The 6 Best Books for Poker Tells (and why I love them)


One of the best ways to improve your poker skills is to read a poker book. Many such books are written by pros who have enjoyed considerable success in their careers. You can find books on anything. From the basics to advanced strategies.

Amongst my favorites are books on poker tells. To find more success in poker, learning to spot tells is essential. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult skill to master. Luckily, the books I’ll review on this article have a lot of information on how you can easily read your opponent.

What are the best books on poker tells? From Caro’s Book of Tells by Mike Caro to Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood, there are a few books on tells that have managed to provide unique details on how poker players can read their opponents.

The best books for poker tells for live poker games.
The books on our list will help you greatly at your live games.

 Here are the Six Best Books on Poker Tells (they are in no particular order):

1. Caro’s Book of Poker Tells by Mike Caro

This book was written over 2 decades ago by Mike Caro, known as the Mad Genius of Poker. 20 years later, it is still relevant today. The book focuses on reading your opponent’s body language. The book defines a tell as any mannerism, which helps you determine the secrets of an opponent’s hand.

It is divided into four sections titled: Tells from “Those who are Unaware”, “Tells from Actors,” “Some General Tells,” and “The Sound of Tells.” In these sections, what the tell means is explained along with pictures that give more realism. What prompts this tell as well as what to do if the tell is noticed. It goes further to give an estimate of the reliability and value per hour of tells.

He uses the MCU (Mike Caro University) poker chart to describe poker hands that I found quite useful. The book draws to an end with a summary, a  quiz, and the author’s final thoughts.

The book made an excellent read and proved insightful once I got past all the figures Caro didn’t quite back up and grainy photographers that were a little hard to decipher except for the accompanying texts.

This book is a good read, and I recommend it for beginners and intermediate players. It is a must-have in any poker library.

You can get it on Amazon here.

2. Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood

This book has been referred to as the new Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. Published in 2012, it is an insightful read into the physical and verbal tells of poker players. It is recommended for both new players to the live setting, and experienced players looking to get better. Elwood goes beyond the behavior of the players to the psychology behind the tells.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section gives a brief history of the theory of poker tells, and he explains the need for interpreting tells and doing so in context. I especially like how Elwood emphasizes that “tell-reading is only a part of playing great live poker.”

The second section focuses on specific tells. Elwood gives a detailed and thorough insight on tells. He breaks tells down into before, during, and after an action, placing the tells in context rather than listing a number of them randomly.

He includes a discussion on General Poker Psychology that I find particularly useful. He concludes this section with a discussion on “General Verbal Tells” that any new players and even experienced ones will find useful.

The last section describes winning strategies on Deception and Manipulation that can be used to coax tells from other players. Elwood warns that these strategies should be used judiciously.

I loved that it was an easy read, and Elwood was quite descriptive in his explanations.

Get it on Amazon now.

3. What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro

Although this isn’t really a poker book, many poker players have agreed that it’s a terrific book on tells. Most players seem to focus on the face as a ‘potential tell revealer,’ but Navarro debunks this and presents ways to spot a tell and false tells through other body parts.  He shows how to understand their movements or lack of movement and what they could mean. He explains the limbic system in depth. This portion of our brain helps us read the people we are playing with.

I find this book particularly interesting because unlike the other books written by your everyday poker players, this author was trained to spot when people are trying to hide the truth. Navarro brings a new perspective to reading people. It is a perspective that can help you become great a reading people even when they try their hardest to hide them from us.

Get it from Amazon.

4. Phil Hellmuth Presents Read ‘Em and Reap: A Career FBI Agent’s Guide to Decoding Poker Tells by Joe Navarro,  Marvin Karlins,  Phil Hellmuth

Seeing Phil Hellmuth on the book cover immediately upped my expectations. The main author, Navarro, focused on the physiological motivation for a particular tell, which would help interpret similar tells. I like that he focused on tells that haven’t received as much discussion in previous books, including false tells and tells of the feet. The section on avoiding tells was also very informative.

