How to Read Poker Players 101

Poker is a game of skill that favors players who know how to read their opponents’ hands and behavioral patterns. While it is true that luck may have its own influence, at least in the short term, taking mathematically superior decisions and reading other people’s body language are the talents that separate pros from less skilled players.

All people have mannerisms, although these are not always noticeable. And in poker, players who are good at detecting subtle gestures are at a huge advantage.

While reading your opponent’s body language can help increase your win rate, take note that people have the propensity to overestimate this “ability.” For this reason, you can follow the advice below but never allow your mind to be clouded by your own hubris. 

But before we reveal the most common poker tells, remember to do these two things: 

  1. Investigate from a distance.
  2. Do not look at the flop. 

Investigate from a distance 

Before you sit down at a table, observe the habits and reactions of players from a distance. In this position, you are more objective and alert with the nuances of their body language. By contrast, it’s harder to be objective when you’re in the game because your biases and emotions cloud your mind. 

Do not look at the flop 

Once you have been dealt your cards, stop yourself from peeking at them not until you have already seen the reaction of other players when they see their cards. Frequently, those with a strong hand instantly look away to conceal their excitement, while those with a sadder look could mean a less-than-optimal hand. 

Meanwhile, less skilled players tend to check their flop amidst the game to weigh their decision. Usually, they have a strong hand and so you may want to avoid placing bets against them. 

Common “Poker Tells” You Need to Know 

Making eye contact 

In general, people who are relaxed are more likely to make eye contact than someone who is agitated and less comfortable about the situation. In addition, less skilled players who bet as a bluff and those with weak hands typically avoid engaging with their opponents. 

As with all body language “reading” tips mentioned here, this advice is only reliable if you have already determined a strong, consistent pattern.

Table talk 

In many cases, players who are talking during a hand are relaxed, which could mean that they are holding a strong hand. This is especially true if they are normally quiet. However, be careful with this assumption because some people deliberately become chattier to make themselves appear confident. 

Also, pay close attention to “disclaimers” or statements such as “oh well, this is all I got.” Oftentimes, these are an attempt to appear weak even when the players are actually holding a strong hand. 

Slow- and fast-acting movements

More often than not, players who are taking extra time before checking have an acceptable or strong hand (or perhaps a draw) that they need a moment to think about their next move. By contrast, those with a weak hand tend to call bets quickly in an attempt to appear confident. 

Shaking hands

This “poker tell” is arguably the least reliable because both excitement and nervousness can cause the hands of unskilled players to tremble. However, the key here is to look at the bigger picture, or to be exact, the pattern they are revealing. 

Handling chips

Less skilled players with weak hands tend to leave their stacks untouched, while those with strong hands often grab their chips before the action reaches them, which could indicate a strong desire to bet. However, a few people deliberately do the opposite in order to trick you into not making a bet. 

During preflop, it is not uncommon for players to signal their intention to fold before the action reaches them; they do this by holding their cards instead of leaving them face down. 

Level of attentiveness, or lack thereof 

While you should pay close attention to the level of attentiveness each player exhibits, this is especially true before the flop. In general, players who are easily distracted by their smartphones, the nearby TV, etc., find their hands less interesting. 

You may also want to target players who get easily distracted because they are inherently at a disadvantage because they are not paying attention at the table.