Many players that are new to the game of poker are preoccupied with the notion that learning another player’s ‘tells’ are the key to success. I have heard many people say that they could never be a good poker player because they have a terrible “poker face.” While it is important to not just “tell” everyone what you have, the key to your wins and losses has very little to do with your mannerisms.
Often times I have been at a poker table and have seen one player give a stare down to every other player at the table. On every street, whether he/she is in the hand or not, this player will be concentrating so hard on trying to find everyone else’s tells, that he/she is forgetting the most important part of the game. Now I am going to let you all in on a little secret here. Finding a tell on someone isn’t nearly as important as having the ability to read hands.
A lot of top-notch pros will have you believe that they can “look into your soul.” They want you to think that they know what your hole cards are just by looking at you. This may be true in situations where a person has an exaggerated tell. But for the most part, they know what you have because of your betting patterns.
What does all of this mean?
Well, what the pros are looking at in a given situation are the “whys.” Why did he bet this card? Why did he bet so much? Why would he check or check raise on that card? Why did he bet so quickly? Why did he raise so little? When all of these questions are answered, a top player will have a pretty good idea as to what your hand is. Even though he was looking at you the whole time, the fact that he now knows your hand has very little to do with your fluttering eyes or your facial tick. The pro has simply put your betting pattern into a little puzzle, and then solved it.
So why do players use these stare down tactics if they are not trying to read your body language? Quite frankly, it is just a scare tactic. Ninety-five percent of the decisions a player has to make, he knows what he is going to do in within the first five seconds. Most of the time if a player takes a long stare at you, they already know that they are going to fold. Some times a player will use the ‘stare down’ to try and save face because they know that they were caught bluffing. But many players will use this stare down tactic to try and scare you so that you won’t bet into them next time. Mike Sexton, announcer of the World Poker Tourand PartyPoker Pro calls this “doing a little Hollywood.”
Having said all this, I should probably point out that what you say, or what you do with your eyes and hands can be giveaways to the strength of your holding. You should never assume that you don’t have one giant tell that lets an experienced player in on your hand. Great players watch almost everything, and many do have an innate ability to read body language. You don’t ever want to dismiss tells from your poker repertoire, but you just might be better off putting less emphasis on their importance.
Image courtesy of wptbootcamp.com.