Poker Tells – The Introduction

This site is being created based on a partially finished book on tells that has been sitting on my computer for too long. I will be editing and putting up posts chapter by chapter. Below is the introduction and preface.


I have always seen poker as a game of two halves. One side involves logic problems and simple equations, things that are easy to quantify and prove. The other side is the information that goes into those equations. With a month or two of serious study, most people can have a reasonable understanding of the logic and math side of the game, but those equations are useless without the right information to plug into them.

That is why the other half, gathering the information that goes into those equations, is so important.. You can not solve a logic problem without information. While there are literally hundreds of books on poker strategy, very few of them discuss how to get the information you need to use their strategy advice. It’s easier to quantify things like pot odds and starting hand charts than to explain how to read an opponent. This is why many poker writers have ignored the subject in their books and articles. With this book I hope to fill that hole in the poker literature.

Poker is just one big story problem, and most players don’t have enough information to solve the problem. If Bobby has 9 oranges, and Susan sells him some more oranges, how many oranges does he have? The math required to solve the problem would be simple if we just knew how many oranges Susan sold Bobby, but without that information the solution is impossible.

But what if you could see Bobby and you could see that he now had a small grocery sack that appeared to be full of oranges? This little bit of information makes your guess much more accurate. Now Bobby probably has less than 50 oranges because he can only carry so many oranges in a grocery bag, and more than ten oranges because the grocery bag is not empty.

And what if you knew that Susan only sells oranges in cases of 36? Now you could almost certainly guess that Bobby now has 44 oranges because buying 72 oranges would have been too many for the bag he is carrying. A small piece of information that has nothing to do with the transaction now helps us come up with a very accurate guess.

Many beginning and intermediate players are operating with an information deficit just like the one in this story problem, but they think they are good poker players because they’ve learned so much about strategy. They play the game nearly blind when there are clues all around them and they assume that the books they have read on strategy will somehow translate into money when they have no idea what their opponents hand is or how they play.

Countless aspiring poker pros fail because of exactly this kind of information deficit. They can quote you all the odds, and frequently do. They call all-in with an overpair against a set and they know exactly how often they stand to spike a set of their own on the last two cards, but they had no idea they were facing a set in the first place. If they knew what to look for, a great player might have seen something in their opponent’s behavior and been able to fold, saving their whole stack.

This book aims to teach you how to do just that.


This book was written by a professional poker player. I play poker for money, not for fun, or pride, or to pass the time. Making a living playing poker isn’t that tough if you are willing to work as hard as you would work at any other profession, and almost impossible if you are just going to skim a few books and play a lot of poker hoping to learn as you play. In this book we’ll be talking about developing observational skills, learning to be a shark, understanding how others think, and understanding yourself. These things are all necessary if you are going to learn how to read opponents who are doing their best not to give anything away.

Becoming an expert at spotting tells, reading an opponent’s body language, facial expressions and appearance, and using that information requires skills that seem unrelated to poker. Some of them may even require that you change who you are just a little bit, and many of them require significant changes in the way you look at the world around you. This is powerful stuff, and the changes are for the good, but they are not all simple and easy.

If you aren’t willing to change the way you see the world and spend time learning to understand your fellow human beings, then learning a few tells by reading pieces of this book won’t do you much good. It certainly won’t turn you into a profitable poker player if you aren’t one now. I’ll be teaching you about a wide variety of skills that you’ve probably never thought about in relation to poker in the past, and you’ll need to think about these skills when you are having lunch with your spouse, watching a baseball game, walking through the mall, or negotiating a better price on a new car. You’ll need to practice these things away from the tables or you’ll never have enough time to get good at them.

The good news is that the work can be fun if you are interested in people and the things that make them tick. This book will also help you develop a set of skills that can be useful away from the tables and enrich your life. If you are single, you won’t stay that way for long once you master the skills in this book because you’ll know immediately when someone is interested in you. If you are looking for a raise, you will be more likely to get it because you’ll know when your boss is in a giving mood and likely to say yes. And you’ll certainly get a better price on that new car because you’ll know how the sales person’s mind works and how to force his hand.
If you follow the advice in this book, work through the exercises, and study hard, you will develop a set of skills that very few players possess. A set of skills that will make you a lot of money and hopefully open up the world around you. There is a lot more going on in the world than most people realize and the humans all around are fascinating subjects once you learn how to study them.

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