Poker Awareness: Timing Tells, Table Talk, & Body Language

In a live poker game, we have the advantage of seeing how our opponent behaves right in front of us. A lot of opponents give off information unconsciously that we can use to our advantage to plan against them. We can also use our own body language to throw off opponents into making mistakes against us. No two opponents are alike, so we must be aware of how each specific opponent will react to our actions.

Timing Tells

hac dang poker

Hac Dang

In my opinion, timing tells are one of the most useful pieces of information you can use against your opponents to exploit them. When a weaker opponents acts quickly and precisely, they will usually have a big hand due to the fact that on their action, they have already decided how to act. While this doesn’t apply to every single opponent, observe who at the table is preparing for the action to be on them before it is their turn to act. When the same opponent fails to prepare to act before the action is on them, we can safely assume they are not interested in the hand, and we can bluff them more frequently.

Your Timing Tells

I try to make sure I take a similar amount of time to act each time the action is on me. There will be times where I take longer to act, and there will be times I act very quickly, but for the most part I like to take almost the exact time each time on my action. By doing this, I am not giving my opponents any kind of read on the strength of hand from the amount of time I take to act.

I like to act very fast against opponents who assume I am constantly bluffing, and I like to take a long time against opponents who are generally very restless and want to speed up the action. I try to always recognize if they have caught on to these actions by their table demeanor, and what they might have to say after a hand is completed.

Table Talk

Ilari Sahamies poker

Ilari Sahamies

While I will generally listen to music while I play, I make sure to pay attention what my opponents are discussing at the table when they decide to speak. Many opponents like to review hands they played or discuss “strategy” with one another. This ultimately gives me a better understanding of how each and every one of my opponents at the table approaches the game, and certain hand situations. Taking note of this talk will be of value in the future when you get involved with a specific opponent. They will be generally clueless as to where they stand against you, but you have a ton of useful information to use against them without their knowledge. These opponents sometimes won’t even take into account the fact that you were tuning into their discussion, and will play their same weak style of play over and over again.

When asked questions at the table, you never have to answer them. I usually politely smile and go about my business, knowing that the opponent who is curious of me, wants to get involved with me to try to bust me. Poker is a game that is filled with ego, and often times, opponents can’t control their ego and will get out of line to prove themselves. Ultimately, there is nothing to prove to anyone in poker, but a lot of players tend to think so.

Assume everyone wants to bust you.

Acting “Weak” When You Are “Strong” & Acting “Strong” When You Are “Weak”

One of my favorite moves to pull in a live poker game is to give the impression to my opponent that I am “weak” through the use of my body language. To appear “weak” against these weaker players, I will act somewhat skeptical throughout the hand as if I don’t know exactly where my hand range stands against theirs. In reality, I will usually have a good idea of the relative value of my hand against a specific opponent, while they have the impression that they might have me fooled.

On the contrary, when we hold a weak hand, we will want to give our opponent the impression that we are “strong” if we want to bluff them off their hand.

While there is not much actual talking during a poker hand, be sure that your opponent is either studying your body language, or picking up on subconscious tells that your body language is giving away without your knowledge.

I want my weaker opponents to assume that I don’t know that my body language is dictating my hand strength. If they have not played with me for a long time, a majority of my opponents will develop their read based on the body language I put on display.

For example, a lot of amateur poker players have trouble sitting still when they have a monster hand. Their hands shake, they can’t sit still, and they generally act very quickly when it is their turn. Because they have a big hand, they already know they want to bet or raise, and they fail to take into account that their opponent might be picking up on this.

An advanced “level” using this technique is perfect for when you are sitting down with a group of skilled, aware opponents who have absolutely no read on your game. Stronger opponents will for the most part assume that your nervousness is associated with a monster hand, even if you don’t necessarily have one. While I always advise to not get involved in pots with solid opponents, this is one technique to use if we are trying to represent extreme strength, and induce a fold.

How to Disguise Your Hand Strength

tom dwan poker

Tom Dwan

The “strength” of our hand is something our opponents are trying to get a read on. Some opponents are more keen and aware of our actions than others. We must become conscious of who is sitting at our table, and how they are playing against us in every situation. Every poker player has a unique style and approach to the game. While many opponents share similar tendencies, no two poker players play the same exact strategy every time.

“Fishy” opponents have a tendency to play a similar style throughout their session without making adjustments to their opponents and their playing styles. These “fish” are our main target for exploiting skill advantages for profit in the long-run.

Different opponents will have different assumptions on the relative strength of our hands. Players who do not pay attention to the game and get distracted easily will not pick up on minute details that reveal the relative strength of their opponents hands in pots they play against them. Stronger, more aware opponents will be able to develop reads on our style of our play if we fail to mix up our game.

Overall, we are trying to avoid the stronger players at our table as best as possible. We will be forced to play certain hands against them in various situations, and we must make sure we don’t get out of line without an accurate read and assessment of their play. We want to focus on playing hands against weaker fishy opponents for maximum value, assuming they will have trouble pinning us on a specific holding.

Abusing Opponents on “Tilt”

Phil Hellmuth poker

Phil Hellmuth has been prone to tilt in the past.

“Tilt” is a term used in poker to describe an opponent who is currently playing poker emotionally affected in a negative way. These types of opponents go on “tilt” when they lose a big hand, get unlucky, or aren’t getting dealt many strong hands. For the most part, these opponents will want to play fast, hoping to erase their losses, or force some action so they can start winning. We want to pry on these opponents without allowing them to know that we are focusing on them. We want to play speculative hands against these opponents for cheap pre-flop, hoping to hit a very disguised strong hand in the process that will decimate their entire stack.

The standard fish on tilt will be willing to play a lot of hands pre-flop, whether as a limp, a raise, or a call of a raise. Ideally, we want to play against these opponents in position so we dictate the entire action of the hand. We will want to bluff less frequently, but value bet larger against these tilty opponents.

A Game of Incomplete Information

Poker is a game of incomplete information. It is our duty to make sure we limit our opponents from developing reads on our style of play. To accomplish this, it is vital to mix up our style from time to time to throw off our opponents. If we play the same hands the same way all the time, our opponents will know what we have every single time if they are consciously aware of what we are doing. In turn, we must be conscious of what our opponents are trying to accomplish from their patterns of play as well.


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Live Consciously, Expand Your Awareness!

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