The most feared word in the language of poker is tell. A tell is a physical trait that indicates a player is bluffing.
Many players spend a lot of time and effort trying to spot tells when they’re playing at a table game. A person who can spot a tell can figure out who is bluffing and who is not. Unfortunately, spotting a tell can be very hard especially for inexperienced players.
The way to learn how to spot tells is to play a lot of poker or watch a lot of poker games from the rail or sidelines and observe players who bluff a lot. Indeed watching a lot of poker from outside the game is probably the best way to learn this because you don’t have the pressure of the cards.
Look closely at the players and see if you can spot anything that’s different when they bluff. Do they move their hands or thump on the table with their fingers? Do they twitch or become nervous? Any of these things could be a tell. So can dilutions and movements of the eyes.
When you’re watching for a tell, you should remember that cards are always the most important thing in poker. Good players always base their bets on their cards and their readings of other players. Always watch the cards first and see how people actually play. Some people only bet or take risks when they have a good hand, others like to bluff a lot.
One obvious tell is that people who aren’t used to lying and bluffing, newbies and those used to playing online get nervous when they bluff. They are in a new environment so that’s a weakness that you can take advantage.
When a player can bluff without getting nervous or displaying an obvious tell, that’s a sign of someone who’s played a lot of poker in their day, perhaps a pro. Always get suspicious when somebody who claims to be amateur or inexperienced bluffs without an obvious tell. Casinos and poker rooms sometimes use pros as shills to increase the stakes of games and their rake. There are also professional players including professional cheats or card mechanics who work home poker games especially big money home games, so be on the look out for them.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is such a thing as a false tell. Experienced poker mechanics have read the poker books and taken the lessons so they know the tells. A mechanic can easily fake a tell in order to convince you that he’s bluffing when he has a good hand. So get suspicious when somebody displays obvious tells but still manages to come up with some good hands. Also, realize that an obvious tell could be a distraction intended to keep you from noticing cheating or stealing from the pot.