Daniel Negreanu and Chris Ferguson disagree on the important of tells in live poker
Hirsute poker icon
Tells are important, but not as important as some people make them out to be. Of course I take advantage of tells when I see them, and they can be useful on close decisions. However, there are no good players out there who need tells to play poker. More important is playing the game accurately and knowing what your opponent is doing. Is he moving in on a lot of pots? Is he playing too tightly? How do you take advantage of that? Maybe 20 years ago there were people who could win without looking at their cards, but it’s not the case now. If you rely solely on tells you are in trouble.
A betting pattern, though, is very different from a tell. Understanding someone’s betting pattern allows you to take advantage of that person and is way more valuable than reading tells. Anyone who advises you otherwise is wrong. People can get themselves in trouble by relying too much on tells – especially because players may manipulate their opponents by sending out different kinds of tells. Betting patterns never lie.
One reason why a lot of internet players are so strong is because they learn the fundamentals of poker first and find out about tells later on. Everybody should know how to play poker without the human element. If you are brought up on tells, and you use them as a crutch, you will probably not learn to play poker properly.
Legend of the live game
Tells can be so valuable. When you find something juicy, like the stuff I have on Sammy Farha, that’s gold. When he’s bluffing, I know for a fact. Same when he’s telling the truth. It’s subtle and he can’t control it. Having a big, reliable tell on someone is like being able to see his cards. But you can’t just have one thing for everybody. For example, if someone acts quickly, he’s not necessarily bluffing. But he might be.
Against good players, accurate tells are tough to find. But I’m always on the lookout. Whenever I see a guy bluff, I make sure I remember what he did. There was a tournament in the Bahamas where a French player bet it all on the river. He took his glasses off and had a big smile. Then he turned his hand up and he was bluffing. Later, against someone else, he was stone-faced, not as active, and he had it. After that, when I was in a hand with the guy, I asked him what he had. He smiled at me and I figured that unless he was reversing things, it must be a bluff – and it was.
I believe in tells enough that I focus a lot on my own. I know that I have a ton of them. I throw out a lot of signals, like the blinking one. I blink when I have a hand and I blink when I don’t. So it’s hard to tell what I’ve got based on my body language. One thing I always look for is honest eyes. If people have honest eyes, forget it. And I should know, because I have them – for the most part.