Learning the art of bluff is one of the most important parts of any poker player’s games, but misleading what pocket cards you’re holding is a two-way street.
Sure, it’s important to be able to lie and deceive your way to winning a nice sized pot every so often, but being able to call-out those players that think they can do the same, that’s so much more satisfying. But it’s not exactly what you’d call “easy to master”.
Learning exactly how to identify when a player is bluffing is an art form and it’s one that no poker player has ever mastered.
Sure, Daniel Negreanu might just be the closest thing we’ve got to a human lie detector, famously predicting face down cards of his adversaries, but not even Kid Poker himself has it down to a science. Even the best struggle from time to time, it’s why the art of bluffing is so special.
However, you’ve gotta start somewhere and If you’re wanting to build your bluffing portfolio, we’ve got 6 of the very best telltale signs that you should be looking out for the next time you’re head-to-head at the table.
1. How do they handle their chips
The first sign that you should be looking for when you’re watching your opponents? How they handle their chips, cards or just about anything else at an arms reach from the table.
Adrian Sireca, of OnlineCasinoGems, clearly explains: “By watching your adversaries hands during a hand, you can find a wealth of information about the strength of their cards. Keep an eye out for trembling, shaking or fidgeting when betting, that should tell you everything you need to know”.
When an opponent’s hands are shaking when handling their chips, you’ll notice the first signpost for nervousness. It’s almost impossible to fake trembling hands, so if you’ve noticed it, there’s likely a good reason for it.
Similarly, looking for how eager players are to place bets is another good tell to look for. If you’re finding an opponent reaching to their stack before it’s their turn, chances are they’ve got themselves a good hand. Players with weaker hands are more likely to leave their chips untouched until it’s time to bet.
Definitely something to keep in mind if you’re looking to surpass the record of poker legends like, for example, Doyle Brunson.
2. Table talk full of fillers
Table talk is one of the very best aspects of playing live poker. Not only do you get to chat with some of the most interesting people in the casino, but you’ll be able to get bags of information from your opponents.
Words such as “erm”, “er”, “uuummm” and similar are what we call fillers and are great tells for us as poker players to latch onto. When a player uses a high number of these fillers when engaging in table talk, it’s likely that they’re having to think just a little bit more about what they’re saying to avoid giving the game away i.e. they’re bluffing.
This is particularly common with newer players as they tend to be less aware of the impact that their mannerisms have at the table, but can still be applied to plenty of players with a bit of experience under their belt.
Nervous chat = weaker hands
3. Acting too quickly or too slowly
The speed at which players make their decisions within the game is another tell to look out for when you’re playing at the table.
Players that are otherwise highly skilled at hiding tells are more likely to give away vital hand information by their timing of action over body language or eye contact. Players that spend a long period of time before checking are often considering semi-bluffing – sure they may have something, but not something worth betting over just yet.
Similarly, calling bets quickly will often indicate weakness from a player and will point to drawing hands, middle or bottom pair hands (for a comprehensive guide of various poker terms, check out this article). However, players waiting for a short period before making a call is somewhat less clear, occasionally these players will have a medium-strength hand, occasionally they’ll be drawing, almost always it’s hard to read.
Finally, players who are betting quickly tend to be on the weaker side. Quick action is all well and good for trying to intimidate a fold, but players waiting a little longer before making their decisions will usually come out on top.
4. Levels of interest in the game
If you’ve noticed a player suddenly perk up or lose interest in the game, chances are that their hand will be relevant.
When players seem much more interested in the game, chances are that they’ve got themselves a good hand. When they’re less interested in the game, chances are that they’ve not got anything worth noting.
The difficulty comes with the bluff, players will be very interested in the game if bluffing, but if they’re a strong player, during the other hands that they’re not playing too. The trick is to use their level of interest to identify how strong of a player they are, you can use this information against them.
5. All kinds of eye contact
Next up on the list, eye contact, and it’s something that should be paid close attention to for the duration of the game.
Players that are able to maintain strong eye contact are conveying strength, either as a player or as a direct result of their hand. With a strong hand, players are more relaxed and when they’re more relaxed, they’re much more likely to make eye contact.
When a player has a weaker hand, they’re more likely to apprehensive about the bluff and therefore less likely to be able to maintain eye contact.
Of course, the behavior should be as a larger pattern of the players tells, but it’s something that should be considered for each of those at the table.
6. Nodding “yes” to signal “no”
One of the most reliable signs of a bluffer at the table comes in the form of an opponent nodding maybe just a little too much.
Researched have found that bluffers nod their head more often than the truth-tellers at the table, signaling to those in the know that they’ve simply sat there bluffing away (here’s a great list of the best bluffs). Researchers also note that those head nodders are lesser confident individuals, subconsciously nodding for approval from others.
A strong player with a strong hand in the game isn’t likely to nod their head as the game continues – if you’re noticing it, it’s likely a bluff from a weaker player.
It’s amazing what you can pick up from just a little bit of body language.