You’ve no doubt heard the myth about needing a poker face to play the game well. I’m going to let you in on a little secret today. Poker isn’t about reading facial tics—it’s about reading people.
What’s the difference you ask?
Well, when you hear the term, ‘reading your opponent,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are looking for body language clues. More often than not, the tells you’re looking for come from reading your opponents’ betting patterns.
There is a famous poker player out there who claims that he can “see through your soul.” No, he can’t. Trust me. Some top pros might want you to believe that type of hype so they can garner a psychological edge over you.
The truth is, an elite poker player doesn’t focus much on body language. Instead, he tries to understand how you think based on the hands you play and how you play them. He isn’t looking for some obscure nostril flare or eye twitch to make a decision, but you can bet he’s delving into his memory bank and comparing notes from previous hands.
He’s likely asking himself questions such as, “How much did my opponent bet the last time he was bluffing?” Or, “When he flops three of a kind, does he usually check to trap me or does he bet right out to protect his hand?”
So, those physical tells that television commentators like to go on about are for the most part a bunch of hogwash! Watch me on television and you’ll see that I make all kinds of strange faces. Good luck trying to figure out what they mean.
Reading tells and reading people are two separate skills that are often lumped together, but they are, in fact, very different.
Reading tells is the ability to recognize the way people look when they are bluffing versus telling the truth. Reading people deals more with the ability to understand how someone thinks based on various clues you can put together.
How to Read Tells
The first thing you’ll need to do is simply pay attention. This applies not only when you are in a hand, but also when you’ve folded and are waiting for the next deal. Study your opponents and look for any behavioral patterns you can find.
For example, maybe you see one of your opponents cover his mouth before he pushes in a big bet. After the hand, he shows that he was bluffing. Does he also cover his mouth when he has a strong hand? If not, you may have just picked up a valuable tell.
The more you practice this skill of picking up subtle clues about your opponents, the more pots you’ll be picking up.
How to Read People
Now this is really where it’s at. Poker is a game of people, first and foremost, and understanding how an opponent thinks will go a long way toward giving you a significant advantage over him.
To do this, you need to think like a detective by putting clues together and trying to understand what they mean. This could be anything from studying what your opponent is wearing to ascertaining what he does for a living. People unwittingly reveal all kinds of clues about themselves.
Here’s a case study:
A man with a hairy chest wearing an unbuttoned open shirt that reveals tons of gold chains sits at your table. He smells a little bit off, stacks his chips recklessly and smokes incessantly. His fingernails are dirty and he won’t stop shaking his knee.
Right off the bat, you know a good amount about this person, because you’ve already asked yourself this important question: Is he likely to be patient, scared, and conservative, or is he more likely to be an impatient, fearless, and aggressive player?
If you guessed the former, you may want to find a new hobby like checkers or something. For more clues, now go ahead and ask him some questions. “What do you do for a living?” is always a good one.
If he says he’s a lawyer, well, you know who not to trust, right? If he claims he’s a math teacher, chances are you’re dealing with a very analytical player Poker Online.
Or, if he swears he’s a Sunday school teacher, you might be dealing with someone who is uncomfortable telling lies, or, in this case, already bluffing.
The bottom line: Reading tells and reading people are both very real skills, and, when used together, make for a deadly combination.