Live tells: Look to the eyes says Cardrunners pro Zach Elwood

No matter how successful a poker player you are, your live tells can still give a lot away. CardRunners pro Zachary Elwood looks to the eyes for the most reliable tells and illustrates this by looking at 2011 world champ Pius Heinz

Lots of people ask me what the most reliable types of poker tells are. I think that eye contact tells are one of the most important type to look out for, or certainly the ones that you see most often when players hold weak or strong hands.

In this article I’m going to use the 2011 WSOP Main Event champ Pius Heinz as an example of someone who displays significant eye contact patterns. Players that have eye contact tells are going to have one of two types of tendencies. But remember that some people won’t display this kind of tell.

  1. They will be more likely to stare at their opponents while bluffing, and avoid eye contact when they’re value betting
  2. They will be more likely to avoid eye contact when bluffing and stare at their opponents when value betting

The best time to spot these tells is usually when players are making significant turn or river bets. They might also show up with big bets preflop, but are more often displayed when there’s significant action on the turn and river.

Hand #1 – pocket rockets 

Staszko: 124.7m – K♣-Q♠
Heinz: 81.2m – A♠-A

Staszko raises to 4.25m
Heinz raises to 10.4m

This is the first time I noticed Heinz’s pattern. If you watch the video you’ll see that Heinz isn’t really looking at Staszko, he’s looking down after he bets. He makes a little bit of eye contact but very little.

Staszko calls

Flop: 2-4-5

It’s a good flop for pocket Aces. Heinz isn’t looking at Staszko, he’s still looking down. In my book I talk about categorising tells before you bet and after you bet and that’s where this tell is usually significant. Look for it at the moment of betting and right after betting.

Heinz bets 10.5m
Staszko folds

You’ll notice again that Heinz doesn’t really look at Staszko, he stays looking down. This is very different behaviour to how Heinz normally acts in most spots. He likes to stare at his opponents a lot.

Hand #2 – semi-bluff stare-up

Staszko: 121.2m – Q-3
Heinz: 84.7m – J-5♠

Heinz raises to 3.4m
Staszko calls

Flop: Q-K-9♣

Staszko bets 4m
Heinz raises to 11.2m
Staszko folds

Look how much Heinz stares at Staszko during and after the bet on the flop. This is his usual MO. The significant spot is during and after the bet. You can see it’s a pretty steady stare and he keeps it up for a while.

Hand #3 – four-bet bluff

Staszko: 89m – A♣-2♣
Heinz: 116.9m – 9-7

Heinz raises to 4.2m
Staszko raises to 11.5m
Heinz raises to 20.6m
Staszko raises all-in
Heinz folds

In this one, Staszko three-bets preflop and Heinz four-bets with 7-9. You’ll notice the same behaviour here from Heinz, staring at his opponent during and after the bet. As he makes the bet it’s very similar to the last hand, he stares at his opponent while he’s putting the bet out and afterwards holds the stare really steadily.

Hand #4 – flipping for the world

Staszko: 124.75m – Q♣-9♣
Heinz: 81.15m – A-Q

Staszko calls
Heinz raises to 7.9m
Staszko calls

Flop: 10♣-7♣-K♠

Heinz bets 8.2m
Staszko raises to 17.5m
Heinz raises all-in
Staszko calls

In this hand, Heinz bets the flop and Staszko raises. Heinz has A-Q, for Ace-high and three-bets all-in. Heinz is staring at him when he makes his initial bet, and it’s a very steady stare. I usually look for these sorts of tells on big turn and river bets, but in this instance the bet is so big it makes it a very significant spot.

Hand #5 – flopping it

Staszko: 146.6m – Q-3♠
Heinz: 59.3m – J♠-5

Staszko calls
Heinz checks

Flop: 4-5♠-J♣

Heinz checks
Staszko bets 3m
Heinz calls

Turn: 8♠

Heinz checks
Staszko checks

River: 3

Heinz bets 6m
Staszko folds

In this hand Heinz flops two pair. It was a limped pot and you’ll see a real difference in his behaviour. When he bets on the river he’s looking down, not giving any eye contact.

Hand #6 – making it on the river

Staszko: 152.9m – K♣-4
Heinz: 53m – 10♣-5

Heinz raises to 4m
Staszko calls

Flop: 5-8-7

Staszko checks
Heinz checks

Turn: J

Staszko checks
Heinz checks

River: 10♠

Staszko checks
Heinz bets 4m
Staszko folds

In this hand Heinz rivers two pair with 10-5. Staszko checks and Heinz continues to look down, not giving his opponent much contact even before he bets. Eventually Heinz opts to bet four million and Staszko swiftly folds.

Compare and contrast

If you look again at the hand where he has Aces, there’s not much eye contact in general, even before he bets. It’s funny because the first time I saw this hand I thought Heinz was strong here. I hadn’t seen him do that before. That was the first inkling I got – when I saw something that was out of the ordinary. Once I clued into that I started seeing it more.

It’s very unusual for him to be staring at the table so much. On the flop I think he actually realises he’s staring at the table a lot and feels like he has to give some eye contact to Staszko. He also does a quick doublecheck of his cards there. I haven’t checked for that one but that could be a little fake of weakness.

The important thing to remember is that this isn’t a 100% reliable tell. He didn’t show this behaviour in every hand but you can tell it was statistically significant. Also, the hands we’ve looked at here are all heads-up with the players sitting directly across from each other. This is definitely going to be a factor because it increases the amount of potential eye contact and engaging they do with each other. If they were
sitting beside each other you wouldn’t see this, or not nearly as much.

How does the tell correlate?


This graph illustrates how Heinz’s post-bet staring and not staring are correlated with either weak or strong hands. It also shows this is not a 100% reliable tell but just behaviour that is associated with a particular hand strength.

Another concept is that when there’s a range of behaviour like this there’s generally one that’s more significant and one that’s more of a background state. The avoiding eye contact was more strongly correlated with a strong hand as it was more unusual behaviour.


This is just one of two tendencies that people have. For a lot of people you’ll see the opposite, where they’ll be more likely to make more eye contact with their opponent when they’re relaxed and have a big hand, and avoid eye contact when they’re bluffing. It’s something to keep in mind depending on what you notice. Like any tell you have to see which of these tendencies people are falling under and try to find some correlation with that.

Reading Poker Tells – Zachary Elwood

If you like this article, check out Elwood’s book, which aims to give you a framework for recognising, understanding and remembering poker tells. If you think you’re a mass of tells you can also find tips on making yourself ‘unreadable’. It’s available from Amazon in paperback for £12.95 or on Kindle for £6.99.

This article is from the Classroom: Eye Contact video by CardRunners pro Zachary Elwood. To watch this and thousands more videos, go to today.

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