Betting Tells

How To Read Your Opponents Cards From Betting Patterns

You’ve been playing poker for a while, you know your outs from your douts, you’ve learnt a few poker chip tricks in your time, and you have played a few live games too. You find yourself down your local card club and sit down at the table immediately looking for tells.

What To Look for

Dan Harrington licking his lipsYou’re looking for the Harrington lick of the lips, the glance at their chip stack, their heart beting fast and heavy through their shirt. But nothing. Not a sausage. There is no tell being given off by anyone in the room. What is going on?!?

If you find tourself in this situation, or even if you are just starting to look for tells in your opponents, one of the best and most reliable poker tells out there is shown by the size of your opponent’s bet. This is a great tell that can be used online too!

Beginner’s Mistakes

Amateurs and novices that learn the game usually start out by betting in a formulatic pattern. If they hold AK then they raise up 3xBB, if they hold TT in late position, they raise 5xBB, and so on. This formula varies from person to person but once you can hone in on a player’s betting pattern you will have a much clearer idea of the range of hands they are likely to be holding.

Most beginners focus on what is the correct play to make, rather than how to mix up their game. This can make them very predictable poker players. Make sure you keep an eye on how much they are betting / raising and if there is a showdown then make a mental not to yourself of what kind of play this player made at each betting round. Try to work out why they bet like they did and form a mental picture of how this player thinks. Chances are, later on during the game you are going to be heads up in a pot with this guy and this information will be invaluable to you.

Don’t Limp, Raise!

If you are at a table of novices, you will see a lot of limping going on. This is especially noticeable when playing online. Losers love to limp. They limp with pretty much any two picture cards or even a raggy picture card if its suited in the hope to get lucky by seeing a cheap flop. If they do pick up a genuine hand like a strong suited ace, or a large pocket pair, they are going to be raising and raising BIG. This is their tell. Many of these players have rules for how they play specific hands.

  • Low pairs, suited connectors, and other medium hands; Limp
  • Medium pairs or AK; 3xBB pre-flop raise
  • Big pairs (JJ, QQ, KK); 5xBB pre-flop raise
  • AA; 2xBB pre-flop raise

If you play like this, you are giving your hand away every time, even before the flop.

A Better Play

You are better off using the following rule:

  • Low pairs, suited connectors, and other medium hands; 3xBB
  • Medium pairs or AK; 3xBB
  • Big pairs (JJ, QQ, KK); 3xBB
  • AA; 3xBB
  • Rags; 3xBB. (now and then)

By betting in this way, you won’t be giving anything away to your opponents. Even observant opposition will not know what kind of hand to put you on pre flop. If you find yourself playing at a table where the opposition is a lot tougher, then you need to ensure you are not giving away the tells mentioned above yourself! At a tougher table, you can be sure that every player at the table is watching how much you bet into the pot and looking at your position too. This is where you can turn the tables against better opposition.

Disguising Your Hand

If we just talk pre-flop for a minute here, lets say you find youself in early position with a pair of tens. Nice! You will be looking to raise. Crank up the bet to 3xBB. The next time the button comes round and you find yourself in early position again, but this time with 45s, crank it up to 3xBB. In fact, most raises should be to the same size each time if you are looking to disguise your bet. This way, whether its rags or bigslick, no one will know what it is you are holding and it will make reading you a lot more tricky.

Usually, if I am going to play a hand, I am going to be raising. My raise is usually 3xBB no matter how strong or super-strong my cards are.

Making The Money

By watching how much each player at the table bets, you will be shocked at how often these players repeat their own betting patterns and give away their hand. In order to prevent them from picking up on your hand, make sure you bet the same way in different situation.

The more you can baffle your opponents, the more money you stand to make.


  1. What do you advise re: betting in later stages. I know that as the blinds rise, that the bets reduce. That in the late stages, its often a case of either folding to a raise or going all in.
    In a game once, had a Pr of aces. I raised so that it was clear that i was pot committed. i would not fold to anyone going over the top of me. I wanted some one to call.
    I was called by a player with K – 10. Who went all in. I called and lost to trip 10′s. He only had about 3000 chips more than me. So why would he want to risk his tournament?

    Comment by Jim Ward on May 5, 2011 at 10:26 am
  2. To Jim Ward… the one commenter: You went all in at the right time with the right cards. A donkey got caught being a donkey, and then he got lucky cards. It happens all the time. It’s the percentage of those odds that says you can lose even when you have the best hand.

    Comment by Blake Bishop on February 28, 2012 at 4:00 am
  3. I feel like its very difficult to balance the disguising of one’s play, with making profitable plays. For instance, betting/raising EVERY hand you choose to play, while it certainly has the benefit of masking your play, will quickly eat away at your stack, won’t it?
    Where do you draw the line between deception, and fundamentals? Sure I can 3x bet my AA, but when half the table call my 60 in a 10/20 game, my AA are close to worthless.
    Conversely, raising 78s regardless of position, could quickly turn into pissing away chips. Does it just boil down to taking the chance that nobody re-raises my suited connector, or lands a straight when I only 3x with KK? Do you have any advice for gauging when deception is profitable and when its not?


    Comment by Scott on June 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm
  4. Hi Scott – Apologies for the delay

    You raise (no pun intended!) .. some interesting points, and you would be correct that your chips would diminish quicker than a cheetah up a grass covered drainpipe. However, it’s all about the table conditions. If you are noticing that your raises are getting no respect, then you need to adapt your style into a more passive player and slow play more hands as you have noted that you will get paid off. Conversely, once you start adapting to this style the dynamic will shift and start to take note that you have kept quiet a few monsters; Respect will soon follow and thus any raise you do will make more savvy players aware. This will end up going full circle and once you start stonecoldbluffing a few raises as they are respecting you more …… so you will get more callers and it starts again. When you have the respect of the table you could potentially raise with 78s regardless of position, especially if players are confused by you. If you get plenty of callers then you are getting value, however, if you get respect and only a few then you are really fooling them now.

    I hope this is helpful and do shout if you have any more questions. Mostly … thanks for getting in touch … it does mean a lot to us.

    Comment by admin on June 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm

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