Let’s not make too much of these. There are many ingredients other than “tells” that go into making your deception work at the poker table — chiefly your image in the mind of your opponent, the strength of your opponent’s hand, your recent betting experience at the table, the size of your bet and the like.
But sometimes all those other factors make it a very close call for your opponent, in which case it is possible what you say and do while you are betting can tip the balance. Picking spots correctly and using the right words and actions might get your attentive and reasonably good opponent who is on the fence to make the wrong move.
Here are three false verbal tells you can exhibit to deceive your opponent.
1. Indicate weakness when you are weak
Imagine you have position on your aggressive opponent who has been betting since before the flop. The flop was two-suited and you called his continuation bet. The turn brought a third suited card. Your opponent bet again. You’ve missed making a hand, but realize a raise might cause him to fold, since he might believe you hit the flush you appeared to be chasing after calling his flop bet.
You can make your bluff a little more believable if you exhibit some seemingly unintentional indication of the true strength of your hand — a sigh might help. Make it look like you are disappointed in the card by noticeably (but not too noticeably) exhaling wearily. Your sharp opponent will interpret that as an act and think you are trying to trick him, and may well be sufficiently convinced that you really hit the hand and will fold.
2. Double-check hole cards when you hit your straight or flush
Many players have learned that a rechecking of down cards on the flop, turn, or river indicates that someone is looking to see if he has a straight or flush draw. They know this to be a reliable tell that their opponent surely doesn’t have two suited cards or two consecutive cards. Robert Woolley discusses this phenomenon in his article “Does Your Opponent Have a Flush? Here’s How to Tell.”
You can cross up these players by making a point of rechecking your hole cards when you actually hit your straight or flush. They’ll see your action and assume that you just hit a draw — that you are rechecking (for example) to see if one of your cards is suited to the board. For this to work, you must resist the urge to sneak a peek at your opponent after you’ve rechecked your hand. Just do a quick check of your cards and then proceed with your betting action.
Note that this won’t work every time because your opponents may not be paying attention to your actions. But if your opponent is watching, the player may well assume that you are bluffing (or semi-bluffing with a draw) and call your bet.
3. If bluffing, don’t sit inertly and refuse to talk if queried by your opponent
Good players sometimes will talk to you when they are trying to decide what to do. “You want me to call?” they might say. Or “Why so much?” Refusing to answer is certainly a reasonable response, and might well be the best course of action for you, particularly if you aren’t comfortable talking during a hand. But is there anything you can say to induce your opponent to draw the wrong conclusion about your hand?
I’ve found that many of these players know that when their opponents are very strong they have a hard time talking sensibly. Being so anxious about the strength of their hand, players clam up in an effort to minimize the possibility of letting any information slip. Such players have also learned that bluffing players may either remain silent, trying to keep from giving their opponents any reason to call, or they might say something to imply they have a strong hand — the old “strong means weak” tell.
So if you really are bluffing, it may help induce an incorrect fold for you to respond vaguely by saying something about your situation being weak — something like “I’m not sure what you should do” or “I’ve been stronger” or “I’m playing the board.”
Again, with all of these false tells, there are many other factors that go into whether your deception will be believed. These actions alone surely won’t be sufficient to make your deception succeed or fail. But if your opponent is having a hard time deciding, they may be sufficient to encourage the player find the wrong action.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold’em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.