A reverse tell or a false tell is one of the trickiest tools in a poker player's arsenal. But what do they look like and how do you use one to your advantage? Read on to find out!


What is a reverse tell?

Both novice and veteran poker players are familiar with the concept of a tell. Any change in behaviour (from a twitch of the eye to a change in vocal tone) can signify how a player feels about the hand they’ve been dealt. One of the most rudimentary skills in poker is to conceal these automatic reactions - lest you want your rivals to know what you’re holding. You can read about concealing tells in our post here. Yet, what is a reverse tell?


In short, a reverse tell is a calculated mistruth told to other players at the table. While they believe they’ve picked up on an emotion or reaction you don’t wish them to see, you’ve actually made this action intentionally in order to throw them off your scent. A reverse tell can lead rivals to think you’re strong while weak or, of course, the very opposite. 


What can a reverse tell look like?

Traditional tells come in many forms. Most are obvious physical reactions to good news or bad news. When players are bluffing there’s a disconnect between the words they speak and their body language. In previous posts, we’ve used the example of an opponent who tries to convince you they’re holding a winning hand but unknowingly, shakes their head slightly as they speak. Alternatively, a lot of tells involve players unintentionally covering their mouths or even their eyes while masking a bluff. Subconsciously, players are holding the truth of their hand inside and don’t want others to notice.


The most important part of a reverse tell is for it to look and feel like a genuine poker tell. Thus, they should be as similar in execution as possible. As a necessity to success with reverse tells, players must be able to place themselves in the position they’re trying to imitate and act accordingly without damaging the strength of their position. 


How to effectively use a reverse tell

We’d recommend that you use reverse tells to bluff a weaker position than you have rather than a stronger one. However, there are several methods to expertly execute a reverse tell - each requiring its own set of skills. 


The most common and probably the easiest reverse tell involves downplaying the strength of your hand. This means acting weak when strong, a common bluff, or flipping the scenario, acting strong when weak. Fidgeting, shifting your weight or responding uneasily to bets and raises are all methods of appearing weak when in fact, you have a strong hand. 


As with the above reverse tell, many players opt to disguise a winning hand by continuing to eye up the cards on the table after the flop. The logic here is that a player who’s happy about the cards after the flop wouldn’t spend too much time studying them, in fear of drawing attention. However, by doing just that it appears that you don’t have much faith in your hand and are unsure of the strength of your position. Leaving rivals with this impression while you’re holding a monster hand will encourage them to build that pot you intend to scoop up.


Similarly, some players have a tendency to glance briefly at their chips when the flop is dealt. This implies that they have connected to it and are weighing up their options and considering their strength of hand in the matter. If you want to appear connected to the flop modelling this behaviour could be a good move. Coupling it with a hand hovering over your stack of chips can help sell the tell. 


How do I play against someone using a reverse tell?

With each possible reverse tell there’s one important factor to consider - is this behaviour out of the norm for the player? Essentially, this calls on you to look at your rival's behaviour as a whole throughout the game, not just in the instance where you think you’ve spotted a tell. Naturally, poker is a game of calculated risks. If you’re facing an expert player there’s always the chance that they’ve planted a tell early in the game to establish a pattern of behaviour. Thus, they can then use the false tell to lure you into their game. 


Obviously, the better you are acquainted with a fellow player, the better you’ll be able to spot a faithful tell. This is because you can more accurately gauge whether they’re acting out of character making distinct gestures that they normally wouldn’t. That’s why focus and attention to detail are pivotal to success in poker.