The book teaches you how to improve your tell skills in great detail. The photographs with detailed description was a plus. Apart from the unnecessary chapter on “What you should know to Vanquish a Pro,” the book is a worthy read and right for players of all skill levels.

You can get the book from Amazon.

5. Verbal Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood

Talking at poker tables is almost a given. Some players know how to use this to their advantage. This book analyzes several hands and verbal tells that gave their position away. It covers research and theories on verbal tells.

It was refreshing to read a book where the author didn’t claim to know it all. I like how the book analyzes verbal tells and helps you change the way you talk.

The book is recommended for beginners and experienced players, but the author says that the materials are best when playing with less experienced players.

Link to Amazon where you can buy the book (Audible available).

6. The Psychology of Poker by Alan N. Schoonmaker

The Psychology of Poker is another book that can significantly change how you approach tells. With 300 pages of undiluted poker information to digest, you’ll have your hands full. I like that this isn’t just a book on how to or how not to catch tells. It discusses other skills like understanding hand selection, bluffing, reading hands, and applying the appropriate aggression during games.

Alan Schoonmaker holds a Ph.D. in psychology, and you can see how much he knows about the human mind from the richness of the information laid bare on this boom. As well as telling you how to do things better, this book also takes a critical look at what you have been doing and how it affects your game. The book was released in 2000 and is recommended for all categories of poker players, be you an amateur or professional.

Get it from Amazon.

What are Tells and how do They Affect the Game of Poker?  

In our daily life, it’s easy to assume that we can mask our expressions. But in the game of Poker, even the slightest expression(facial, body language) can give hints to your opponent.

Tells are hints gotten from a change in a player’s expression. These hints can be used to determine a player’s hand or what’s going on in their mind.

Tells could come from the movement of any facial muscle, hand, or demeanor.

Just a little out of rhythm flutter of your eyelashes could give your opponent all the hints needed to outplay you.   

Humans vibrate with expressions. We express ourselves via every part of our body. We respond to good situations with a smile and bad situations with a frown. We clench our fist in joy and curse in disgust.

If you’re attentive, you can tell what’s going on in a person’s mind by merely reading their body language. The spirit of competition amplifies these emotional reactions. This is why it’s so difficult for people to mask their emotions in poker completely.

How do Tells Affect the Game of Poker? 

Imagine this, you have a good hand, but to prevent your opponent from folding, you frown, or you appear tensed, your opponent mistakes this for a bad hand, and they don’t fold. This goes well for you.

The revised case happens if you mistakenly show off what you have from your expressions. 

This is why poker players always keep a straight face. Always keep a straight face void of emotions– despite what cards you are holding. 

This may not be easy to achieve as most of these expressions are borne out of reflex, but there’s nothing that relentless practice can’t improve.

Some poker players go very far in hiding their face and body from other players noticing their poker tells. Wearing sunglasses and hoodies is becoming more and more popular.

Common Tells in Poker

Below is a list of standard poker tells and how you can recognize them.

  • Bet Hesitation:  Humans have been known to take their time while making a “huge” decision. This knowledge can be applied in Poker too. A player with a good hand would most probably take time to decide on the bet. You’d think having a good hand makes their play a lot easier.

But there’s a kind of pressure that comes with knowing you have a genuine chance to win. With the odds in your favor, you’re more likely to take some time to maximize your advantage.

This very factor plays a role even with players with a bad hand. In a bid to exude the confidence to defy the reality of what they have, they make quick on the spot betting decisions.   With this formula in mind, you’d better tell who has got a premium hand and who hasn’t.  

  • Sitting Position: This is easy to spot. Players who sit relaxed and suddenly sit up and lean forward, especially after seeing their hole cards, are usually prepared to go hard. It’d be better to lay aside your weak aces unless you’ve thoroughly understudied your opponent.

