Is a player who seems disinterested in a hand really trying to trap you? And what can you tell about a player based on how quickly he acts?

Can we talk a little bit about how interested – or disinterested – a player seems in a hand?

Its very seldom that people pretend they’re interested when they’re going to fold. They’ve already given up on the hand, so what do they care? They don’t care whether you or the next guy wins the pot. More likely, a much more valuable tell – and one that we can rely on more often – is when somebody looks totally disinterested. Hes almost going out of his way to be disinterested. If you’re playing with someone who normally doesn’t do this, then he probably has a strong hand.

On the flip side, if he looks disinterested because he really is disinterested, then he probably has a weak hand. So, the trick on all tells is to figure out whether someone is doing something intentionally to try to fake you out – or does it reflect what hes really thinking? The very best people on whom to get tells are those who are new at playing poker in casinos. You know, we have a lot of people who are pretty good players now, but many come from the internet, so they’re not used to people seeing them. They give out all kinds of signals accidentally.

One of the best tells occurs when you know what the person to your left is going to do. You can tell that hes going to fold as soon as he has looked at his cards. You can see him literally waiting for you to act before he throws his cards into the pot. That’s a very common tell when you’re playing with beginners – and a really good one because now you know that the guy sitting next to you has nothing. It makes a big difference. Of course, if you think he has nothing and then he raises, its almost a certainty that he has a giant hand. Then you know he was faking and that he was never planning on throwing the hand away.

The worst people to try to get tells on are the world champions. Don’t try to figure out what Johnny Chan is doing! Yo’ure not going to be able to read him, so don’t aggravate yourself.

What about timing? When we watch televised tournaments, we see that some professionals act very quickly, while others are slower and more deliberate. Is there a tell here?

There are some schools of thought on this. One school of thought is that you should have a certain cadence. For example, if you always take 10 seconds to act, then nobody can pick up on whether this means you have a good hand or a bad hand. Some people take the same amount of time on every hand and therefore never act quickly. Personally, I hate that – and most of the other pros hate it, too. There are certain hands that you are just not going to call – ever, ever, ever – so why waste time? You’re not really giving away any information.

Of course, one of the things that really separates the pros from the amateurs is knowing how much – or measuring how much – you think you can get on your raise. You know you have the best hand, and you don’t want the other person to fold. So, the question is, How much can I extract from this person? This really does take some time. The amateur may think, Gee, hes taking time, and hes faking it. But if you take too long, its almost sure you have a big hand – or else you would have folded. The pro who takes an extra amount of time and raises probably has a big hand.

At the professional level, do you still pick up obvious tells from the top pros, or has everyone become stoic and relatively unreadable?

All of us think we can pick up tells with quite a few of the other players, but Im not sure that were all that accurate. For example, I may think I have a tell on you because Ive seen you twice now wiggle your ear when you have a big hand. Maybe its just a coincidence. Just because I saw you do it doesn’t mean that I really have a tell on you. I think tells are much more important when you’re playing with weak players as opposed to strong players.