Book Review: “Reading Poker Tells”

By Karaoke Phil

You don’t know Zachary Elwood – author of “Reading Poker Tells”.  Zach used to be a professional poker player and still supplements his income from the game.  At his peak he regularly played $20/$40 Limit and $5-10 No-Limit.  He wasn’t crushing the high stakes in Bobby’s Room.  He also doesn’t consider himself an excellent poker player.  But, all that does not mean you should discount his book, “Reading Poker Tells”, because it one title that should be in your poker library. 
Zach has put together a phenomenal writing within its 227 pages.  Aside from Mike Caro’s seminal “Book of Poker Tells” and the Joe Navarro books there really doesn’t seem to be much out there on the topic.  Elwood’s work nicely fills a gap in a poker player’s field of knowledge.  He divides his book into sections that, to me, make total sense: “Waiting-for-Action”, “During-Action” and “Post-Bet Action” tells.  Each section is further broken down into tells of strength and tells of weakness.  Additional chapters on “General Verbal Tells” and “Deception and Manipulation” round out the book.
A great strength of this book is that Zach is not a used-car salesman.  Or, writing this review from Vegas, he’s not a Wyndam Resort hawker stating just how brilliant he is, how revolutionary his tell reading is and how you’ll be the next WSOP champ just weeks after taking in what he’s written.  Quite the opposite.  The humbling information in the opening paragraph comes from Zach himself.  A little bit of self-deprecation coupled with the strong information between the covers is what makes this title so valuable. 
Zach goes through great pains to make sure the reader understands that there are “massive behavioral complexities” within the world of poker tells. In that light, he also continually stresses the need for “correlation and consistent observation” in both hands of strength and weakness to be able to effectively make use of any tells you think you may see.  He also notes that it may take time to make real progress.  You may also be the type of person who more readily sees tells of the eyes than tells of the hands or vice versa.  Or, maybe you’re better at picking up bet timing tells, bet action tells, verbal tells, etc., etc.  But, it all comes down to the importance of observation.  Being able to pick up on what your opponents are trying to do can add substantially to your bottom line. 
Another important aspect of Elwood’s book is his acknowledgement that the same action or tell may well mean opposite things in different situation or even among different people.  For example, staring at an opponent may well mean weakness (waiting-for-action) or strength (post-bet) depending on the situation.  Or, a “forceful betting motion is easy to imagine as either an attempt to communicate confidence (a bluff) or an attempt to attract attention and action (a value bet)….many players will have one of these tendencies and not the other.” 
Finally, the content on your own behavior, be it actually related to how you’re feeling or an attempt at purposefully giving off “false tells” is equally important for the reader.  Studying the book and analyzing your play should help you to “know how to limit your own behavioral leaks.” And, it’s always wise to, “not perform an action unless you have a relatively good idea of what the consequences of that action will be.”  Remember, “Even if you don’t care about becoming an expert at poker psychology, if you’re going to play this game you should learn that it’s important to be as unreadable as possible.” 
Zach isn’t selling you a fabulous timeshare.  He’s not saying you don’t have to do your homework.  He’s not giving you a free pass on eating your broccoli.  But, he is giving you a little cheesy sauce to pour on those vegetables.  His book provides you a starting point to begin making your own observations of players (and your own) behavior.  And, to begin correlating that behavior to strength or weakness in a given situation so you can make optimal decisions.  “There are no certainties when it comes to poker tells.  But, over time, patterns become apparent.”  One thing from “Reading Poker Tells” by Zachary Elwood becomes readily apparent – he doesn’t need to hard sell it.  It sells itself. 
Note:  We are giving away several copies of “Reading Poker Tells” by Zachary Elwood.  Click here to read the post on how to enter – we’re taking entries until December 15.
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