or he might really want to leave that place altogether. No matter what his reasons are, he is clearly signalling that he is eager to leave.
At the poker table, another – not so subtle- intention cue is when players are holding their cards ready to throw them in the muck preflop. This tell has been around forever, and you’ve probably heard about it before, and even seen many amateur players display it while you play. You can still see this tell around from time to time, but nowadays players are smarter and more educated, meaning that they also know that they should refrain from such behavior.
The difference however, between this tell and the “glancing at chips” tell is that the latter is unconscious, just like the feet signal. Or at the very least, it is uncontrollable. If you do notice that you have suddenly shifted your body or that you quickly looked at your chips, it is a matter of you being aware of your own body movements. But you can’t prevent it from happening in the first place.
When looking for this tell, the most important factor is the timing. There needs to be a trigger. Of course, all tells are triggered by something like another player’s action, the cards delt or turned or other factors. But these triggers are not necessarily constrained to a single moment. We might display disgust when the flop comes, but also when another player bets, or while he’s thinking about betting, or even as we ourselves are betting. The “glancing at chips” tell however, is solely displayed in the very few seconds following the flop, turn or river cards are revealed on the table.
Let’s look at some examples of real players showing this tell.
Joe Hachem flopping trips at the WSOP
First, watch this video to better understand it:
As you can see,in this World of Series of Poker tournament, Joe Hachem has a marginal hand 42o (just kidding it’s crap :-)) and flops trip deuces. Watch carefully his eyes at about 0:09. As soon as he sees the pair of ducks on the flop, he quickly glances at his stack of chips. So subconsciously, he is telling us that he intends to place chips in the pot. And the timing of this is exactly about a second after the flops hits the table. There is no doubt about it, he’s hit the flop.
Ram Waswani flops two pair at the EPT
Watch this hand here :
So during an Europpean Poker Tour event, Waswani has KJs, and flops top two pair. So did you notice where his eyes go right after flop? If you freeze the clip at 0:45 you will notice that he stares at his chips. Again, the timing is crucial, and very much in sync with the flop reveal.
Scotty Nguyen flops quads at the WSOP
Watch it now :
Scotty Nguyen in playing a WSOP event and has a pair of nines and flops quads. This one is slightly less obvious, because of the angle of the camera (it’s not zoomed into his face). But watch carefully his eyes at 0:49. Yep there it is :-). And actually, one trick about this tell is that the head usually tilts downwards also at the same time. This means that you can sometimes spot this tell even when a player is wearing sunglasses. And if you watch Scotty’s eyebrows at 0:49, you’ll notice that they move downwards at the very same moment he looks down at his chips. Unless you think about it first, it is almost impossible avoid head movement when we look up, down, or to the left or right. Our head simply wants to follow our gaze.
So as you can see, the timing of this tell is very important. Also, you might have noticed something noteworthy: the player glancing at his chips is usually very strong. In my experience, a player displaying this tell has usually flopped a pretty strong hand. Most of the time, you will not catch this tell when a player has only flopped a marginal hand.
This tell has been around for a while, and has been part of poker literature for quite some time. But as this is an unconscious tell, it’s a tell you will continue to see it in the future. The beauty of this particular tell is that since its timing is so confined, it’s pretty easy to look for when you play live. When you start to notice it, you can’t miss it.