Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
“Tells only work against weak poker opponents. You can’t use tells against winning players, because they reverse them on you.” How many times have you heard something said similar to that?
Well, I’m here to set the record straight in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: What do people mean when they talk about reversing tells?
They mean that the common poker tells that I defined 30 years ago in my book Caro’s Book of Tells – the Body Language of Poker have become well known to many players. So, they presume that you can fool opponents by simply using tells that indicate bad hands when you really hold bad hands, and vice versa. That’s just the opposite of normal weak-means-strong tell theory.
Furthermore, they claim that good players will do the same thing right back at you. As a consequence, attempting to use tells against those opponents will be futile.
They’re wrong, because most opponents haven’t read my book or come in contact with tell science. And even many of those that have learned about tells forget. Or they don’t use tells correctly, despite their knowledge.
Question 2: Does it irritate you when opponents reverse tells?
No. I’m not easily irritated at poker. I study my opponents and find them to be fascinating humans. They often amuse me. That attitude works. It keeps you from becoming frustrated. Try it.
In particular, opponents don’t irritate me when they reverse tells. Sometimes they do it so poorly, by overacting, that I know exactly what’s happening and can make decisions accordingly.
Once in a while, the reversal succeeds in fooling me. That’s okay. I’ll be ready for it next time.
Question 3: How do you defend against opponents who reverse tells?
Well, you really don’t need to defend yourself, because even if it were true that they are totally bewildering you by mixing up their acts, you always have the option of ignoring them. You can just pretend you’re playing online and tune out.
So, the only thing an opponent can gain by broadcasting false tells is to deny you the opportunity to gain an extra tell-reading advantage. Hopefully, you can still outplay that opponent, using non-tell strategy.
But, here’s the deal. If an opponent uses reverse tells in an attempt to confuse you, the result is apt to be that he costs himself money against other players at the table who actually are fooled by typical tells.
Also, as a defense against reverse tells, I try to encourage players to keep reversing them. A consistently reversed tell is just as readable as a straightforward one. So, in order to promote the mistake, I pretend that I’m not reacting to the repeated false tell at all.
I pretend I didn’t see it. I feign indecisiveness, wait a few seconds, and then act impulsive in making the right decision for some unrelated reason. It’s important, when you spot a solid tell, reverse or otherwise, that you take advantage of it without seeming to do so.
Question 4: Do you make yourself more readable when you act to broadcast a false tell?
Usually, broadcasting a false tell isn’t worth the risk. Most opponents aren’t good at reading tells and many never try. So, a false tell doesn’t help.
The strange thing is that the normal, instinctive tells – acting weak when strong and strong when weak – actually work! Most opponents fall for the act. So, opponents who exhibit those “readable” traits may be faring better than they would by practicing “poker face.” However, unfortunately for them, those common tells hurt against you, if you understand how to interpret them.
I don’t worry much about broadcasting tells and being read. I try to manipulate opponents in friendly ways. Yes, that theoretically makes me vulnerable to an observant opponent, but, on balance, it works in my favor.
Question 5: Can you explain the weak-when-strong concept? And doesn’t reversing tells prove the theory false?
That’s two questions, so let me answer them in order.
Players are always trying to convince you they’re weak when they hold strong hands and strong when they hold weak ones. That’s universal to poker psychology. However, when tells are reversed, they’re giving you credit for being able to read tells and trying to take advantage. In doing so, they’re still trying to convey weakness with strength and strength with weakness – just in a different way.
Question 6: So, could you sum up your thoughts about reversed tells?
Okay: (1) Players don’t reverse tells often; (2) When you spot a player reversing a common tell, it’s an act that will probably be repeated, and you can profit from it; (3) You shouldn’t act immediately when you spot a repeated reverse tell, because opponents will then think they’ve been discovered and cease giving you money that way; and (4) it’s usually not profitable to try to reverse tells yourself, because there’s more money in manipulating opponents than in trying to become unreadable.
You should still try to read tells even against opponents who mix up their acts – sometimes reversing tells and sometimes not. Unless they have the mixture perfect, you’re still likely to earn extra profit, because if a tell is only 60 percent accurate, instead of 100 percent accurate, it’s still a profitable clue. It isn’t as solid a clue as it is normally, but overtime, you’re “playing the percentages,” and being tell aware adds an advantage.
If reversed tells are used consistently, they’re just as reliable as normal tells. Right?
Too many players decide to ignore tells, fearing opponents might use them in reverse. Please don’t do that. — MC