Success at poker is ultimately the result of solid fundamentals and the ability to read your opponents’ betting patterns. This is especially true when playing online. But playing live poker is a completely different animal. In this venue, the presence of physical tells can not be overlooked.
Picking up a tell — a hint that a player unknowingly gives that reveals the strength of his hand — often means the difference between winning and losing a big pot.
Most physical tells, however, are notoriously unreliable. What might signify a bluff from one player just might indicate a full house from another. That’s why it’s wrong to generalize physical tells by adhering to profound-sounding statements like, “When a player throws his chips in forcefully, it’s a bluff.” It’s simply not true in all cases.
There are, however, some tells that are more reliable than others. One in particular is the habit of glancing at one’s chip stack. It’s powerful because so many players aren’t even aware that they’re doing it.
Let me explain.
Some players will immediately glance at their chips as soon as the thought of making a bet crosses their mind. Say a player is holding pocket threes and another three hits on the flop. That player will often take a quick glance at his chip stack as soon as the flop is revealed. It’s like hearing a voice inside your head saying, “Oh, three of a kind. Next step is to bet. Where are my chips?”
That’s when you’ll notice the quick glance. Once you find a player who has this habit, it will be the most reliable tell you will ever spot.
Now, a player with this tendency might also look at the flop with a blank stare, never once glancing at his chips. That is a tell, too! Since you know that he glances at his chips when he wants to bet, you can infer that when he doesn’t, he has no intention of continuing with the hand. The pot is yours for the taking with a bet.
Here’s an example of how picking up on this particular tell can help you avoid being trapped.
You make a pre-flop raise with 8c-10c. The player in the big blind calls. The flop comes Jc-7d-3s and your opponent checks to you.
With an inside straight draw, you might decide to bluff at the pot. However, you realize that your opponent could be considering a check-raise. Knowing that, the better option is to check, take a free card, and hope to catch a nine to complete your straight. This play would eliminate the worst case scenario where you bet, get check-raised, and then have to fold, potentially costing yourself a huge pot.
Here’s where the chip-glancing tell is most valuable.
Watch your opponent’s eyes as he sees the flop. If he glanced at his chips before he announced check — beware! There’s something he likes about that flop. He probably won’t fold to any bet you make. Just check and try to catch a card on the turn.
On the other hand, if you are facing a player who habitually glances at his chips when he likes a flop, but doesn’t do it this time — bet! Chances are he missed the flop. Take the pot right away. Don’t give him a chance to catch a winning card on the turn.
The art of reading physical tells isn’t an exact science. But of all the tells you’ll encounter at the poker table, you can pretty much call this one “Old Faithful.”
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