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Seven tells to watch out for to improve your poker skill level


11 Sep 2016

Both luck and skill are required by a player to excel at Texas Hold’em Poker.

Luck is something a player can do nothing about, either the poker gods are with them or they are not. There is little worse than moving all-in with pocket aces, being called by QK off-suit and then watching the opponent scoop the pot with an unexpected flush.

But there are plenty of ways in which a player can improve their skill level. From the level of a real beginner, memorising the order of winning hands is a good start, alongside some basic understanding of pot odds.

Beyond this is being able to read opponents – interpreting their ‘tells’ and using the information gleaned to make sensible betting decisions.

Here are seven tells that certain players may give away which can be used to assess whether they are holding a strong or weak poker hand:

Sudden volume changes

Some players take on the demeanour of being extremely quiet when getting comfortable in their poker seat, literally only talking to explain whether they intend to check, call, raise or fold. Others are frequent trash talkers who barely ever stop speaking long enough to catch breath.

Therefore, when both switch roles, it can be a tell-tale sign that something has changed.

The quiet player’s vocabulary has been known to increase when hitting a flop and wanting the game to speed up, asking whose move is next or if anyone is yet to raise. Meanwhile, a vocal player turning silent and suddenly showing enhanced levels of concentration only heightens suspicion that they have a good hand.

Card memory

Skilled players will memorise their two hole cards immediately, both in terms of the digits and the suits. Amateurs may be more forgetful.

This could be significant if a flop shows three cards of the same suit. If a player needs to look at their cards, it is almost guaranteed they haven’t filled their flush, as they would have probably remembered their cards if they were of the same suit.

A situation has even been known where a player was so desperate to remember his hole cards that he quietly mumbled them to himself as the hand was developing. Sit close enough and it was possible to hear the big reveal.

Heavy breathing

Breathing changes are really difficult for a player to control. If they hit a good hand, there is likely to be a surge in excitement. This may cause a heart rate to increase and breathing to quicken. For those that are a little overweight, this faster breathing may bring with it some additional sound.

On the flip side, if a person’s breathing is shallow or if they are obviously attempting to avoid breathing loudly in fear of giving away a tell, this is likely to be a sign that a hand is weaker.

Chip power

A common poker move is to stand a chip or some chips on top of two cards when they are still in play. However, it may be noticed that some players vary the number of chips in their stack based on the strength of their hand.

One chip on top may represent a nothing hand, while multiple could mean they are sitting with the nuts.

Equally, the manner in which chips are moved from a stack into a betting circle could act as a tell. Watch out for a whether a player slams their chips down when announcing their move or whether the switch is much softer and nervous.


Typically in the pre-flop stage of betting, a player may have a predetermined plan over what they are going to do, regardless of the cards they are actually holding. Therefore, any chips may be pushed forward quickly.

But should the same player own a premium hand, their speed may slow as they deliberate over the best ploy to squeeze the biggest calls out of others.


For best results at poker, players should leave shuffling to the dealers in between hands. However, some cannot stop themselves shuffling continuously on their chairs as they become more nervous.

This could involve fidgeting back and forward, rapid leg twitches or hand rubbing. Such reactions are usually worth assuming are the sign of a strong hand.

It isn’t unusual to see episodes of fake nervousness either, but the exaggerated nature of this is often see through.


Don’t be surprised to hear some players pretending that it’s about time they left the game to see their children or other halves and so are effectively moving all-in with a sub-par hand as a way of speeding up this process.

Hearing “I guess it’s time to go home” is best interpreted as meaning that if you call, it will be you going home rather than them.