In poker, most people are familiar with the term “tell” which is the name for an action that a player does indicating they have a good or bad hand. Even seasoned poker players find that determining another players tell is not that easy. But there is a secret super power that each and every one of you has – it’s the power of observation.
Several years ago I was dating this guy. I could always tell when he was going to get up to use the bathroom because he would shift his body movement a few minutes before hand. This was behavior I observed regularly. One day I said “When you get up, will you also get me a glass of water, please.” He laughed and asked how I knew he was going to get up. I told him his subtle body shift was a sign.
Observing another person’s behavior is really that simple. During poker, especially when you are not in the hand or are simply watching the game, it is the best time to watch each player. You are not looking for eye contact or facial features – they are easily concealed or falsified through the “poker face”. Instead, you are looking for subtle changes in the way they sit, hold their cards, adjust themselves – even play with their jewelry or hair. You will want to make a mental note of the behavior that you see with each hand and the outcome. For example, did you notice a player taps his ring finger on the cards when he has a losing hand?
Observing no movement is often a tell in itself. There are players who put a significant amount of effort into not showing any tells when they have a good or bad hand – but keeping up the façade all the time is difficult. You are likely to discover that a player with seemingly no tell is actually using it to tell you the status of their hand. Remember that you’re not just observing physical motions of the face and hand. Watch for eye movements, toe-tapping, legs crossing and even sweating. A good poker player knows that no movement is too subtle to be an indicator of the cards that are held.
Becoming a professional observer takes practice. You can hone your skills out of the game room by watching the people around you and learning from the things that they do. Does your girlfriend look away when she talks about a specific subject? Does your child seem extra sweet when he is trying to skirt out on chores? Does your husband always put his keys on the bar instead of the key rack after a bad day? There are truly too many tells in our personalities to ever list them all. The more you practice in your everyday life, the easier it will be to use this skill around the table.
Once you discover another players tell, you will have the odds in your favor.