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How can you identify what your physical tells are, and hide them? Once you've identified your tells, should you work at suppressing them, or is it better to deliberately give your tells at strategic times?

Edit: this assumes live games, and not online play. Bet-size tells are also not relevant to this question.

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"or is it better to deliberately give your tells at strategic times" I'd say that if you're doing it deliberately it's not a tell anymore: you're using deception to make your opponent(s) believe he/they found one of your tell. Is your question about online games or brick-and-mortars casinos? –  TacticalCoder Jan 10 '12 at 20:12
    
@user988052 Yes, if you are doing it deliberately, its not a tell, but the idea is to mask the unintentional tells with intentional tells, so your opponents have to guess which are real and which are fake. This would be for live games (Michael McGowan added the Live tag, but I will edit further to clarify). –  Beofett Jan 10 '12 at 20:18
    
DOn't speak or anything in a hand, and rehearse putting chips forward and checking at home and try your best to copy exactly how you rehearsed an action at home when you're at the tables. –  Jase Sep 28 '12 at 9:34
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6 Answers 6

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Even though seeking to completely control one's tells is a good goal to aim for, it may be a good idea not to give them a chance of happening.

One way of accomplishing this, noted in Phil Gordon's Little Green Book, is not to look at your cards until it is your turn to act (before the Flop in Texas Hold'em). Or, to state it in a more general way:
The less we know, the less we can give away.

Of course, knowing less is often a disadvantage, so we'll have to weigh up carefully how much information we'll keep from ourselves in order to keep it from attentive opponents. However: Not looking at our hole cards before we have to means less time for our opponents to get a read on us, while we would probably not profit from knowing our cards at this stage. Furthermore, it prevents us from losing interest in a hand prematurely when we could be observing our opponents carefully, trying to put them on a possibly range of hands.

Another solid strategy (also taken from the Little Green Book) is not to vary the size of your bets according to the strength of your hand. This seems weird at first, but when combined with a tight-aggressive approach, this can go a long way in concealing your hand from your opponent. After all, the real reason we are trying to avoid tells is that we don't want our opponent to know, or have a good guess about, the actual cards we are holding - betting medium hands weakly and strong hands strongly while checking/calling when we have a draw will give our opponents a good idea about what cards we are holding.

Corollary: play less hands (tight), and do not vary your bet with the strength of your hand (i.e. bet the same amount with JJ, AK and maybe even occasionally T9 suited before the flop). However, once in every few hands, reverse your betting pattern by slowplaying a big or medium-strength hand, confusing those who are trying to analyze your play.

Every time we bet or raise, we are forcing our opponents to make decisions. The way they react to this forcing serves as an indicator of the strength of their hand and their willingness to play it - we are forcing them to give us information about their hand, while simultaneously representing a strong hand (whether we have one or not).

This answer contains just several small aspects of the big picture - a true answer to your question could fill books (and books have been filled with just that topic). However, I hope the above thoughts provide a starting point.

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I follow Phil's advice and never check my hand before the action gets to me, and it works very well. His advice about not varying the size of your bet according to hand strength is about preflop play, not postflop, though. –  Nick Johnson Jan 12 '12 at 5:20
    
Indeed, good point Nick. –  codesparkle Jan 12 '12 at 6:51
    
Game theory suggests that you should randomise on which hands you alter betting patterns. If you can use a truly random source then it makes it impossible for opponents to work out any pattern of strategy changes (other than the frequency if they have a big enough sample size). –  flamingpenguin Jan 25 '12 at 0:08
    
There are reasons to vary your betting size postflop that have to do with all kinds of things other than your actual hand strength. –  Karl Knechtel Jan 29 '12 at 14:21
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1) When you receive your hole cards - relax, hold your breath and catch a moment when everyone is busy looking at their cards. Then look at your cards slowly and then think about something neutral (concentrate on a thought how you don't really care what you're holding right now).

It's better to look at your cards before your turn to act, otherwise you'll be on the spot and people will be watching your immidiate reaction. Especially people who have position on you.

2) Think about your hands. Where you keep them. If you shuffle chips like a pro - everyone will be aware of your experience at the table. If you try to shuffle and make mistakes - everyone will spot a rookie. Keep your hands calm and feel relaxed.

3) Take a second before any action. (Don't reach for your chips with hands shaking when you want to bet).

4) watch your legs.

5) You can watch "high stakes poker" or "poker after dark" on youtube and study the players behaviour.

6) but +1 for "not talking" advice. People who talk a lot - tend to play more loose ;)

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Nr 4 is very important and I rarely see it to be recommended. Legs give very important tells, even if they're usually not visible. –  Radu Murzea Sep 12 '12 at 6:25
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Don't talk during hands. The less you communicate, the less you risk giving away.

Don't try to stare down an opponent. A lot is revealed in your eyes. I like to look at a spot on the table in front of me if I am being scrutinized by an opponent.

Take your time. Especially when you've already made up your mind. Make it a habit to count to 10 slowly inside your head before acting. This way, you don't give anything away in hands where you really have to think. (Important: Don't do this if you already know you're going to fold, or at all during preflop play. That is just annoying to the rest of the table)

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It's challenging to accomplish, but taking a long view of poker is a good way to hide tells. If you don't let yourself get caught up in wishing for a specific outcome or action, then you are less likely to show nerves or excitement/disappointment. Dissociate your thoughts from the money and approach each situation as you would if the situation were posed as a question on this site. Try posing the question to yourself in the hypothetical. Don't think "What should I do here?" Think "If I were in this situation, what should I do?" Then when you've decided what to do, do it with the knowledge that whatever the outcome, you've made the correct decision. This will calm your nerves.

For example, if you decide to make a big river bluff, don't do it because you want to or because you "think he will fold". Do so knowing that sometimes he will call and sometimes he will fold and that is ok. It's ok because if you've done the analysis correctly, you will come out ahead in the end.

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In addition to codesparkle's great advice, I think the other key thing (as noted in Joe Navarro's Read 'Em and Reap) is to replace your tells with routine. Have a set (and comfortable) base position that you return to every time, likely with your elbows on the table, hands covering your mouth. Consciously strive to make your actions (looking at cards, looking at chips, watching other players) the same every time. Having a routine that you are consciously focused on repeating not only makes your actions predictable and consequently boring to anybody watching you such that they move on and look for an easier target, but it also gives your brain something to focus on, keeping you in better control of the tells you're not even aware of.

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Wear dark glasses, it's much harder to read body language tells without seeing the eyes.

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I don't like this usually, but when you do, be sure your glasses doesn't mirror your cards ! :D:D:D (actually it's a common mistake, peoples didn't realize) –  Walkman Jan 10 '12 at 23:02
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ok, I'm handing out mirrorshades at the next game I play. –  ObscureRobot Jan 10 '12 at 23:44
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Cap and a hoodie too, make it a uniform. –  StuperUser Jan 11 '12 at 12:21
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@Tom Squires Do you have any references for that claim? Perhaps a bit less vague and it could be useful. –  Toby Booth Jan 13 '12 at 3:55
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