Understanding Common Poker Tells

Learn how to read people in pokr with these common tells

Knowing how to read people in poker can be the difference between success and failure at the tables. Players give clues about their hand strength through their actions, body language, and more. Even the world’s best players give off tells occasionally, although they are more common in lesser-skilled grinders.

How To Read People in Poker: What Is A Tell?

Picking up on poker tells is how you read people in poker, but what is meant by a tell? Tells are clues into an opponent’s hand, either verbal or physical. Both types of tell are involuntary in that the player is unaware they are doing it.

Knowing about human physiology and psychology helps you read people in poker. You do not need to be an expert, a basic understanding stands you in good stead.

How To Read People in Poker: Look At The Eyes

People say the eyes are windows into someone’s soul and they are key to learning how to read people in poker. It is no coincidence players wear sunglasses to hide their eyes; they give away a lot of information.

Players with strong hands relax more. Humans are more likely to make eye contact when they are in a relaxed state. Conversely, those with weak hands or bluffs tend to be less comfortable and, therefore, less likely to look directly at you.

Some players always stare at you (think along the lines of Mike McDonald), or look away regardless of their action. It is difficult to read people who do this, so you need to find something else.

This tell is only reliable when it exists as part of a larger pattern of actions. For example, Player A has been comfortable throughout your session but just made a large bet and is avoiding eye contact. Make a note on what hand he reveals at showdown and see if this happens more than once.

Be Aware of Timing Tells

Clues about an opponent’s hand strength come from how long it takes for them to act. It is possible to read people based on how fast they bet or check. Again, timing tells are only reliable when they build a broader picture, but they tend to be accurate against weaker players.

Those players who check quickly almost always have a weak hand. They decided to check without considering their options. Thinking for a while before checking indicates they have something worth playing. They could even be very strong, but they have a hand worth playing.

Timing tells come into play when a player calls or bets. A very quick call indicates weakness, usually a bottom-to-mid pair or a draw. They are scared of bloating the pot and want to get to showdown as cheaply as possible.

Pausing before calling is almost guaranteed to be a medium strength hand or a draw. This player contemplated raising or folding but opted to stay in the hand. They would likely raise if they were very strong.

Listen To What They Say

Listening to your opponents is a great way to read people in poker. Poker is a social game where table chatter is the norm. Some players love continually talking, others prefer to sit quietly. Pay attention to opponents who are talkative but clam up and vice versa.

Players talk more when they are relaxed and why are they relaxed? Because they have a strong hand!

Pay particular attention to players who give specifics about their hands. It is common for them to speak the truth because it is easier to do than tell a lie.

Talking is one tell that people flip on its head and make into a reverse tell. They pretend they are weak when strong by saying things like “I suppose I better play this hand” when they are sat with aces in the hole!


Be aware of where you look after making big bets. After making a significant bet or raise, you should be aware of where you are looking and try to keep it consistent. Also, be aware of how long it takes you to bet, call, or check and just generally try to stay neutral.

Bonus Poker Tell

A soft poker tell is also easy to pick off. Players who suddenly awaken and lean forward after seeing their hole cards are most often getting ready for action and preparing themselves for battle.

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.


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