“Exploiting Poker Tells” Review

[LL] “Following Reading Poker Tells (2012) and Verbal Poker Tells (2014),” Leroy the Lion began, “Zachary Elwood’s third book, Exploiting Poker Tells, came out in 2017 in response to readers’ requests for more examples, which make up the bulk of this book.”

[RR] “Please tell me all about it”, Roderick the Rock requested.

[LL] “Having previously written 666 pages on poker tells, you’d think Elwood would be out of material, but various new tips appear throughout, while discussions on tells with several poker pros add a different perspective. Mostly though, while the two earlier books focused on spotting and deciphering tells, Exploiting Poker Tells tries to show you what to do once you have, with examples from over 130 live poker hands from Elwood’s own play, other players’ recollections, and televised events. No-Limit Hold ‘Em dominates the examples with some Omaha mixed in. The events range from low buyin amateur cash games to $25,000 WPT Championship hands between top pros and cover a wide variety of tells, organized into Pre-Flop, Flop and Turn, and River sections. The Flop and Turn section is about as long as the other two put together not only because it covers two streets but because those streets are more interesting tells-wise. Pre-flop tends to be more straightforward, while the river involves bigger bets but no longer has draws to deal with.

Elwood, who consulted for Amir Lehavot and Max Steinberg during their WSOP Main Event final table runs in 2013 and 2015 respectively, is a former cash game pro who has become the poker tells guy, belatedly replacing Mike Caro a generation later. Even so, he concedes that tells aren’t 100% reliable and usually affect only a few hands per session, less than once per hour, even for an expert like him. Tells are more prevalent in lower stakes games with weaker players and in cash games, where players tend to be more relaxed than in tournaments. The quantity of tells in the book definitely makes it seem like they’re frequently useful, but these have been collected from years worth of play. Actionable tells can sometimes be more frequent if a particular player has a regular, blatant tell though.

Elwood states, ‘An opponent’s behavior should only infrequently sway your decision. For the most part, your decisions should be based on fundamental strategy.’1 He also stresses that most tells are player-specific. In the same exact situation the same tell may mean one thing with one player and the opposite for another, so it’s important to keep track of how each player behaves.

Elwood’s nuggets of wisdom include this river advice: ‘This is a spot where I know I’m calling but I think there can be value in waiting a few seconds and observing an opponent before calling. It’s a chance to observe a player’s behavior when you know you’ll get to see their hand.2

On the other hand, the biggest flaw in some of the sample hands is that Elwood never finds out what his opponent has, so his analysis remains pure speculation. Removing these hands would have increased the overall quality of the book, which is pretty high nevertheless.”

[RR] “I can tell you liked the book.”

[LL] “Yes, but not as much as his first two, which were more organized and thorough. This format can be more educational depending on your learning style, and the material is certainly less dry.

This is really a book where you won’t learn much from highlights or a summary; you really need to go through all of the examples, as there’s something in practically every hand that may be useful to you.”

The last section is a 57-question quiz, which is probably easier to take as an online quiz, since the scoring is done for you. The downside is that for answers you get wrong, you’ll need to look at the answers in the book for the page numbers where the topic is covered (an odd omission for the online quiz). If you don’t have the book, you can still take the quiz, and your score will reveal if you’d benefit from reading it.

Elwood claims that this is his final poker tells book, as he’s shifted focus to videos, which can be a better medium for learning tells. Exploiting Poker Tells, like the other two books in the trilogy, doesn’t have photos (let alone audio or video), which is unfortunate.”

Title Exploiting Poker Tells
Author Zachary Elwood
Year 2017
Skill Level any
Pros Explains how to use tells with many real-life examples. Ends with a long quiz that will reveal whether you need to reread this book (and maybe his earlier ones as well).
Cons Not as educational as his first two books. In several hands, he never finds out what cards his opponent holds, destroying the value of those examples. No pictures or videos to show what the tells look and sound like.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. Page 14. “Some inexperienced poker players can have an inflated, unrealistic sense of what is possible with tells. So I want to reiterate: tells are a minor part of plying strong live poker.
  2. Page 173. “You might notice something that may be useful later on. It’s a chance to build a read.”
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