Live tells are an interesting topic that is often ignored or misapplied when playing live poker. Some put way too much emphasis into them, while others don’t pay enough attention and miss out on valuable information. For me, live tells are a way to help in a close spot where two different options are both acceptable. I always lean on my fundamentals in poker to make my decisions, but I do allow live tells to help me in close spots in choosing between two options.
Through my experience of playing and talking to others, there are a few tells that are very consistent and I am confident in relying on. I am not much for the twitching of hands or pulsating necks types of tells. I think they can be rather inconsistent. For example, someone might not look comfortable and be breathing hard with a big hand just because it is a huge pot, not because they are trying to pull off a big bluff.
The first and most reliable tell for me involves timing of decisions for players. This is by far the most consistent tell players have live (and online). In general, long tanks are more POLAR, while quick actions often represent the middle of the hand range. When someone takes longer than usual to make a decision, I often find that they polarize their range, regardless of sizing. They either have the very top of their range, or they are deciding wither to bluff with the bottom of their range. When players act quickly, it is often more of the middle of their hand range. For example, fast checks often indicate hands they immediately know what to do with and don’t have to think much about. For example, 98 on K87 as the pre-flop raiser. I find this tell to be consistent and helps me a lot in analyzing where someone’s hand falls within their range.
Another consistent tell is the eye glance at the chips. This is incredibly reliable with weak amateur players. This tell for years has been extremely reliable of when weak players have strong hands and intend to bet. It is often followed by a long tank (See above!) to even develop further confidence. This eye glance is just a simple movement of the pupils from the flop down to their chip stack. It is a mental kind of check of, “how much can I bet”, or “how much can I win.”
The final reliable tell is when action is on a player (usually when out of position), they play with their chips and try to look like they are deciding to bet. Often, they will count out a bet before checking. This is often a reliable sign of weakness, trying to deter the in-position player from betting. This tell falls in to the common category of strong is weak and weak is strong when it comes to poker tells.
In summary, tells should be used to help decide where someone is in their hand range. We can use this information to help make our decision. However, always rely on your fundamentals and use tells as an aide, not the main deciding factor. These simple tells don’t require you to stare into someone’s soul for five minutes. Next few times you play live, keep a lookout for these and try to gain skill in recognizing them and gain confidence in them.