Poker Advice: Counterpoint to Tells
By Loki Luchs
When I meet a new player or I cruise the poker forums at my internet haunts, I often see a topic that I find very disturbing; players always want to know how important tells are to being a great player. The answer is: VERY! The part about this that I find disturbing is that I donít think itís the right question. The question that most of these tenderfeet should be asking is how important are tells to being a GOOD player. The answer to this is not very important at all!
If youíre serious about rising up to be a great, even a professional poker player, tells are something youíre going to eventually get to. However, there are many other things that you need to master before you become reliant to them. While being a human lie-detector is an obvious asset to poker, itís more important to be a competent player with a sound strategy; you must understand basic concepts like game strategy, odds, and bankroll management first! You need to spend time working on advanced concepts of theoretical plays in order to be a serious threat to advanced competition.
Sometimes when Iím at the table, I meet the people who ask questions like this; theyíre easy to pick out because theyíre usually still poker-high from their most recent viewing of Rounders, with images of Oreos floating around their heads. They usually think that each player has a unique tell thatís so over-exaggerated that they watch for ridiculous motions and donít bother to look for the small ones. (When player four hits his bluffs, he claps his hands over his head four times! When player nine hits his flush he stands up and does the cha-cha slide!) Some tells are universal, but thereís always outliers whose reactions mean the opposite, external-poker stimuli, and players who are faking it to screw you up.
The other extreme of this is that they assume that tells are always right. When push comes to shove, an eye-glance is reliable, but Iím going to take in as much information as possible before I commit myself to an action. Tells will often conflict with one another! If you have three tells that say weak and one that says strong, you have to know the player youíre against! Itís probable that the three tells are the correct ones to go with, but you have to handle each situation on its own merits. If the one tell that says heís strong has been the most reliable on your opponent, you might have to go with that read!
One of the hardest things for these dewy-eyed noobs to digest is that sometimes, God-forbid, you wonít be able to read your opponent. Itís a horrible truth to face, but sometimes there are players who are better trained than you. They have a better poker-face, poker-body, and poker-pattern than you. If youíre new to this talent, this is actually going to be the case more times than not. It takes time to become a good (let-alone expert) reader of micro-expressions and body language. Donít blow your whole bankroll because you read a book (or, God-forbid, my articles) and you think you might have maybe seen a part of a tell!
The problem with tells is that while to a good player the information is invaluable, too many weak players think that itís the only part of the game they need to improve on. If your strategies as a player are unsound or your basic gaming philosophy is weak, you will still be a losing player. Tells donít turn you from a bad players into a good players; they turn good players into great players.
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