Steve Forte describes how to read tells at card games like blackjack and poker. He also describes how dealers and players can consciously manipulate the tells they seem to give.
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Tips on Dealer Tells

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Playing Dealer Tells

By Steve Forte
(From Blackjack Forum Volume VI #1, March 1986)
© Blackjack Forum 1986

[Last year, Steve forte game me a copy of a 24-page handbook he had authored titled “Advantage Playing: the Ultimate Way to Play Winning Blackjack.”

“It’s not something that I’m selling,” he said. “It’s part of a seminar I’ve put together to teach blackjack players legitimate and powerful methods of beating the game without counting cards. I don’t know if you can get much out of this booklet without the seminar. Most of the topics in here are just sketchy outlines that coincide with the live demonstration I do.”

Within a week, I’d called Steve about the possibility of publishing a section of his handbook. “This chapter on tells is fantastic,” I told him. “I’ve never seen anything like this in print. Playing tells has always been a mystery to me. You’ve got more useable information on this subject in four pages than I knew existed.”

Steve was discouraging. He wasn’t at all satisfied with the material “as is.” “It’s just an outline,” he said. “I’ve got 40 pages of notes that explain that stuff. Maybe I could get my notes into some kind of legible form and send them to you.”

The first typed, single-spaced 22 pages of Steve’s “notes” arrived a couple of months later, with a promise of more to come. Reading this material, I felt that same way I had felt when I’d first seen Steve’s unparalleled Poker Protection - Cheating and the World of Poker books and videotapes on how dealers cheat. This was potent, hitherto secret information that had never before been made available to the general public.

Myths on Playing Dealer Tells

In his treatise on tells, Steve demolishes many of the long-held myths about the arcane subject of tell play.

Myth #1: You can’t be taught to recognize and exploit tells. Finding tells is a natural psychological ability that most people just don’t have.

Steve shatters that myth. “I learned a lot about playing tells from real pros who have been doing it for years,” he told me. “And I developed a lot of this knowledge from my own years of observation. This is a science like anything else. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it.”

Myth #2: Dealers with readable tells are hard to find, so only Vegas or Reno locals, who observe the same dealers day in and day out, can exploit tells.

“That’s just not true,” Steve says. “A good tell player can walk into casinos anywhere in the world, where the dealers check their hole cards, and exploit tells. Tell players create tells in dealers. They don’t wait for them to appear.”

Myth #3: You have to play at high stakes in order to get dealers involved enough so that they’ll exhibit tells.

Not so. Big money and tokes may be important factors in involving a dealer in the outcome of a hand. Steve won’t be the first person to tell you that. But dealers are just human beings. As long as a dealer either likes or dislikes you, he can become involved in your hand. It’s always the person at the table, not just the money, that involves the dealer.

Myth #4: You have to be an outgoing personality type to play tells. If you’re just a quiet, regular player, you’ll never run into sufficient dealer involvement to generate a tell.

Steve destroys that myth with a whole section on “Ghost Tells,” – tells that dealers are already subconsciously exhibiting because of some other player or players at the table. If the dealer is coddling up to some lavish-tipping high roller, or burning up about some obnoxious drunk, you’re liable to find “ghost tells.”

Myth #5: Tells are barely visible, subconscious, unique little quirks that are almost impossible to see.

Fact: tells may be subconsciously generated, but they are far from invisible, nor are they “unique.” Many tells are blatant. Most can be categorized and analyzed. Most players don’t notice even the most obvious tells because tells appear natural. If they were unusual postures or movements, everyone would notice them.

I expect to have the remainder of Steve’s treatise on this subject edited by next month. I’m very proud to present here just a small portion of what Steve has already sent me on this subject. Steve’s comprehensive report on tells, titled Read the Dealer, will be published next month.

If you think tell playing is too esoteric and complicated for you, I suggest you read the following excerpt from Read The Dealer (Blackjack, Cards, Poker) . –Arnold Snyder]

Definition of a Tell

A tell is a form of nonverbal communication. Tells are signs and body signals that tell us something about the person we are observing. You can use the science of body language in many ways to gain an advantage in the game of blackjack.

