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Saturday, August 8, 2020
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As Casino City's copy editor, Clare diligently proofs articles, columns and press releases posted on the Casino City family of websites, as well as the entire library of print publications produced by Casino City Press. She has editorial experience in several industries, but gaming is the most fun so far.

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Exploiting Poker Tells completes an invaluable body of research

The bulk of the book consists of 132 hand histories.

The bulk of the book consists of 132 hand histories.

About two years ago, Casino City was given a lifetime membership to Zachary Elwood's excellent Reading Poker Tells video series in exchange for an honest review, which I provided here. (The series has grown since then — there were only 19 videos at the time; now there are 29 — and let me tell you, having a lifetime membership is great.) Last year, Elwood came out with another book, his third on the subject of tells, Exploiting Poker Tells.

The bulk of the book consists of 132 hand histories, most of them played by Elwood, in which a player's behavior altered or was otherwise factored into his playing decisions. A number of the hands are relayed secondhand from other players, sometimes with a "Thoughts from Zach" section appended. The hands are sorted into "Preflop tells," "Flop and turn tells," and "River tells," because people's behavior can change based on how close to the end of the hand they are. Sprinkled throughout are brief interviews with pro players such as Jonathan Little and Jamie Kerstetter, wherein they discuss what they've learned about tells over the course of their pro careers--how important or reliable they are, how their expectations have changed over the years, and a handful of stories about using or misusing tells at the table. At the end of the book is a quiz, and no, I'm not going to tell you how I did on it.

If you're familiar with Ellwood's other work on tells, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of style and his approach to explaining the subject: Measured, straightforward, and with plenty of background explaining why, emotionally and instinctually, people give off these tells. He's careful not to oversell the reliability of any particular tell, and notes which tells are more or less universal and which ones are likely to be player-specific. If you're familiar with either the other books or the video series, you'll also notice that this book doesn't depart too radically from the other resources, content-wise--it's written more to illustrate how this knowledge is applied at the table, but a lot of the tells he discusses fit well within the patterns established in the previous works.

What this book isn't going to give you, of course, is One Weird Trick for always knowing if you've got someone beat, and it's also not going to give you any observational skills you don't already have. You're still going to have to do the work; the book can't do the work for you. What it will do is point you toward what kind of things you ought to be training yourself to pay attention to, and debunk a lot of other dubious advice and popular myths about tells.

Unlike many poker books, this has no table diagrams and only one chart, although it is a very good chart. This works perfectly fine due to the subject matter; it also means that the book can be nice and travel-sized but still packed full of content, unlike some other poker books I've read that are nearly as big as textbooks but work through fewer hands. Having it be small is useful because, to be entirely honest, I'm not so sure how to really study from it other than by reading the hand histories repeatedly until the appropriate patterns set into your brain; there's not really any numbers to crunch or exercises you can do yourself with a deck of cards or a computer program. There is the quiz at the end, which I'm sure you can take multiple times to check in with yourself about how much you remember.

I will be the first person to tell you that my behavioral observation skills at the table are not always stellar, but I can also vouch that on the occasions I have paid attention and also remembered Zach's advice, it has usually been correct. While this is not a 101-level book, I think players at any skill level will be able to benefit from studying Exploiting Poker Tells and giving some extra attention to the often-overlooked human aspect of the game.

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