One of the most valuable weapons in a poker player’s arsenal is the ability to read the rest of the people at the table. Here are a few handy tips on how to do that.

Fake Tells

Canadian poker star Daniel Negreanu is one of the best in the world at this – he’ll routinely throw out a series of fake tells in the hopes of luring someone into his web. There are about a million tells out there – wiping your brow, fiddling with chips a certain way, etc. etc. – but the key is to plant them in situations that will only cost you minimally at the start of the game (in the hope of securing bigger gains later on). 

Pick a situation where you’re unafraid or have a large enough bankroll to dump some chips. Bluff with a relatively weak hand (say, an 9-8 offsuit) then chuck in a tell. The goal here is to give the rest of the players at the table some action (ex. bluffing) with some sort of reaction (ex. scratching your left earlobe). You might think it’s too subtle to be picked up on, but it’s amazing what other players will learn from your actions. Once the seed is planted, you can use it to your advantage by doing the opposite next time around – like scratching your left earlobe when you’re not bluffing, but rather holding a monster hand. 

Stare ‘Em Down

It might seem simple, but a lengthy glare can go a long way when you’re hitting the tables live. Players tend to revert to whatever makes them feel comfortable in moments of stress or being under the microscope. While they might not necessarily give you immediate insight, gestures and mannerisms during these moments can be stored away for later.

Staring opponents down can also give you another advantage for later in the game. Generally speaking, people feel uneasy taking their time to make decisions at the table when a pair of eyes is burning a hole in them. Staring could be fruitful down the road because the next time your opponent is hanging on a decision, he or she might be rushed into making it – thereby increasing the chances of making a bad call, or fold.

The More You Know

While some people frown upon it, poker table chatter can be an effective way to figure out what kind of player you’re dealing with. They key, often, isn’t to see if they’ll engage you – rather, see when they’ll engage you. Some players clam up almost immediately when they’re in the midst of a hand they know could net big rewards, but will open up some when the stakes aren’t as high. 

On the flip side, some people will natter on all game long and others won’t speak at word – it’s those people that you need to study for mannerisms and physical reactions, to see exactly what table talk elicits what response. But be warned – annoying people at the table may be only that. Sometimes getting under someone’s skin isn’t indicative of anything, other than your ability to make someone testy.