Tells can be used to detect a pit boss who is suspicious of your play. This could give you the opportunity to “pull up” (leave the casino) and possibly avoid getting backed off or barred. Tells will also let you know when pit supervisors are completely unaware of your presence. This will allow you to get away with bigger bet spreads and more aggressive playing strategies than normal.

You can use the proper body signals and actions to make dealers deal faster and deeper. You can also cause dealers to shuffle up the unfavorable decks if your body signals are strong enough.

The science of body language can even be used to get a player out of a favorable seat: a seat that might allow you a hole card play, a readable warp, or maybe just better position for the count game.

The most profitable way to gain an edge with tells is to read the dealer immediately after he checks his hole card. If you can learn to detect the various dealer body signals, if you can learn how to get a dealer emotionally involved in the game, and if you can understand what motivates a dealer to think and act the way he does, you can scientifically evaluate the strength of the dealer’s hand.

Some of these observations and principles come from playing poker semi-professionally for a number of years. Poker experts Oswald Jacoby, John Fox and Mike Caro have some great material on tells in print. In particular, Mike Caro’s new book, Caro's Book of Poker Tells, is the most detailed book ever written on the subject.

All blackjack players are urged to study these authors, as virtually all the principles explained can be applied to the game of blackjack. Blackjack expert Stanford Wong’s Winning Without Counting and Ian Andersen’s Turning the Tables on Las Vegas both cover the art of playing tells, but they just touch the surface of what is available to the blackjack player.

Most of my ideas on tells were developed while using various advantage techniques that gave me hole card information. Playing warps, playing hole cards, applying key card location techniques and various card cutting ideas put me in a very unique situation. I often knew the dealer’s hole card before the dealer even checked it. I was able to study the dealer’s body signals to see if his actions agreed with or contradicted this information. This is probably the ultimate way to learn to read tells.

The biggest myth about playing tells is that they are difficult to find. Well, I have to agree that tells are extremely difficult to find. But the problem is in this approach: you don’t find good tell games, you CREATE THEM.

Bu causing a dealer to get emotionally involved in the game, you will get reactions. These reactions are the body signals or “tells” that can be read and exploited by the knowledgeable blackjack players.

Tells Come from Emotional Involvement

If the dealer is indifferent to whether you win or lose, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find profitable tells. The key is to force the dealer into rooting for you or against you. He must be on one side or the other; there can be no in between.

Remember, dealing blackjack can be an extremely boring job; probably one of the most monotonous and overrated factory jobs around today. In order to break a dealer out of his trance and his usual stone wall personality, you’ll have to be creative and a little offbeat. Try to do something a little different than a dealer is accustomed to seeing in an eight-hour shift. Let’s take a look at just a few ways to get dealers emotionally involved in the game.

When trying to get a dealer on your side and truly rooting for you to win, try:

1. Compliments on dress, jewelry, dealer ability, etc. Tell the female dealer that the ring or the watch she’s wearing is just like the one you bought your wife or girlfriend and she’s crazy about it.

If you’re playing with an obvious weak dealer who seems to be struggling, compliment him on his game. Tell him it’s nice to play with a good dealer who takes his time, etc.

The best way to compliment a dealer is in the presence of a pit boss, shift boss, or casino manager.

Try lines to the pit supervisor like, “If you had 100 dealers like Jeannie here you’d have the friendliest place in town,” or “I have a bunch of my friends from Minnesota staying across the street but if all the dealers here are like Jeannie, I’ll bring them over tonight.”

2. Let the dealer know up front that if you get lucky he will also get lucky and have the opportunity to earn some money. This gives him a reason to root for you.

3. Ask for advice. Make him feel like he’s the expert. Now he has to root for you or make himself look bad.

I like to take an easy-to-play hand like two 8s or two aces against a small card, turn them face up innocently so the dealer can see the total and ask “Do you split these?”

Although dealers are not supposed to assist players in playing the hands, most dealers will give you some friendly advice to make the correct play. They don’t know what they have in the hole and don’t feel like they’re out of line by helping you.

