McHaffie: MCU lesson 138 / Mike’s Special 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 138: Mike’s Special Tells

As I mentioned in my previous column, Mike doesn’t have favorites when it comes to colors, foods, sports, or celebrities. He also professes not to have any favorite tells. There are, however, a few that he has singled out in the past as being special, or important, or “selected.” Today, I shall discuss some of those.


Mike is often observed playing hands that aren’t considered strong enough to be attempted from an early position. Now, as you know, Mike considers position to be significant. He teaches that when playing from early position you need a notably stronger hand to come in with, because the possibilities of one of the waiting players having a better hand is too great. More opponents waiting to act translates into more potential trouble. For that reason, Mike teaches that you should routinely fold in early positions unless you hold very high-quality hands.

So, this maneuver by Mike, raising from an early position without a major hand, tends to be  perplexing to his students or to players acquainted with his advice. How can he go against his own teachings?


Well, it’s simple, really. He looks behind him to see what those waiting players are likely to do. If he detects several reliable tells suggesting opponents won’t play, he knows he can profitably participate with some less-than-stellar hands. By observing your opponents closely, discreetly, you can often determine what their actions may be. And Mike says that the “discreetly” part is important. Don’t make a show of observing. Act as if you don’t see anything. That way opponents won’t be afraid of revealing tells now or repeating them in the future.

If an opponent seems to be staring away from you, acting like he’s got things on his mind that are more important than the game, don’t be fooled. He’s actually waiting to pounce and snag a portion of your bankroll in triumph. So that tell doesn’t allow you to play weaker hands.

But, should an opponent appear to be interested in the game, you can probably assume that his hand isn’t a threat to you. Players deliberately broadcasting interest prematurely, such as by staring at their cards or chips, are usually not going to play. In effect, that puts you in a later position, because you can eliminate some opponents as threats. When that happens, you can play a weaker-than-normal hand for your position and still expect to profit.

Noticing tells from an early seat allows you to sometimes profit from mediocre hands that seem out of position. It also allows you to be perceived as a loose player willing to enter pots with risky hands. And that works in your favor by garnering extra calls, Mike teaches.

Value betting

Another discipline that Mike teaches involves using tells when value betting. Value betting means aggressively playing a hand with a tiny advantage by betting or raising when just checking or calling would seem less risky. You have to choose your opponents carefully when attempting to value bet. Observation, however, can make it profitable.

Imagine that as you’re weighing whether to value bet or to check, an opponent’s hand moves slightly toward his chips. What does this indicate to you? He’s trying to discourage your bet by this vague intimidation tactic. His hand isn’t terribly strong. And although he might call with it, he’s secretly hoping you won’t bet.

So, that’s a tell signifying that your opponent holds a less-than-impressive hand and that he’s trying to prevent your bet. If you’re observant, you can profit from this tell by value betting weaker hands than would normally seem worthy of a wager.


Keep in mind, though, if the opponent doesn’t make any attempts to discourage your bet, you should be wary and just check. You can protect your bankroll by being both cautious and perceptive.

I hope that you’ll find these tell helpful the next time you play. Perhaps Mike will cooperate by identifying a few more special tells for future use. — DM

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