Gambling Secrets: Crucial ‘Tells’ to Read Your Rival’s Poker Hand

Gambling is a game of strategy from how to pick a slot machine (if you really must) to splitting your Aces and ​​choosing the best card-counting method in Blackjack.

Poker is as much about psychology as it is about skill and luck, however. The difference between winning and folding can come down to observing ‘tells’ - reading your opponent’s body language to decipher subconscious shrugs, sighs, and signals that give away their hand.

Do you want to play like a pro? SPYSCAPE goes all-in with our 10 top tips to help read your rival’s mind.


Matt Damon, Rounders
Matt Damon stars as in Rounders (1998)

10. Poker chip maintenance

Pay attention to how your rival stacks their chips. A tight stack indicates a tight, methodical, conservative player who doesn't often bluff, so don’t ‘call’ expecting your opponent to have a weak hand. A loose stack indicates a messy player who is sometimes more willing to gamble and take a risk.

Gambling Secrets: Crucial ‘Tells’ to Read Your Rival’s Poker Hand

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Gambling is a game of strategy from how to pick a slot machine (if you really must) to splitting your Aces and ​​choosing the best card-counting method in Blackjack.

Poker is as much about psychology as it is about skill and luck, however. The difference between winning and folding can come down to observing ‘tells’ - reading your opponent’s body language to decipher subconscious shrugs, sighs, and signals that give away their hand.

Do you want to play like a pro? SPYSCAPE goes all-in with our 10 top tips to help read your rival’s mind.


Matt Damon, Rounders
Matt Damon stars as in Rounders (1998)

10. Poker chip maintenance

Pay attention to how your rival stacks their chips. A tight stack indicates a tight, methodical, conservative player who doesn't often bluff, so don’t ‘call’ expecting your opponent to have a weak hand. A loose stack indicates a messy player who is sometimes more willing to gamble and take a risk.

9. Eye movement


Your opponent’s eye movement can speak volumes, which is why some professional poker players wear sunglasses. When a player likes his cards, the temptation is to look at the chips, advises Canadian champ Daniel Negreanu. Pay attention to conscious eye movements as well. Some players also overact with over-the-top gestures such as rolling their eyes to pretend they have a hopeless hand rather than a winning hand. 


Molly's Game
Molly’s Game (2017) starring Jessica Chastain

8. Posture ‘tells’

Opponents often shift their body upward when they like the hand dealt, a natural reaction to the stimulus. Likewise, rivals who don’t like their hand may shift back in their seat or not move at all. Humans are wired to protect things we value, so if your opponent brings the cards closer or holds them tighter, they are likely pleased with the deal. Moving cards away indicates a bad hand and the possibility that they will try to bluff if they carry on.


Star Trek
The USS Enterprise D held their five-card stud game on Tuesdays

7. Happy feet

A player with a good hand might have a stoic face but bouncy feet. Also, a confident player may go from sitting up straight to leaning back and putting their feet forward - a signal of strength and confidence. On the other hand, if someone is sitting forward but putting their feet behind them - or curling their feet around their chair - that’s a sign they aren’t comfortable with their cards. If you can’t see their feet because the opponent is sitting across from you, check their upper body language to determine where their feet might be.

Paul Newman in The Sing
Conman Paul Newman as grifter Henry Gondorff in The Sting (1974)

6. Keep an eye on the drinks...

If your rival is more interested in getting up to grab a beer or leaving the table to make a phone call - doing pretty much anything except focusing on the cards they are holding - they likely have a poor hand and are considering whether to fold. Their face and hands can also be a good indicator of mood as well. Former FBI Agent Joe Navarro said that people who are thinking often grasp their chin but people in distress may stroke their face instead.

Gambling snacks

5. ...And the snacks

Offer guests plenty of chips, nuts, and gum because when someone stops chewing, they are likely bluffing. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true,” said magician Rich Ferguson, who has studied the psychology of poker at tournaments worldwide. “If someone is chewing gum - and they are excited and engaged - they chew faster. If they are scared, they retreat. If they are bluffing, they stop chewing.”


4. Chattiness

If someone starts a casual conversation or is just a little bit too chatty while the table action is still underway, they’re likely trying to distract people from their winning hand. Forced casual conversation is often a ploy to look friendly rather than adversarial if it happens in the midst of play.


Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster
Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson in Maverick (1994)

3. Nerves

People rarely fake nervousness. If they are deciding to go all in, putting all of their chips in play, their fingers may shake. Even if they are confident in their hand, there is still a risk of losing and that stress is exhibited involuntarily in the body. That’s why professionals practice the same cadence of movements and intentionally appear robotic. They don’t let their hands do the talking. 


Cincinnati Kid with Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen (left) in The Cincinnati Kid (1966) 

2. Pokerclack

Do you know the ‘tsk’ sound some people quietly make with their tongue and teeth? The volume is low enough so that it doesn’t disturb but just loud enough to let you know they’re disappointed. Don’t fall for it, said Mike Caro, author of Mike Caro's Book of Poker Tells. He calls that sound ‘pokerclack’: “They’re trying to seem sad, but they’re really happy.”

Daniel Craig, Casino Royale
Daniel Craig stars in Casino Royale (2016)

1. Bluff tactics

Bluffing is the ultimate mind game. While reading ‘tells’ is never an exact science, Negreanu looks out for rivals who splash their chips as they’re likely trying to intimidate and bluff. Poker champ Liv Boeree looks for rivals who ‘puff up’, making grand gestures that indicate false confidence. She prefers to see how her rivals naturally behave to determine what might be ‘unnatural’ behavior during a bluff. How do they act when they aren’t in a hand? Are they gregarious? Are they confident interacting with the waitress or shy? What is their posture? Once she’s got a handle on their ‘baseline’ behavior, Boeree compares how they act during a tense hand. 

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