Fake Tells

Fake Tells

Friday, 6 December 2013

It's not as simple as just doing the opposite of what you did last time says Jeff Kimber.

In a game of incomplete information like poker, our job is to look for any clues that will help us put the hand together in a way that makes sense. On the flip side of that, we should also be doing our best to stop our opponents putting clues together and making correct decisions, trying not to give them any pointers that may lead them to make the right call of our bluff or lay down to our value bet.

Most live players get that idea to an extent, and most will sit statuesque when they’ve made a bet in order to not give anything away, refusing to talk or even make a move for fear of revealing something. But players can do more to engineer profitable situations than just sit silently hoping not to give anything away. Rather than concentrating on having no tells, they can use false tells to throw opponents off the scent and make mistakes. Not only can false tells help send opponents in the wrong direction but also any genuine tells you do have, which you may not be aware of, will be far less obvious with all this other stuff going on.

Say you have a genuine tell – you tend to stare at the chips in the pot while bluffing, but when you don’t mind action you’re more relaxed and allow your stare to wander around the room – at your opponent or whatever. You may not be aware that this is your tendency, yet an opponent can very quickly pick up on it. Now, if you mix in some fake tells, deliberately but randomly sitting back in your seat while awaiting your opponent’s decision, sipping your drink, chatting, playing with your stack, the fact you tend to stare at the pot when hoping those chips are about to come your way with the worse hand will be lost.

I spend a lot of time trying to make sure any tells I give off are covered by mixing up my style, my posture, my actions, even if I’m dealt the same two cards. I may be dealt pocket aces two hands in a row, on the button and the cut-off. The first time, I might make a standard three-bet of the aggro player’s open; so if the blinds are 300/600 and he’s made it 1400, I’ll toss in 3100.

Next hand, the scenario might be repeated: same guy opens, I get aces again. This time I’ll make it a different number, 2950, 3125, and rather than toss them in, I’ll stack and slide. Maybe I’ll announce my bet too; maybe I’ll use my left hand, maybe I’ll sit up straight – you get the idea.
Maybe I’ll reach showdown more than once and have to reveal the cards I’ve been playing. I’m acutely aware that I’ve now shown down how I play a flush draw, a flopped set, a board I’ve completely missed, and so I keep this information – which has been given to the table – in mind when the situation crops up again.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just doing the opposite of what you did last time, as very quickly that would become a tell in itself, but being aware of what opponents know (or would have known had they been watching) can only be an advantage when you decide how to proceed in the ensuing hands.

When I play with new players, some of the common tells I look for are their bet-sizings, the way they handle their chips, their posture at the table, where they are looking during a hand, whether they speak during a hand, to name but a few. Good players pick up on these things. They’re always looking to seize on weakness. They look for any small sign that gives away your hand; that you may be willing to fold; that they can bully you, and it’s always a good habit to make sure you give off false tells and keep opponents guessing.

Most very good live players will have no tells, of course; having played so much they will have ironed them out. After all, there’s only so many times it becomes so exciting when you’re all-in that your neck pulses. If this is the case, then false tells can actually become tells – if the player has no genuine tells and suddenly starts gulping hard before shakily moving all-in, it’s more likely this is some kind of deliberate action to induce a call rather than genuine weakness.

I’ve absolutely no doubt that most of the time the majority of players I come against are completely oblivious to what I’m doing. If you asked them what my bet size was in previous hands, how I put the chips in, whether I looked strong or weak, they wouldn’t know.

But some will be looking for a reason to call or fold. Remember, tells are only a small part of why someone decides on an action; an overriding part is the strength of their own hand, as well as factors such as how many hands you’ve both been playing, the game situation and many others.

But if they have a marginal decision and really don’t know which way to go, the fact you’ve acted differently to the previous time you went to showdown (when you had the nuts) may convince them this time you don’t have it and get the call you desire. Even if you don’t like the idea of trying to give off false tells, just being aware of their existence, and that some of what you pick up may not be genuine, will help improve you as a poker player and better results will follow.

Tags: Jeff Kimber, strategy, tells