Likewise, when a player sitting up suddenly relaxes, this could be in a bid to prove confident and on top of his game. Most times, they are trying to protect themselves from showing off the bad hand they have. Either way, to look out for tells,  it’s essential to take note of your opponent’s position at every point.

  • Speech: This factor has different aspects.  They are:
  • Voice sound: When a player has an easier time talking without fluttering, it indicates a strong hand. But when the player is stuck on giving stifled replies, this is usually from the tension of having a bad hand. He’s probably counting his losses or trying to figure out a way to get the best from a bad bargain.      
  • Talkative: When a player who has been talking refrains from talking, it’s most likely due to bad hand and vice versa; when a quiet player gets all chatty, especially after placing a bet, beware, this player has probably built a strong hand.  The speech is an excellent way to spot a tell, especially when having an opponent that’s well suited with sunglasses and the ultimate hoodie. Listen to the player’s voice and gauge the emotions from there.
  • Eagerness to Play: When a player starts to hurry the other players up, exhibiting impatience, he may just be ready to bag a nice pot. The excitement that comes with knowing you have a clear advantage over your opponents can make you uneasy and raring to go. It’s good to study your opponent during a game, to avoid misreading any tell.  
  • Body Movements: What do you do when facing an opponent without any “obstructing” bodysuit and accessories? You look out for every of their body movement.  From good old’ shaky hands when there’s a good hand that can sink the pot to tensed shoulders and the very delicate shifty eyes. Look out for all of this. Pay proper attention as you may miss this tell if you look away for even a second.
  • Bet Size: This is, in fact, a bluff tell. You can tell whether your opponent has a good hand or not from their bet size. For example, a player with a bad hand may try to scare others off the table. To do this, the player may bet around 5 to 10 times the blinds. While this behavior may indicate he’s trying to get the best out of a good hand, the reality is that the player would probably go all-in if he were truly in a good position.  This is a classic sign of a bluff.

How to Prevent Giving Away Tells in a Poker Game

This is where the ultimate act of camouflage comes into play.  

Using the general rule of weakness means strength: Here, do the exact reversal of what you could have done given the circumstance. Are you with a bad hand? You may want to try a social bluff. Smirk, stare at your opponent, confidently. Try to be intentional with your facial expressions. Your opponents are obviously trying to read you.

If you play your social bluff well, you can successfully lead them on to your advantage.

If you’re looking for more ways not to give away tells, here are a few ideas:

  • Learn from the book: Reverse what you’ve learned on how to get tells from your opponent to protect yourself from giving off that kind of tell. Did they say uneasiness can be read? Try to look more confident. You can also find books like John Navarro’s Em and Reap to help you work on your poker face.
  • Hats and Sunglasses: This can never go wrong. Have you ever seen the professionals dressed in sunglasses and baseball hats? It’s not just for style. Like you, they’re protecting themselves from giving off tells to their opponent.  They say the eyes are a doorway to the soul and that you can read a person by merely looking at their eyes, be it disappointment or joy.  Sunglasses can help prevent anyone from looking directly into your eyes.
  • Hoodies: Now, this takes the protection to a new level. The good old hoodies. When worn properly, these loose hoodies hold off opponents from catching tells like how tensed your shoulders are or when your ears blush with excitement. Some hoodies are broad enough to hold off the light from your eyes and make your eyes too dark to be read. This is a great way to prevent your opponent from picking up some clues.  

Final Thoughts

The pointers above are sure to get you through live poker matches. Although, when not used properly, they could backfire. Before using them, do make sure to have studied your opponents keenly.

 Of course, the tell you caught may just be a social bluff, but no one can keep that up for long. However, many great players like to mix up their game, so you may merely be chasing shadows. But that’s why I’ve reviewed these 5 excellent books on tells to help you master one of the most effective strategies in poker. 

Primoz

I have played poker professionally for more than 10 years. I was a winner at every poker format that I played - from tournaments to cash games, both in NL Holdem and PLO. Now my biggest satisfaction is to provide enthusiastic but new poker players with answers to all of their questions.

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