At the last NLHE game I played ($5-10 at Parx Casino outside Phillie), there was a reliable tell that influenced one of my decisions. This one has to do with hand tension when a player was bluffing versus when he was value-betting.
This guy was a pretty aggressive player. He liked to raise a lot pre-flop, and make some pretty large bluffs on the turn and river. He was a little weird and unorthodox, but was aggressive enough to be trouble and to make it hard to tell how smart he was.
He did seem to have a very reliable tell, though, that I was able to correlate across a large number of hands. When he was making a big bluff post-flop, he would usually hold his cards with his left hand in a very still, very tight grip, an inch or so off the table. His hand resembled a tense claw. Both of his hands would be very still after betting, and stillness is a general indicator of post-bluff anxiety; bluffers want to become invisible, and stillness and quietness are instinctual ways to achieve this. Many times this stillness is very evident in the hands and the fingers. Even when a bluffer is trying to act relaxed, and his body posture and movements are loose, you can sometimes see evidence of tension and stillness in their hands.
This was especially obvious with this kid because his hands had a lot of movement and looseness when he was betting with a real hand. For starters, he’d be more likely to be riffling his chips. He’d also be more likely to be physically manipulating the cards in some way, like shuffling them or just flexing them. Sometimes he wouldn’t interact with the cards at all, which was still a recognizable difference from the claw-hand hold he had on them when he was bluffing.
This tell came in handy in a hand where I’d gotten to the river with [Qd] [9d], and the board was
[Qc] [Js] [8h] [2h] [7h]
Or something similar. So I had top pair with a weak kicker. It was an unraised pot pre-flop and this kid had bet the whole way and I’d been calling. The river had made a flush possible, which was something to consider. The turn bet was $200. The river bet was $300 into a pot of $540 or so. For a lot of players, the smallness of the river bet could have been one clue that he was bluffing, but I also knew that this kid wasn’t afraid of making large bluffs, and my hand seemed kind of transparent as a top-pair type hand, so I had to consider that he was value-betting here.
Then I saw his tense claw-hold on his cards and that made my decision easy and I called. He showed
for the flopped bottom pair and gutshot. I probably would have called anyway in this spot but spotting this tell definitely made for an easier call.