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Basic Poker Tells.
Many new poker players will hear the words "poker tells" and think of some strange idiosyncrasy that an opponent would have that will give away their hand without a shadow of a doubt. For example the KGB eating his Oreo cookies when he had a monster hand in the movie Rounders. While these types of tells certainly exist, there are a lot more common tells that nearly all players exhibit, even the pros. I'm going to review some of those tells here.
Weak Means Strong, Strong Means Weak
One of the first things you'll hear when talking about poker tells is "weak means strong, Strong means weak." Poker is a game of deception so often times your opponent will attempt to appear strong, when he holds a weak hand and weak when he holds a strong hand. There are two areas I would like to discuss regarding this concept: betting tactics and table posture.
First, let's talk about betting. Say, you have an average flop with no pair, and no likely straight or flush draw, and your opponent suddenly bets two or three times the size pot. By betting this much, he is making it very difficult for you to have the pot odds to justify calling. So why would he make a bet that size unless he wanted to force you to fold? What do you think he has? My guess is that he either has nothing and is trying to buy the pot, or he has an ok hand and is trying to make it too expensive for anyone drawing to a better hand to stick around. Think about it. If he had a really good hand, would he bet so much and force people out of the pot. Probably not, he'd bet a modest amount in an attempt to lure others into betting. By betting so much, he is hoping that you will fold and give him the pot right there. It is still possible that he has a good, hand, and was either over anxious when betting, or isn't experienced enough to bet low enough to encourage calls, but most likely, he trying to force people out.
The opposite can also be true. When a good player flops the nuts, they aren't going to go all in and force you to fold. He is going to try to check-raise you, or check-call to get you to put more money in the pot. Or maybe he'll bet the minimum to trick you into raising. Now, this isn't always the case, there will be times when he checks because the flop missed him completely, but keep in mind that poker is a game of deception, and players will often try to represent a hand the is the opposite of what they have.
The other weak means strong, strong means weak behavior that is relatively easy to pick up is how a player acts after making a large bet. If for example if he goes all in, and then sits back and acts passive, avoiding eye contact and looking like he is trying to appear non-threatening, then there's a good chance he has a pretty good hand. Alternately, if after making a large bet your opponent stares you down, daring you to make a call, then his hand may not be so great. The subconscious thinking on the part of your opponent here, is that when he has a good hand and wants you to call, he will try to appear as non threatening as possible, playing 'possum to lure you into calling him. When he thinks you might have him beaten, he will try to intimidate you into folding and just giving him the pot. Most of the time, a player will not be aware that he is doing this, you just have to be observant, and try to determine why your opponent would be acting a certain way.
Checking Hole Cards
When a flop comes up with multiple connectors, or suited cards, and your opponent checks back and forth from his hole cards to the board, you can be pretty sure that he is drawing to a straight, or a flush, and has not made his hand yet. The reason behind this is that if he made the straight or flush, chances are that he would know it, and when his hand doesn't hit, he is rechecking to see if he is missing anything. If he keeps checking after the turn and river, and his betting doesn't imply that he made the hand, you can be pretty sure he has a busted straight. In order to prevent this tell yourself, you need to learn to memorize your cards, and not look back to them during the hand.
Ever flopped a monster hand, and felt that surge of adrenaline as your heartbeat goes into overtime? Well the same thing happens to your opponent. And that adrenaline boost will often cause your hands to shake. Now there can be other reasons that cause someone's hands to shake, but if it's uncharacteristic of your opponent, and you notice it, perhaps in conjunction with other tells mentioned, beware of a huge hand, and only stay in when you have the nuts.
For a much more thorough discussion of poker tells and how to exploit them, check out Mike Caro's book Mike Caro's Book of Poker Tells. He goes into much more detail and covers many more tells than I could possibly cover here.