Betting Tells, and What Does an Absence Mean?
Jun 21, 2006  
© 2006 Shane M. Dayton  

Everyone who has been around poker for any amount of time knows what a “tell” is. A tell is some type of action or body language that tips off what type of a hand your opponent has. There are entire books written by professional poker players that deal exclusively with tells. What does heavy breathing mean? What does it mean when he tries to stare you down? Look away? Look at the chips? There are literally thousands of tells that any given individual has, and the general belief is that every single player has some sort of tell--though many may be so minor as to be almost invisible!

Even many amateur poker players know enough about the basic tells to not get caught with body language. Plus, sunglasses, long hair, and ball caps all seem to be in. This makes facial expressions sometimes nearly impossible to read. One of the best ways to get a tell on an opponent (and this method works for online no limit games just as well as for actual in person games) is to watch the betting patterns. Many players follow natural instincts on how much to bet and when. Sometimes these instincts are good, and sometimes this can play right into your hands. Instincts can often tell you when a player is bluffing without having to know why, but instincts are exactly that: instinctual. These means that they are pre-disposed to a pattern, and if you can find some of those patterns, you have some powerful tells that no one else at the table may have, or even be aware of.

One example from a table game I used to dominate:

At this weekly game there were several good poker players. No one was a complete novice, and at least five of the ten of us consistently made money online and at other games, even if it was smaller stakes. There was only one female player at the table, Kristen, and she was as good a natural as I had ever seen. I was making $200 a week just playing puny $1 tables and $5 tourneys, and she was the only person at the table who consistently placed in the top three as often as I did, and at one point she beat me four weeks running to win each table. I broke the streak after a week of only playing online poker, because that mind set allowed me to suddenly discover how she kept reading me, and also gave me a tell that seemed obscure, but made all the difference.

I noticed that every time I bet ten, she knew every time I had the nuts, and every time I was chasing. She knew this by instinct, but the tell was that every time I was chasing, I used smaller chips to make up my $10 bet. Every time I had it, I used the big chips. One time in the game I switched and used the small chips when I had the top flush. She called me to the end, and looked a little thrown off when I took the pot. The thing I noticed from her, was that she bet five red chips exact every time she had the second highest pair showing.

So every time a scary ace or king was showing as the high card, I would triple her raise, and she would fold it. These are hands I usually had no business winning, but they were also hands in past weeks that I lost money on.

Many of you may be nodding at this and saying sure, and seeing the affirmative, but what’s the big deal about the second high pair, you ask? Well, the most critical information I had wasn’t even when Kristen made that five red chip bet like clockwork. Think about this carefully: if Kristen bets five red chips every time she has the second high pair, what else does that mean? Well for one, it means that when she bets high without the five red chips, you know she has something higher, and when she makes a smaller bet, she has the low pair, a chase, or high card. Because of that one tell, I had a general idea of what cards she had about 80% of the time! That is the part of poker tells not enough players understand. The tell says she has second high pair, but the lack of that tell also gives you information on every other bet she makes.

I swept the next two weeks, and would have had three, except for a terrible series of three bad breaks in a row to another player, but he wasn’t nicknamed “The River” (or “Bastard”) by accident. Concentrate on the betting tells and remember that the lack of that tell does not mean you do not have nay information. Quite the contrary, it should give you more than maybe anyone else at the table can imagine! Happy winnings.

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