How to Avoid Giving Off Live and Online Poker Tells

Winamax Poker Tour action. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

The last live poker tournament I played before the pandemic was at the partypoker MILLIONS festival in Montreal – Kahnawake, to be precise, at the lovely Playground Poker Club. The guy to my left was in his very early 20s, with the same mustache I tried to grow when I was in junior high. No-Limit Hold’em was the game; I had second pair-second kicker on the flop. He bet three times into me. I may have called the river anyway, but the way his legs were bouncing up and down, I just had to do it.

Are you giving off these red-flag poker tells? Even if you think you’ve got the world’s best poker face, you might not be aware how much information you’re hand-delivering to your opponents. This can happen online, too, although the tells aren’t nearly as glaring. Here are some very important tips to help you conceal, not reveal, your innermost thoughts at the poker table.

Show Don’t Tell

If you’re relatively new to poker, it’s absolutely critical for you to stay as robotic as possible with your movements, and to keep them at a minimum. When playing online, wait three seconds before clicking any button; if it usually takes you longer than that to make a decision, wait even longer. You could even let your time clock drain out before making every play, but that’s bad poker etiquette – and don’t forget, poker is a social game.

Keeping things under wraps is harder to do live, but you’ll be in big trouble if you don’t. Go ahead and wear a hoodie or hat or whatever you can to cover as much of your head and torso as possible. Wear non-reflective shades, too. When you bet, don’t speak if you don’t have to. Just count out your chips (not out loud), push them forward, and return to your default position: elbows on the table, hands clasped in front of your mouth, with your chin resting on your thumbs. Don’t engage with your opponents – and don’t answer their questions, unless they’re requesting a chip count, in which case you should only show them your chip stack rather than tell them the amount.

R-E-L-A-X

Now that I’ve given you this playbook, let me tell you the real secret behind minimizing your poker tells: volume, volume, volume. The more hands of poker you play, the more comfortable you’ll become with your decisions in general. So what if you’re triple-barrel bluffing with absolute garbage, like my opponent did at the Playground? If you’ve done it 1,000 times before, it shouldn’t make you feel so nervous that you can’t contain yourself.

The more poker you play, and the better you get at it, the more you’ll want to throw away that robot playbook and just be yourself. This goes double if you want to play cash poker. Anyone with the money can enter a tournament; these days, unless you’re playing at the lower stakes, you might find it hard getting into a live game if your social skills are… how shall I put this… on the autistic side.

One last pro tip for intermediate and advanced players: To minimize your tells, start giving false ones. Even if you don’t know what your own subtle tells might be, if you’re a good enough actor, focussing on the delivery of your false tell will naturally over-ride most everything else. Just don’t make it a big action, like bouncing your legs up and down when you have the nuts. The world already has way too many bad actors as it is.