TOP Poker star Ben Spragg has revealed his top tips for managing your ‘tells’ when at the table.
It comes as PokerStars revealed that not being able to stop fidgeting was the top tell when anxious or nervous.
More than one in two (54%) said that was their tell-tale sign when feeling uncomfortable, with 53% admitting to not making eye contact and less than half (48%) saying that touching their face was their reaction.
Among others in the top ten were shaking legs (38%), biting finger nails (36%) and a nervous laugh (34%).
These are all tells that can feature when at the poker table, whether in a commanding position or trying to bluff your opponents.
And Spragg says it’s important not to give the game away with your behaviours and getting them under control is key.
He told PokerStars: “Poker players will deliberately act in a certain way to try and deceive their opponents however this may also lead to them giving away information to others.
“It is therefore important to learn to control your own tells, behaviour patterns and playing styles to not give the game away.
“Developing self-awareness is hard, but as soon as we can recognise what we are doing, we can then begin to see ourselves through our components eyes and as a result change the way we present ourselves for the benefit of the game.”
Four in ten admitted to experiencing one of the top 10 tells, with just 36% of those surveyed believing they had a good poker face.
It wasn’t just in poker that these behaviours were exhibited. 54% of people experienced these when meeting new people, attending job interviews and when being centre of attention.
It was also the case when talking to important people at work and when making the dreaded small talk.
Ben Spragg’s top tips
To control your tells
- Pay close attention at the table because as soon as the cards are dealt you will start to receive information that will be crucial to deciphering what your opponent is holding!
- Before the cards are even in the air, take a look at how your opponent stacks their chips, a messy, disorganised scatter of a pile could indicate inexperience or a player more likely to be loose with their chips! Conversely, a super neat stack with all the edge spots lined up is often an indicator of an overly tight player!
- Hand movements, breathing and facial cues can all give away key poker tells. Observe frantic and fidgety movements. Someone who is overly animated is likely to be expressing some nerves, perhaps they know internally they are about to play a big pot!
- Heavy breathing and general nervousness is often mistaken for a player who is bluffing, but oftentimes the opposite is true! Whilst this read is player dependent, a lot of players breathe heavily, have an increased pulse and nervous disposition when they are about to invest a lot of chips, this is most commonly true when they have a big hand. Heavy breathing usually indicates strength, not weakness.
- Developing your own poker face often comes with experience, but as you are starting out the best advice I can offer is to try and maintain the same demeanour at all times. A common misconception might be to always keep the same posture and movements when playing pots, however, this is very mentally taxing and can play tricks on you if you are second guessing whether you are acting the same way in each pot. Relaxation and clear headedness is a better approach, focusing on counting the size of the pot and your next decision is a good way to keep the emotional attachment to a hand out of your head and will perhaps help disguise any anxiety or excitement you might be showing.
- Talking during a hand is usually an important tell. The majority of players will only talk during a hand if they are very relaxed or confident, therefore speech usually indicates strength. The best workaround therefore is not to answer questions about your holding during a hand! Typically doing so will give unnecessary information to a prying opponent. Don’t consider it rude to simply not respond! It’s all a part of hiding that poker face.
- Inexperienced players may also think to introduce some false tells to their game to hide their poker face! The most obvious example of this are sighing and tutting to try and indicate weakness, or reaching for chips before your opponent has bet as if to say “I’m ready to call, just try me!” These are two of the most obvious fake tells to a professional! Normally the person huffing and puffing as they call, actually has the nuts, and the player trying to indicate they’re ready to play is about to throw their cards into the muck!
- Overall, the secret to picking up on and hiding your own tells is all about observing and concealing information. In the famous words of Ronan Keating: “You say it best, when you say nothing at all.” So try not to make any grand gestures, any grand declarations, and keep those cards close to your chest!
Interestingly, over 80% of people in Edinburgh held back from embracing new opportunities because of the tells, with the same number in Glasgow insisting the behaviours held them back from being themselves.
60% of people in Brighton felt they inhibited them during a job interview, while 77% haven’t fully enjoyed themselves at an event because of the tells.
Behavioural Psychologist, Jo Hemmings told PokerStars: “When you feel nervous or anxious, your brain activates the body’s stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response.
“The reason that people exhibit these tells is because it is a way that they can cope with their emotions, providing a temporary relief from feelings of tension.
“It’s understandable that people want to look for ways to combat these habits and manage their behaviour under pressure.
“The problem is that a lot of these tells are on auto-response, so we have little control over what happens, and others are habits that can be difficult to break because we have adopted to them over time and when associated with stressful situations or excitable scenarios.”
Remember to gamble responsibly
A responsible gambler is someone who:
- Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
- Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
- Never chase their losses
- Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry, or depressed
- Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
- Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org
For help with a gambling problem, call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or go to www.gamstop.co.uk to be excluded from all UK-regulated gambling websites.
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