Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.
As a lecture, it was one of my shortest. It was also one of my most passionate. I believed every word from deep within my heart. I still do. And I’d be honored if you paid particularly close attention today. Maybe you’ve heard me talk about the shaking-hand tell.
You see, there are two types of tells: Acted and involuntary. When opponents act, they’re trying to fool you. And they usually do so by acting in the exact opposite of what their hands would suggest. If their hands are strong, they try to convey weakness; if their hands are weak, they try to convey strength.
In Caro’s Book of Tells – The Body Language of Poker (more recently titled Caro’s Book of Poker Tells), I explain that your first duty as a winning player is to decide if opponents are acting or not. If they are, figure out what they’re trying to make you do and disappoint them.
It turns out that most of highest-profit tells are acted. That’s why one tell stands out. It’s not acted – it’s involuntary, and it’s often the most profitable tell you’ll see during a poker session.
Here’s the brief lecture I promised you…
Today, I’m going to go beyond even the discussion of the shaking hand tell in my Book of Tells – The Body Language of Poker and in the related videos. All you need to know is that, in poker, a tell is something that gives you clues about an opponent’s hand based on his or her mannerisms.
Tells work like magic and when you see a strong one, it’s almost as if your opponent had turned his hand face-up on the table. In my book, I divide tells into two main types, tells from actors – these are ones they deliberately broadcast in an attempt to fool you. And, tells from those who are unaware. These are common tells that the opponents are not deliberately displaying and either don’t care to conceal or don’t know about.
Most of the more profitable tells come from actors. And we’ll talk a lot about that in the future. Actors tend to usually do things that indicate the opposite of the true strength of their hands. They’ll act strong when they’re weak and weak when they’re strong.
That’s why players who seem uncertain by shrugging their shoulders, sighing, or betting in sad voices are usually strong. “I bet.” But we’ll talk about that in depth some other time.
Today, I want to deal with a powerful tell that’s nearly 100 percent accurate. It’s the shaking hand tell, and understanding it fully will earn you thousands of dollars every year if you’re a regular player at medium limits or larger. Here’s how it works.
Suddenly shaking hands are almost always involuntary, not acted. Some players shake all the time. It may be their nature or there may be a medical reason. We’re not talking about them. We’re talking about players who are normally steady, but their hands suddenly shake as they bet.
Here’s the secret. That shaking is never a sign of nervousness over a bluff, as many players have misinterpreted it. That shaking is almost always an uncontrollable release of tension.
It happens when a player has suddenly looked at a card with a lot of money at stake and, bingo, he’s connected. The shaking that results – the release of tension – is the indication of a big hand, sometimes even a straight flush, but certainly a hand big enough to bet with confidence.
How do we know this? Because players who are bluffing go out of their way to bolster themselves. Instead of shaking, they become rigid. They won’t shake noticeably. That’s because they’re determined to seem strong, and they won’t allow themselves to do anything to make you suspicious and more likely to call.
Sophisticated players who have suddenly made big poker hands and experienced that release of tension may not shake much. Out of embarrassment, they may try to tremble less, but you can still see the signs. Those are bets you shouldn’t call.
So, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that the shaking hand indicates nervousness about bluffing. It doesn’t. It almost always indicates strength – and you’ll make tons of money if you remember to fold most of your hands whenever your opponent suddenly starts shaking while making an important bet.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC