As you already know, poker is a game of skill, luck and bluffing. However, there are very few people who can get away with bluffing without revealing themselves to their opponents in some small way – whether it’s a twitching of the lip, an increase in eye movement, or some other physical mannerism. By learning to recognize these signs – commonly called poker “tells” – you’ll be able to determine whether or not an opponent is bluffing, improving your odds of succeeding in poker.
When you’re just getting started as a poker player, try focusing on one specific opponent, instead of trying to understand everyone who’s seated at your table. Watch this player discreetly, looking for patterns in his or her responses to specific hands. If you realize that the player was bluffing on a certain hand, try to recall whether he or she exhibited any unusual mannerisms during that round that might clue you in to future bluffs.
One of the first places to look for the signs of a bluff is in the eyes. The eyes can tell a lot about what a person is thinking or experiencing, which is why you’ll find many professional poker players wearing visors or sunglasses to block them from their opponents. Look specifically for an increase in eye movement and blinking, as both of these can be signs that a player is bluffing. You can also try to measure the number of times the player looks at his or her hand during the round – players are likely to look at their hands more often when they’re bluffing than when they’re not.
You can also look for slight changes in a person’s face or body language that give away a poker bluff. When some people are nervous, they develop facial twitches or shaky hands, and their posture may change to become more rigid or relaxed. Of course, picking up on these tells requires you to be carefully observing specific players when they are bluffing and when they’re not so that you’ll be able to notice the difference. Try not to make it obvious that you’re watching them – move your gaze slowly around the table as you take in specific details. A few other tells to look for are eye pupil dilations, signs of a dry throat, increased sweating, unusual flexing of muscles and changes in the body gestures.
Finally, look for changes in behavioral responses that could indicate a poker bluff. Players who are bluffing may shuffle their cards around more often, or may play more with their chips, as if contemplating reactions to different possible outcomes for the hand. Players who talk more often than usual may be demonstrating the nervous energy that’s associated with a bluff, while normally talkative players that become suddenly quiet may also be hiding a bluff. You may even be able to pick up on a bluff by the way a player stacks his or her chips – the pattern may be different when that player is bluffing. Again, you’ll only be able to pick up on these cues if you watch a player regularly in order to determine which behaviors are normal and which indicate a bluff.
There are two major advantages to studying poker tells. First, you’ll improve your chances of winning if you’re able to pick up on when your opponents are bluffing. But also, as you become more aware of how poker tells translate to the game, you’ll be better able to control your own tell signs, or at least compensate for them enough to confuse your opponents. Over time, both of these benefits can lead to a dramatic improvement in your poker winnings.