McHaffie: MCU lesson 137 / My favorite Tells

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2008.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 137: My favorite Tells

Almost everyone has a favorite something, whether it’s food, colors, celebrities, vacation spot, sport or tell. In the past I, too, had favorites even before Mike introduced me to a wider variety of food, places, and celebrities. Now, it’s hard to say what my favorites are today.

Mike professes not to have any favorites. People frequently ask him who his favorite player is, and he is always very diplomatic in his answer. Without a doubt, the answer will always be Doyle Brunson, but that’s as far as Mike will go. Isn’t that one name enough? Besides Mike Caro, Doyle Brunson is the man!

OK, I realize that I have strayed just a bit from the topic. I was going to tell you what my favorite tells are. Well, here goes!

Tuning in

When your opponent, who appears to be thinking about the grocery list or the upcoming visit to the mother-in-law’s, suddenly seems to tune in to the game, you can be sure he is pleased with his hand and is going to be someone to contend with. Tread carefully!

If an opponent glances at his cards, then quickly checks out his chips, and immediately bets — a chain of events without hesitation —  he has an impressive hand. Prepare to fold, unless you’re holding extraordinarily strong cards.


Ah, and of course, there is the famous sad sigh and shrug. Who is your opponent trying to fool? Are we going to fall for his attempt to make us think he has a lousy hand? Maybe he isn’t aware there is a book, Caro’s Book of Tells that has enlightened the public to the art of reading tells. Strong hand. Don’t be fooled!


I have always found humming and whistling to be the most irritating sounds that a person can be assaulted with. But, they are often the most telling of tells and can save your bankroll! If an opponent who was merely humming quietly suddenly ceases annoying you with that obnoxious sound, he is unconsciously letting you know that he has a good hand, so beware. He is now interested in the outcome of the hand.

This also applies to people who have been quite chatty, talking incessantly about boring things. Then your ears tune in to the fact that their conversation has now thankfully ceased. Take notice. Something else has caught their attention, probably an extraordinary hand.

Then there is the sound of poker clack. The noise one makes with the tongue against the roof of the mouth. It’s almost a tsking sound. That too, is a sad sound meant to lure you in to a trap. So be warned, the person making the sound is holding a pretty decent hand. Unless you are holding a super hand, don’t be tempted to call.


This is a tell that I like to see Mike demonstrate. An opponent appears to be nonchalantly looking away from the person preparing to bet, yet his eyes are straining to glance back in a sneaky manner. This person is probably going to raise. Observe your opponents next time and see if you catch anyone doing this. It could save you some money.

Notice the next time that someone smiles at you as they are making their bet. If the smile seems to be fake one, then it’s probably a bluff. You’re safe. But, if is a cheerful, all-out smile, then they probably aren’t bluffing. Smile back and don’t be deceived.


If it’s decision time and your opponent is closely watching you, you have less to fear than if he seemed uninterested. Also, if an opponent seems to be closely regarding his cards, as if hoping for a genie to make things better, you can usually rest assured that he is holding a puny hand and is simply trying to deceive you.

Those are a few of my favorite tells. What are yours? — DM

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