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Poker News | Poker Book Review

A Review of Caro’s Book of Poker Tells: The Psychology and Body Language of Poker

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Almost all poker aficionados know the saying “Weak means strong and strong means weak.”  But not everyone knows where that saying, describing the physical betting mannerisms of players, originated.  It comes from one of the classics of poker literature, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells (originally known as Caro’s Book of Tells), which I would say belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of poker books, alongside Brunson’s Super System volumes and Harrington’s hold’em books.  While the latter two authors belong there for unlocking many professional secrets of how to play a variety of poker games, Mike Caro has earned his place by teaching others how to play other players.  His book was revolutionary when it was released, and it is just as relevant today.

For anyone whose poker experience is limited to online play, you need to read and digest this book before you go out to play in a live venue, as understanding player behavior is an edge that can really only be utilized when actually sitting across from someone.  Caro divides the book into a series of different types of players’ actions, ranging from the unconscious to the movements of actors, general tells that fall outside either realm, and tells revealed by sounds alone.  He also begins with a chapter on what he calls Caro’s Law of Loose Wiring, in which he states unequivocally that many of your opponents’ bets seem to have no real rhyme or reason BECAUSE THEY REALLY DON’T.  For those of you who have sat in bewilderment over the hands that other players seem to bet and win with, this chapter will come as some comfort for the times that you have been cruelly and casually destroyed at either a cash game or tournament by this type of play.

The heart of the book is a point-by-point analysis of the most classic tells that Caro has seen at the table.  Either a single photograph or a series of shots illustrating the move in action accompanies each one.  Many of them will be familiar to long-time live-action players, such as the danger of betting into a player who is looking everywhere but at the action, and seems deliberately uninterested in what is going on, or the inevitability of a monster hand when a player starts shaking uncontrollably.  On this latter point, Caro goes into some detail about the physiological reaction that takes place when the stress of the unknown is replaced with the certainty of winning.  For those who have watched ESPN’s continuing coverage of this year’s WSOP, you got to see former champion Joseph Hachem lay down a good hand when he commented to his opponent “You’re shaking like a leaf,” before mucking his cards.

Along the way, the author codifies a number of the points he is making into Caro’s Laws of Tells, which are then summarized at the end of the book for easy reference.  Some of them include such gems as: “Players are either acting or they aren’t.  If they are acting, then decide what they want you to do and disappoint them” - “A player glances secretly at his chips only when he’s considering a bet- and almost always because he’s helped his hand” and “Any unsophisticated player who bets, then shares his hand while awaiting a call, is unlikely to be bluffing.”  Memorizing these laws and watching for them at the table can make the difference between winning and losing countless sums of money.

Each tell is analyzed in detail, with Caro breaking down just how often it is likely to be accurate for weak, average or strong players, what the value per hour of noticing and acting on the tell should be for you in various limit games, and what the motivation and mechanism of the tell is.  What is refreshing is that he makes it clear that none of the tells is 100% accurate, and that strong players may go out of their way to present actions designed to guide you down the wrong path in your thinking.  He recommends that you don’t immediately act on any of the tells, but rather wait and see if they come up repeatedly, so that you can make continued profits from that player over time.

The last chapter of the book is a final examination, in which the author asks a series of questions about photographs of players acting in particular ways, asking you to test your powers of observation to see what you have learned throughout the book.  It is a fair evaluation of what he has tried to teach, and lets the reader know that much of the information has been properly absorbed.

If there is any criticism that I have of the book, it is that the photographs are not of the highest quality, and sometimes seem somewhat out of focus and not entirely clear in what they are trying to teach.  With the advances in technology in recent years, Caro could easily update these photos, or better yet, add a DVD of high-quality video as a deeper instructional manual for the reader to follow along with the book.  This could be done as either an add-on to the book or as a private online resource for purchasers of the book, and increase the value of the education tremendously.

Despite this small reservation, Caro’s book is and has always been a classic, and a must-read for all serious poker players.  While there are players and authors such as Dan Harrington who tend to ignore tells as an important part of poker play, other great players seem to make constant use of the information Caro has provided in their play at the table, finding mannerisms in even the best of their opponents that they can exploit.  While it may not be easy to incorporate all of the ideas presented here into your play, just learning some of the more important general rules present here will be worth the time and energy of reading this essential volume.

*Read Clearspine's Blog*

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