Poker tell: Leaning back, arms not folded

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1996) in Card Player magazine.

Rediscovered and added to Poker1 in 2014.

Sometimes, tells can look similar but mean different things. Last issue, we saw an opponent (shown below left) leaning back between hands, making only a minimum effort to reach forward when necessary to see what cards he’d been dealt.

We learned that he was showing patience, trying to outlast his opponents by maintaining discipline the longest. We discussed why he was unlikely to get involved with a weak hand or a bluff, and why you should be reluctant to call any bet he makes, unless you have a powerful hand.

At left is the photo from the previous entry, showing a tell similar to the one we’re going to discuss, but with a different meaning. You can examine more about what’s different from today’s tell here: → Poker tell: Arms folded and leaning back.

We’ve learned that there are tells from two categories of players: those who are acting and those who are unaware. We decided the guy on the left wasn’t acting. What about the new guy on the right?

What’s the difference?

Well, he’s also leaning back, and he isn’t acting, either. Modified from Mike Caro’s Book of Tells — The Body Language of Poker:

Description: Again we see a player leaning back and looking uninterested. This time he is not folding his arms.

Motivation: He is feeling patient.

Discussion: This is similar to the previous tell. However, when a player has his arms folded, he’s generally in a long-range waiting mode. Some players lean slightly forward when they’re interested in a hand and otherwise (as in this photo) slump backward. Players may even be aware that they’re doing this, but it’s too much effort for them to try to camouflage their behavior — especially when they figure nobody is watching for it.

Best Strategy: If you act before this player, play some slightly weaker hands thatnyou normally would — hands that are almost borderline, but that you would normally fold. That’s because this player is no threat to you at the moment. He’s making it easier for you to steal the blinds or antes.

The difference between the first and second players pictured in this Poker1 entry is that the first one shows a long-term commitment to playing tight. If that first player then enters a pot, you know it’s a serious hand.

The second player isn’t necessarily in a long-term sit-and-wait mode of behavior. His arms are free and ready to get into action aggressively, even by bluffing. But on this particular hand, he won’t. So, you can use this information to play hands slightly weaker than you might otherwise, without fearing that this guy will take advantage this time. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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  1. Greetings Poker 1,
    My name is Zenas Pilcher I own Alamo City Poker ( the over zealous guy from San Antonio Texas. Probably filled you up with too much info too fast. My common mistake.)

    Well sir, I signed up several of my students in your poker school with Doyle. Great stuff.
    I need to find information and/or a structured lesson on low limit home cash games and playing beginners. Where you have contend with new players, old players, and a house take. So you keep the edge right we have to bet so much, betting into new player or old etc etc etc… Is there a common strategy for this type of environment. Always remembering; it is Hard to beat someone. when they don’t know what they have.

    I appreciate your insight to this transitional issue.

    I apologize for mistakes. This iPhone and my thumbs are not yet a team. ;)

    Have a great day…

    Play Strong,
    Zenas Pilcher

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