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The good and the bad side of poker tells
 

 

I hope I’m not telling you anything new when I say that good players at high limit tables play their opponents instead of their cards. It’s an altogether different world, and that is exactly why most high-profile professionals find it extremely difficult to play at low limits. Playing the player is where the difference is made between talented poker players and the rest. Anybody can play low limit poker, though not everybody is adept at reading opponents – a must at the high stakes tables. Reading your opponents is based on poker tells. Tells are tiny clues or traces of clues that a good player takes note of, and subsequently uses to put his opponent on a range of hands. Tells can be extremely varied, and they are more abundant in live poker. In a conventional online poker room, tells are scarce and they are mostly about the betting patterns. In live play, there are tells everywhere. As a matter fact, there are so many tells in a live high-stakes game that it becomes a challenge to tell the good ones apart from bad ones. Some tells are misleading by nature, others are deliberately employed by the shrewd opposition to deceive.

 

Let’s see a few examples. I watched a short clip of Phil Ivey playing a hand against an unknown player the other day, in which the unknown player’s hand was shaking like a leaf. The shaking of the hand(s) is considered to be an involuntary, unconscious tell and it is generally regarded as a sure sign that the player in question is holding a monster and will attempt to trap his/her opponents. Sure enough, Ivey folded the above mentioned hand, but only after probing for some additional tells by asking the guy whether he was doing it deliberately.

 

 

 

Now then, while this may seem simple-enough in theory, in practice it gets much more complicated. You see, every player and every person is one of a kind. You can’t just generalize people’s reactions to different circumstances, especially not when it comes to the deceitful world of the poker tell. Some people have shaky hands. They will shake regardless of what they hold (due to old age, nervous system problems or whatever else). This is why you simply have to read them first. A person who shakes all the time should not be considered one attempting a trap on a monster. A guy who is very steady handed and calm under normal circumstances though, should be suspected of something out of the ordinary as soon as you notice his hands are shaking. Some people might just be overwhelmed by the fact that they’re playing against a renowned poker celebrity (such was the case of the above named incident involving Ivey).

 

The worst possible scenario is though, when people broadcast genuine tells on account of the fact that they have no idea how the game is supposed to be played. Take Mr A for instance who gets a shaky hand when the flop pairs his pocket Ace. In this instance, Mr A is convinced he has the best hand at the table, regardless of the fact that the board texture suggests someone might have a flush or even a straight. He just cannot see that. He’s too busy with his Aces, so he gets a shaky hand. Most people around the table will probably conclude that he has the nut flush or at least a reasonably high straight, therefore they may end up folding hands that could’ve taken Mr A’s Aces to school any day.

 

Another subtlety about reading your opponents is the ability to tell deliberate false tells apart from real ones. Everyone loves to be an actor. Most people will attempt to deceive you by giving you false tells every once in a while. The problem is with those who are really good at it. Such players – let’s call them actors – can become a handful because of the antics they pull. Be on the lookout for obviously solid, good players who bombard you with rather obvious reads. Chances are that in such cases, you’re dealing with an actor.

 

Truly good players are actors and honest players in the same time. Such people are downright unreadable, and therefore extremely difficult to play against. They know when to switch gears, they can tell if someone has them read or if he’s “reading” them the way they want to. In regards to these players there’s only one useful piece of advice: stay away from them.

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