Hand reading is the art of inferring information about an opponent's hand. For example, if a player's hands shake during the last round, this may be a sign they have an unbeatable hand. When a player quickly puts in a raise, that, too, may be a sign that they have a great hand. However, some players may quickly put in a raise as a bluffing technique. The art of reading hands, then, is in observing players to learn what behaviors they exhibit and when. These behaviors are called tells. Reading tells is critically important when playing face-to-face. In online poker, reading tells is more difficult due to the absence of body language. Generally, the only available tells in online poker are betting patterns and the length of time to make a decision.
A few players give straightforward tells. They get visibly excited when they have a great hand, and look glum when their hand isn't so hot. They may even exclaim “Weee!” when a good card falls or say “Shoot” when a bad card falls. These players are extremely easy to read.
Most players who have even a little poker experience are a bit trickier. Often, these players will act in exactly the opposite manner. When they have a great hand, they look glum, and when they're bluffing, they appear confident. Fortunately, these players are also easy to read—once you've identified them.
Tricky players are aware of the their tells and deliberately use the same tells whether their hand is good or bad. The key to reading these players is to find a tell that the player isn't aware of. Unfortunately, finding a solid tell on a tricky player requires much trial and error.
Caro's Book of Poker Tells contains extensive information about tells that many players give off. By studying this book, you can train yourself on what to look for as you watch for tells.
One common mistake is to put too much faith in tells. Even straightforward players have a little bit of trickiness in them. When observing a player, make a mental estimate of how reliably the tell informs you about their hand. For example, suppose you observe a player who sometimes rubs his ear. Further, you observe that around 4 times out of 5, that when he rubs his ear, he's bluffing.B = tell A = bluffing C = other C|A = other, given bluffing A|C = bluffing, given other B|A = tell, given bluffing A|B = bluffing, given tell H = bluffing E = tell E|H = tell, given bluffing H = bluffing E = tell E|H/E = (