Tell (poker)

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A tell in poker is a subtle but detectable change in a player's behavior or demeanor that gives clues to that player's assessment of his hand. A player gains an advantage if he observes and understands the meaning of another player's tell, particularly if the tell is unconscious and reliable. Sometimes a player may fake a tell, hoping to induce his opponents to make poor judgments in response to the false tell.



A tell may be common to a class of players or unique to a single player. Some possible tells include leaning forward or back, placing chips with more or less force, fidgeting, doing chip tricks, or making any changes in one's breathing, tone of voice, facial expressions, direction of gaze or in one's actions with the cards, chips, cigarettes or drinks.

An underlying rule to many tells is: Weak means strong, strong means weak.[1] Thus, players who hold weak poker hands attempt to convince other players at the table that they are strong: staring down an opponent, throwing chips down forcefully into the pot in an effort to discourage others from calling. Whereas, players who hold strong hands tend to try to disguise their hand as being weak. They attempt to fly under the radar by being a passive player at the table: not making direct eye contact, softly tossing the chips in, friendly and talkative. They're deliberately trying not to come across as intimidating, so as to entice a call.

Examples of other well known tells include:

  • Shaking hands, flush face or racing pulse may be the result of adrenaline caused by a player's excitement about a strong hand.
  • A player with a strong hand may subconsciously keep his hand over his cards - this is attributed to a natural tendency to "protect" that which one considers valuable.
  • A forceful, aggressive or loud demeanor, or any other display of confidence, may mean the player is attempting to disguise a weak hand.
  • A quick glance at their chip stack after a card has fallen, or a quick glance at your chip stack before looking away.
  • (Specific to Hold'em) It is much easier to remember specific values (i.e. 7, 10) rather than values and their suit (7s, 10d). Players will typically remember if both cards are of the same suit, so if you see a player double check his/her hole cards after seeing a suited flop fall, they're usually checking to see if they have one card of that particular suit. (You then know they're on a drawing hand)

Online tells

Non-physical tells exist in both casino and online poker, but tells like speed of play[2], betting patterns[3], the quantity of chips that a player plays with and player chat[4] can be particularly revealing online.


A player's tell gives information only about that player's assessment of his own cards, and hence is reliable only when that player has accurately assessed his own hand. An unskilled player may misread a weak hand as a strong hand and thus their tells will only indicate this misinterpretation.

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