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How understanding poker tells can give you valuable clues on the strength of an opponents hand
The ability to notice the subconscious poker tells of your opponents in poker is a valuable skill, and can give you a huge advantage in the right situations. There is one fact to remember when playing poker and attempting to gain an advantage by watching for tells or human reactions - the brain controls everything you do. Every movement you make is caused by brain activity, and you need to understand how it works.

The two halves of the brain - the logical and emotional halves - are both involved in the actions of any poker player. The thinking part or logical part of the brain calculates and makes decisions based on fact or perceived fact, and the stronger emotional part bases it's decisions on emotions developed through evolution to provide protection.  Understanding how this works presents an opportunity to an observant player to spot the poker tells of his opponents, and to avoid giving clues to those opponents via his own tells.

Basically this skill relates to three main areas or abilities: observation, interpretation, and ability to hide.

When the subconscious part of the human brain sees an event which it is not comfortable with, it automatically looks for an action to make it comfortable. This is where the well known visual poker tells come from - for example the nose scratch, hair touching, hand movements, or involuntary exclamations.  Of course, in online poker these clear visual tells are not available to you, but there are some other tells which might help you out. I'm going to detail those later, but for now let's concentrate on live poker tells.

Live and Visual Poker Tells

Facial movements are one of the valuable tells given off by players under pressure or trying to hide something. Lips are one of the most important. Watching the lips of opponents can pay dividends. Tightened lips can mean an internal disagreement is taking place with what's happening externally in the game. By improving your reading skills in this one area, you may be able to determine if an opponent is uncomfortable with their cards, any bet that's been made, or the flop that's arrived. Other lip movements such as biting or licking can also have a striong meaning.

The brain often works by subconsciously preparing the body for an action - a player leaning forwards with more of their arm showing than normal may well be getting ready to bet. Couple this with a flaring of the nostrils at the same time, and you have another strong clue. The brain will be acting to draw in extra air so as to be primed for action.

Movements upwards with any part of the body or speech is a good indicator of a nice hand Often if you notice a raised eyebrow this can mean an opponent is happy with what's happening. Smiles are another area to watch for, most people can notice a fake smile but not many can hide it. If the smile doesn't extend to the eyes, it's likely the smile is false and there is something being hidden. Watch carefully for the hands and feet, these are hard to prevent for reacting to subconscious signals.

Once you appreciate how players can give off signals by involuntary movements, theoretically you can use this knowledge to hide or attempt to prevent your own actions. By minimising the information you give out, your opponents will struggle to read you effectively. 

Online Poker Tells

With online poker the contact between you and opponents is via a PC, but the art of looking for clues in the actions of players is still valuable.

The most likely online poker tells are generally recognised to be:

Responding quickly – a very fast check can indicate a weak hand, quick bets on the turn or river can often indicate a strong hand.

Responding slowly – a pause followed by a check can often indicate weakness, while a delay followed by a raise often indicates strength.

Automatic play – a lazy approach to the auto buttons lets a player slip into a set pattern of play. Any breaks in this pattern are clear tells.

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