The Importance of Glasses at the Table
Although this article came from Blue Shark Optics and is, of course, intended to promote their products, it has some very useful info about tells.
Why do so many pros wear sunglasses at the tables? And why do those who don’t wear them want them banned? If they aren’t providing an advantage, why would pros like Annie Duke want a rule against them? The truth is that most amateur players have no idea how much advantage a good pair of shades can provide or even where that advantage comes from.
If you ask most poker players about wearing sunglasses at the tables, they will tell you that it helps cover up your eyes so that people can’t “get a read on you”. While this is a small help, most pros have seen every hand and every situation and they don’t get excited enough to give away much information with their eyes. The real reason you should be wearing shades at the tables is so that you can watch your opponents with impunity.
You see people behave differently when they know they’re being watched, and if your opponents see your eyes following everyone at the table and watching for tells it’s a dead giveaway that you are a solid player who understands the game. That’s information you really don’t want them to have, and you certainly don’t want them thinking about their actions and body language, so it’s best if you just let them think that you are covering up your eyes because of a desire to hide from them.
While they assume you are hiding from something, you are behind those shades watching them carefully and picking up tells that you can use to increase your profits. Finding tells on your opponents is all about being observant and paying attention without letting them know you’re watching. Let’s start with some basic observational skills that will help you spot tells and gain information about your opponents.
1. Don’t watch the cards fall
The flop isn’t going anywhere, you can look at it in a second, but you will only get one chance to see your opponent’s reaction to the cards that just hit the table. If you watch a card hit the table you have made a mistake and should correct yourself. A player who is serious about the game will be watching their opponents as those cards fall. Occasionally you may look up to watch a player’s reaction to the flop and be looking right into their eyes, a sure sign that they are a strong player. If you are wearing shades the strong opponent may suspect you are watching them, but they won’t know for sure.
2. Don’t be intimidated
If you find yourself staring at a player who is staring back, it is just natural to want to look away. We’ve been taught for years that staring is rude and often results in confrontation, so most of us are uncomfortable looking at someone who knows we are watching and may be looking back. If your opponent’s can’t see your eyes this social stigma melts away and watching them is as easy as if you were watching them on television. Now you are free to watch everyone at the table to gain information you can use against them.
3. Pay attention to everything
If you are watching people carefully, you can find tells in all sorts of places you might not expect. Experts in body language can learn from any piece of body language, from your toes to your nose. In fact some experts claim that bounding feet are the most reliable poker tell. We find that this tell is most often revealed by watching the player’s shoulder bounce as they tap their toes or bounce their heels up and down. Any motion that your opponent makes can reveal something, whether it’s their breathing, the way they play with their chips, or more obvious tells like those mentioned below.
While there are an infinite number of tells, let’s look at a few of our favorites. These tells will make you money once you learn to spot them.
The Eye Flash
Stronger players have all learned about this tell and they almost never exhibit it, but weaker players, especially those who are new to the game will have this tell more often than any other and it is very reliable when spotted. If your target sees something they like, and their eyes instantly flick down to their chips and back to the cards, they probably like what they see. If it happens more than second after the card hits the table the tell is much less reliable and you’ll need to catalog their behavior and do your best to figure out what it means after you’ve seen it a few times.
Remember this tell as “His eyes flashed JACKPOT!”
The Quick Freeze
If your opponent sees something they don’t like or that makes them nervous, they will often briefly freeze. It’s a basic part of the flight or fight reflex that causes us to freeze briefly while we decide what to do in a tough spot, and most players have no idea they do it. If your opponent shuffles chips, drums his fingers, taps his feet, or has any other consistent behavior, and it freezes for an instant, they are probably unhappy with what has happened. This tell is most useful when your opponent is watching you to see what you will do and they are shuffling chips. If you reach for chips as if you are going to bet and they briefly stop their shuffling, they probably don’t want you to bet. If the shuffling continues uninterrupted they are likely to call and you should reconsider that bet unless you have a strong hand.
Remember this tell as “He froze in fear”.
The Instant Call
If you have a monster, you will usually have to think for a second about whether you should raise now or call and try to conceal the strength of your hand. If your hand is very weak and you decide to call anyway, it takes a second to make the decision. The only time a decision is easy is when you have a good draw, so when you see an opponent who calls instantly, it is very likely that they have a draw. If there is an obvious draw on board, like two or a suit, you can watch for other tells that indicate whether they have hit that draw when the next card falls. If this tell is combined with an eye flash when the third heart falls you can probably give up on the hand and save yourself some money.
Remember this tell as “Easy decisions happen fast”