Poker Tells – Lesson #5 – Comfort, Confidence, and Stress

Knowing the difference between comfort and confidence is the key to finding out how your opponent feels about their hand. Confidence can be faked, comfort is much harder. Confidence indicates a strong hand, while comfort can indicate a bluff. Breathing is also tough to fake. Think about it now and notice how taking over active control of your breathing makes it tough to breathe in a relaxed way. Posture, speech, and cadence can all be part of this. Talk about the three levels of comfort. Signs of stress when the money matters to them. Inducing tells with the obvious stare to increase stress. Also cover the speech and why it usually means a big hand.

The are three primary feelings that help us understand how our opponent feels about their hand. All of the tells that we talk about later in the book are clues to whether a player feels comfortable, confident, or stressed.


My doctor says stress is a killer. She doesn’t know how right she is when it comes to poker. Stress is your best friend when it comes to spotting tells and understanding what causes stress and how to spot it will make you a lot of money. Stress is the most important emotional response we look for at the table because it is very tough to cover up.

Stress has some signs that are nearly impossible to cover up. Freezing up requires control of muscles rather than relaxing them. Ticks, jerks, and shakes, are common in stressed people who are trying to avoid the appearance of stress. Breathing patterns, especially rasping or loud and labored breathing are tough to fake and very tough to get rid of when they are signs of real stress. After you get a read on what they are doing and what their appearance shows about their mental state, give em a look. Let em know that they are being studied and scrutinized.

When people know they are being studied, they may change their behavior. This change tells you what they want to show you and what they are trying to cover up. If a player is watching you out of the corner of his eye, but stops once he sees you looking back at him, then you can be pretty sure he is stressed.


Most of us have spent our lives learning to fake confidence, but we don’t learn to convince other people, we learn to convince ourselves. Fake confidence is easy to spot. Bluster and bluff and deliberate movements that appear to show a lack of fear are very different from real confidence. Spotting a tell that shows confidence, or a lack of it, is easier because it is deliberate. Either they are faking it, or they aren’t.

The easiest thing to watch for at the table is whether someone is opening themselves up and allowing you in because they aren’t afraid. If they are casual, truly casual, they will answer questions without thinking and the answers will be truthful, while if they are faking it they will usually have to think about their answers.

Also watch for the additions that are meant to shore up a lie. Players who state their hand, and then try to explain why what they said is true, are usually not telling the truth or are afraid that their hand is vulnerable. Things like

“I have it.” on a 977 board could be a lie, but are much more often true. If your opponent is not afraid of social pressure, which we will cover later, they may be lying, but kind or shy people will always be telling the truth here.


When a person is comfortable, they aren’t worried about anything and they are either certain of their fate, or unconcerned with it. An inexperienced player, or one who is playing higher than he usually does, will rarely be comfortable, and if he suddenly appears relaxed you should take notice of it.

At times a bluffer can be relaxed because his chips are already in the middle and the decision is not up to him anymore. This is why heavy and strained breathing means a monster more often than a bluff. A bluffer has already made his choice, will a real hand is worried about whether he will get called and is often very excited.

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