Zachary Elwood’s “Reading Poker Tells” Review

[DD] “The final book on tells that I read was the best of the bunch: Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood. Mike Caro’s a poker pro who has written over a dozen books, only one of which was about tells. Joe Navarro was an FBI agent. And Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassarre earn their keep as writers. Elwood, on the other hand, is a poker player who has dedicated himself to studying tells since 2009. And it shows.”

[LL] “Well, it helps that his book is newer”, Leroy the Lion suggested.

[DD] “You’d think Elwood benefitted from having read the published literature, but he doesn’t really build upon what Caro and Navarro. He does occasionally point out spots where he agrees or disagrees with them, often the latter, backed by his own logic and evidence. He also takes some direct swipes at Dan Harrington’s chapter1 on poker tells.”

[LL] “So he isn’t standing on the shoulders of giants?”

[DD] “Not really. He contradicts a lot of Caro’s advice and likes Navarro’s book even less. In Elwood’s very first blog post on his Reading Poker Tells web site, he derided Read ‘Em and Reap as ‘useless’ except for one piece of advice that he later discovered dated back to Caro anyway.”

[DD] “But what I really like is that Elwood’s book is more usefully organized, splitting tells into ‘waiting-for-action’, ‘during-action’, and ‘post-bet’.”

[LL] “That pretty much covers everything… So the same behavior can mean different things at different times?”

[DD] “Yes, they really are three separate situations even when they relate to the same single poker action.”

[LL] “Except when post-bet and waiting-for-action coincide during heads-up action.”

[DD] “He means post-bet behavior that concerns the bet that was just made vs. waiting-for-action behavior when the player hasn’t bet on that street yet. Hopefully you’ll know the difference.”

[LL] “So, what are some of the good tells he describes?”

[DD] “There are so many that you really just need to read the book. In each of the three situations he gives about a dozen examples of weakness and a similar number of strength. A sampling:

  • Waiting-for-action weakness: getting ready to fold, especially in multiway pots, is usually for real, contrary to Caro’s claim.
  • Waiting-for-action strength: pre-loading chips is strong, not weak like Caro says (but then Caro seems to think almost everyone is an actor).
  • During-action weakness: slow check (pretending to be considering betting)
  • During-action strength: very strong betting motion is strong, since a bluffer wouldn’t want to call attention to themselves (again, contradicts Caro). In fact, most unusual during-action behavior is strong for this same reason.
  • Post-bet weakness: stillness, silence, and fake smiles.
  • Post-bet strength: shaking legs (indicated by shirt movement).

[DD] “Reading Poker Tells also has a short section on general verbal tells, but Elwood expands that to a whopping 438 pages in his next book, Verbal Poker Tells.”

[LL] “But you haven’t read that.”

[DD] “No, I don’t have a copy yet… But that’s a hint if you were thinking of getting me a Christmas present.”

Title Reading Poker Tells
Author Zachary Elwood
Year 2012
Skill Level Any
Pros Very well organized and researched. Uses No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em in most examples.
Cons Poor quality pictures.
Rating 4.0 (out of five)

Footnotes:

  1. The 2008 book is titled Harrington on Cash Games, Volume II: How to Play No-Limit Hold ’em Cash Games.
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