Live tells can definitely be useful in influencing your decisions, but you can’t just start laying down the absolute top hands in your range because your opponent ate a cookie.
As a general rule, unless you’ve been playing with your opponent forever and know their game inside and out, you should mostly use live tells when you have a very close decision and need something to sway you one way or the other.
Here we’ll go over 5 live tells that may help you make these tough decisions at the poker table. Let’s get started!
1. The Speed Folder
Who knew folding was a race?
Once the cards are dealt preflop, everyone usually rushes to check their hands and see what luck has brought them. Many players, upon finding a less than desirable pair of rags, will pick up their cards and get ready to let them go before action arrives at them.
While we all know the frustration of looking down at 92o for the fifth time in a session, this is a very obvious tell that can be easily exploited.
Whenever it is your turn to act and you have a hand that is pretty borderline between raising and folding, take a quick glance at what the players next to act are doing.
Are they picking up their cards, anxiously waiting to fold?
If you’re in the Cutoff and notice that the player on the Button is about to let his hand go, this is a clear sign that you can raise a lot more hands than normal because 9/10 times you’ll be last to act postflop (basically on the button).
This means that you can raise around 50%-60% of hands like you would on the button, instead of the 30% you’d normally raise from the Cutoff.
Furthermore, the blinds will defend like you are raising a Cutoff range, when in reality you can play like you’re on the Button due to the information you gained by looking at your trigger-happy opponent.
2. The Speed Caller/Checker
Another trigger-happy tell, the speed checker and speed caller usually want one thing and one thing only: To get to a cheap showdown.
Look for this tell postflop, usually on the turn or the river.
You place a bet and your opponent immediately calls, or you check and your opponent snap-checks back.
This is a clear sign that your opponent doesn’t have a strong hand!
Think about it, if they had a monster wouldn’t they at least consider betting or raising?
Chances are your opponent has a marginal made hand and simply wants to get to a cheap showdown.
Make sure in this scenario that you don’t play along and make super quick actions as well.
Take your time and think their range through, then decide on the optimal bet you can make to get a call from their perceived weaker range.
If you have a bluff, proceed with caution here! These players will generally be very sticky and want to see what you’ve got. While they won’t make a bet themselves they’re very likely to call too much and have little regard for your bet sizings.
When bluffing here, make sure that the turn is a scare card (like an ace) that may cause them to fold a bit more. Also make sure that you still have some equity in the hand and are drawing to something when betting the turn.
If the turn isn’t a scare card and you don’t have much equity it may be best to just give up.
3. “Will You Show If I Fold?”
If you’ve played live poker for longer than 10 minutes you’ve probably heard this one!
Because of how commonly “will you show if I fold?” is asked at the table, you can really only get a solid read here if the player is fairly new to live poker or is an obvious recreational player.
If they are a recreational player and don’t seem to have a lot of live poker experience you can make the assumption that their hand is fairly weak and they want some reassurance that they have made the correct laydown after they fold.
If you have a strong hand, tell them you won’t show them as this may incentivize a call.
If you have a bluff, tell them you will show, and chances are they will let their hand go.
Remember that this one is tricky and that you should not try to make this exploit unless you can tell that your opponent has very little in-game awareness. If a strong player asks you this question it may be best to say nothing, or to say something like “I never show” or “I always show” and stick to one of those answers every time a player asks you.
4. Verbalizing a Bet
When a player verbalizes their bet it typically means that they have a stronger hand than normal, but only if they don’t normally verbalize their bets.
This is a good one to remember for both preflop and postflop. If your opponent rarely verbalizes their bet, but on a flush completing turn now verbally announces “$100” it can be an indicator of strength.
Now, if they have to verbalize because they are using a larger denomination chip, it obviously means nothing.
But if your opponent takes out a stack of $5 chips, adds or subtracts from the stack a bit, thinks about it, then verbalizes “$100” it is a pretty clear indicator of strength.
Take this one with a grain of salt and be aware of their normal tendencies before making any adjustments.
5. “ I Guess I’m All In”
We’ve all seen the guy who contemplates calling a bet for a while, counts out the stack needed to call, thinks about it, then keeps adding before eventually announcing “I guess I’m all in.”
This may be one of the strongest tells of all, especially if you know your opponent is a recreational player or has little experience playing live.
While in their mind it may make sense to count out a stack, see they’ve not got much behind, then go all in, this is a clear warning sign of a very strong hand.
You should adjust their range to be a lot stronger here – basically their nutted hands and maybe 1-2 very strong draws.
Adjust accordingly and overfold to this bet considerably.
Remember, live tells are just indicators and you should not over-adjust and start laying down top two pair because your opponent ate a cookie in a specific way.
Use live tells when you have a close decision between two actions and need something to sway you one way or the other. In-game awareness can help you to gain an edge on your opponents, so watching for tell-tale signs of strength or weakness will never hurt your game.
Just remember to take everything with a grain of salt and focus on playing your normal game, only making small adjustments based on live reads.
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