Naturally, if you win make a bet for the dealer for his “expert advice.” But even if you lose you should make a bet for him and say “Thanks. Anyway, at least I know I played the hand the best way.” You’ve now shown the dealer that his advice will be rewarded. Next time you need a little help in playing a tough hand, make sure the dealer has a ten up.

4. Be a good loser. This may sound crazy but it is by far one of the strongest approaches to get dealers on your side. When a dealer hits a miracle hand with a miracle card break up the tension and make him laugh. Try lines like “Did you ever work with Siegfried and Roy?” or “Keep this up and you won’t get a Christmas card from me this year.” Dealers don’t run into this type of player very often. The majority of players, including card counters, are sore losers. It is quite a relief and pleasure to deal to someone who doesn’t take losing seriously.

Here’s a great way to take a losing session and create a plus and possibly a big edge for your next play. One of my favorite plays is to always keep a couple of $5 checks in one pocket and my session bankrolls in other pockets. After losing the last bet in a session bankroll, search your pockets as if looking for more money but only come out with the two $5 checks. Toss the $10 to the dealer, and tell him, “Well, I guess I blew more than I thought, but if I have to lose all my money I’m glad it was to you. At least I had some fun.” Smile and walk away silently.

It doesn’t make any difference if you have $20,000 on you. Just walk away from the table like you just blew your life savings, then gave the dealer the last $10 to your name.

Later on in the shift, take your jewelry off, open up your tie, and mess up your hair. This gives the appearance of having gone through the worst two hours of your life. Walk up to the same dealer and tell him that you’ve just borrowed some money and put your jewelry up for collateral. But that’s okay because now you have a chance to win enough money to get back home to see your wife and son! You know the little boy, he’s the one that just had the leg amputated. He gets around pretty good though. The rubber leg works just fine.

Yes, I am laying it on a little thick but I want to show you how far this approach can be taken.

You Can Also Get Tells from People who Hate You

Now, let’s take a look at a few ways to get a dealer against you and rooting for you to lose:

1. Complain about the hotel, restaurants, luck, etc. Dealers listen to players complaining all day and can become immune to it. It’s really nothing new to hear a player piss and moan. In order for this approach to work try complaining about things you never hear a negative comment about. Breakfast at the Horseshoe, quite possibly the best breakfast in town, or the buffet at the Nugget, quite possibly the best buffet in town.

If you are lucky enough to get comped into a presidential suite at Caesars, complain about the room décor, etc., even though it hasn’t cost you anything. Always complain about what the casino is most proud of and best known for. Don’t forget to mumble a lot, dealers hate players who are always mumbling.

2. Brag about how good you are. Tell everyone at the table how you won two million dollars last year. You should be betting from $5 to $15 when you make a statement like that. Tell other players how to play their hands. When a poor player would, for example, split tens, tell him, “Good play. About time someone knows how to play around here.”

If you see a player make an insurance bet tell him to take it back. Tell him you have been counting the picture cards and you know for a fact that they’re all gone. Naturally, your count should be about a true 10. On the next hand when picture cards start popping up all over the place, you can expect some strange looks. Not only will you have a dealer trying to beat you, but you’re liable to have three or four players rooting against you, too.

Ignore them and continue to be extremely overconfident. Let everybody know how unbeatable you are and how you beat this same dealer all the time even if you’ve never seen the dealer before.

3. Here are a couple of my favorites: Get change for a toke, then never make a bet for the dealer. This will leave him hanging and wondering why you asked for change in the first place. If you ever get questioned simply say, “That’s how I keep score.”

Try making a bet for the dealer that is small in comparison to your action. If you’re an aggressive green or black check player and start out a session $500-$1000 winners, bet $1 for the dealer. There’s no telling what kind of strange looks you’ll get but one thing is for sure, you will get a reaction as the majority of dealers would consider this toke an insult. ♠

Steve Forte is also the author of Casino Game Protection, Gambling Protection DVDs (3 set), and Poker Protection - Cheating And the World of Poker.

For more information on playing tells, see Book of Tells by Peter Collett.

See the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library for more information on professional blackjack techniques.

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