Information is key to victory in every poker format; the more you have, the better the decision you can make. Obviously, studying poker strategy, opening hand ranges, or just general poker tournament strategy will help you a lot.
However, you can make even better decisions if you concentrate on your opponents and see how they react after seeing their hands, what signals they send, and what they do next. Of course, this is valid for live games where you actually can see your opponent and gain additional information from that, versus the lack of this information when playing in online poker rooms.
Here, then, are the five most common signs indicating the strength of your opponent’s hand in live tournaments or cash games.
1. Betting right away
Acting quickly could have few meanings, and when you see someone calling very fast in the midst of a hand, they are almost guaranteed to have a weak holding or a draw. Otherwise, they would think about other options.
However, when you see someone betting at once or even snap shoving, they are lily to have a very strong holding. Most of the time when this happens, the player has already made their decision of how they’ll act regardless of whatever cards come. Therefore, if someone shoves on the river at the same second when it shows up, it is likely your opponent already had that move planned. It’s relatively rare to be bluffing in such a scenario.
2. Talking while in the hand
If someone actively talks while you try to make a decision, it usually indicates strength and confidence in his hand. I can safely say that most players would not risk talking much while bluffing so as not to give any information away. Therefore, what they say is not so important, but rather the fact that your opponent is chatting at all should give you some ideas about the strength of his hand.
3. Looking directly at you
The same goes for when your opponent looks directly at you or even stares right into your eyes. It is unnatural to do such a thing if you are bluffing because you want to hide weakness from your opponent. Therefore, when your opponent appears very confident via a direct stare, this is usually not a good sign.
4. Quickly glancing at their chips
This is a very powerful tell. When you see someone subconsciously glancing at their chips after seeing his cards or the flop, you can be reasonably certain that he wants to play the hand. With that said, this is one of the easiest tells to fake and many players try to implement this fact in their strategies. So, again, it’s a great tell, but be sure you’ve got the correct read.
For that reason, if you see a recreational player making this move it is way more likely to be natural, and you’ll already have some information about his hand. I would not consider this to be a reliable tell from regulars though.
5. Shaking hands
Have you ever seen someone making a bet with shaking hands and have a huge holding after calling down an opponent? I have. While I have heard players saying that shaking hands indicates weakness, I completely disagree. To point, I have not seen anyone bluffing with shaking hands, so if you see this, I feel that you should proceed cautiously.
There is a good explanation for shaky hands, by the way. Some players just get too excited, and it is tough to hide it. However, most of your opponents would not want to give away any tells when bluffing and would try to concentrate more. Therefore, if you see someone with shaking hands or even dropping chips right before betting, they are likely to have a premium holding, at least as far as my own personal experience.
Summing it up
While all of the above signs can indicate that your opponents at the poker table have strong holdings, don’t assume this to be universally true. In my opinion, tells are best suited to act as additional information that can help you. Of more primary importance is playing with a solid poker strategy and taking in consideration ranges, positions, bet sizing, etc. Moreover, weak players tend to have way more tells than grinders and professional players, so you will have much more success trying to spot them in a home game or a game full of recreational players.
However, if implemented correctly, you can use the ability to properly identify tells to save a lot of money and make great calls and/or laydowns. If you want to learn more, check out the helpful information I’ve compiled about online poker tells and improve your game even further!