Poker tells have always been the Cadillac of reactive actions at the table. Whilst an appreciation of bet sizing is great, sensible bankroll management is vital and health and nutrition can sharpen your edge, reading a live poker tell feels fantastic. For many years, live poker tells were commonplace yet went unidentified, with no genuine authority on the subject.

That was until ten years ago, when Zachary Elwood published the revolutionary book Reading Poker Tells. We spoke to Elwood this week to find out what his feelings are about his celebrated poker book’s lasting popularity and how reading tells has never been harder.

How Reading Poker Tells Was Published

Reading Poker Tells celebrates a decade in print this year. The impact of the book on poker players over the last decade has been immense and across many different styles of poker coming and going, remains relevant. Elwood is proud of the book, and explains that, like many great innovations, it came out of necessity.

“I wrote it because I was disappointed with the other books out there and knew there were some good ideas that I’d never seen discussed in any of the books,” he says. “Especially around how to think about tells and how to categorize the factors; like showing how one behavior will often mean exactly the opposite depending on the factors involved.”

Reading Poker Tells was born out of a lack of such a book in the market, but as Elwood explains, his roots in the subject matter went back a lot further than 2012.

“I was always more interested in the psychological part of the game from a young age,” says Elwood. “Even as a teenager when I’d play poker, I was interested in tells. In college, I set up poker games and took notes on my friends’ behavioral patterns and looked for patterns and what they had to do with aggression or passivity in certain spots.”

Devouring psychology books that sat on his Dad’s bookshelf, and I read a good amount of psychology books, like Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which delves into little behavioral indicators and hidden meanings in everyday life.

An Accidental Career

“It’s the poker boom, surely some big-name player is going to put out a good poker tells book.”

Poker became more than a passing interest to Elwood and he suddenly found himself playing the game for a living. As he explains, it was never a deliberate desire.

“It wasn’t even planned,” he says. “It’s never really been a desire of mine to be a professional poker player, but more just something I fell into, because I knew some serious poker players and the poker boom was going strong at that time, around 2004.”

Elwood played poker as his main source of income for four years before he wondered why there was no authoritative book on poker tells.

“I always found myself thinking, ‘Why don’t I see some of these things I know, and that I’ve talked about with other poker players, in any book about poker tells?’ For years, I kept thinking, ‘It’s the poker boom, so surely some big-name player is going to put out a good poker tells book one of these days.’ Years later, in 2010, when I was only playing poker occasionally, I still hadn’t seen a book I thought was very good, so I decided to work on one.”

The Book That Made History

“It was really cool to see some big-name poker players appreciate it.”

The rest might be history, but it took a huge amount of work to create Reading Poker Tells, which has been hailed by Max Steinberg, another professional poker player to have benefitted from one of poker’s most seminal works.

“Reading Poker Tells is far and away the best book on live reads. I recommend it to everyone.” he said.

High praise indeed. At the core of the book was the fact that each new hand determines a new meaning to similar poker tells, and Amir Lehavot, who came third in the 2013 WSOP Main Event called out that touch of genius.

“What I really loved about your book is the concept that everything is situation-dependent. Your classification of the different situations was very valuable.” He wrote. Elwood himself hoped it would be useful, but admits the success of Reading Poker Tells surprised even him.

“I never had a confident expectation it would be received well,” he says. “I was fully prepared for it to not make much of an impression. So it was really cool to see some big-name poker players appreciate it, and a lot of recreational players like it. I was trying to speak to all audiences, so that was cool. And it’s been translated into eight languages.

Amir Levahot and the WSOP Main Event Final Table

“The big divide can be between books – written or audio – and videos.”

Levahot in particular was an one of Elwood’s biggest supporters. He asked Elwood to look for tells of him and others during that infamous final table that took place over eight years ago.  “The enthusiasm people had about the book and how well it sold influenced me to spend more time thinking about tells, writing the other two books and doing my video series. All that said, I think Reading Poker Tells could be improved a good deal. I wrote it starting in 2010 and my ideas have improved a good amount since then. For example, I think I did a better job explaining some of the same concepts in my last book, Exploiting Poker Tells.”

Elwood’s dedication to the series has now produced three books on poker tells, each of which has become invaluable to thousands upon thousands of poker players over the years. His body of work isn’t constricted to the written page either. Elwood’s complete body of work now exists across books, videos and audio, too.

“I think the big divide can be between books – written or audio – and videos. I think there’s a place for both books and videos. Videos are great for seeing examples of the behaviors. You can read all day about behaviors but it definitely helps to see concrete examples. Videos of real footage are great because often real situations give a chance to talk about the complexity of these situations, like the various other factors involved.”

The Lasting Value of Elwood’s Poker Tells

“Players have watched my videos, and were like, ‘Oh my god, I’m doing that.’”

The written word is, of course, great for communicating concepts, so that’s one way Elwood’s books are so useful. They lay out a theory of how to think about things. As Elwood tells me, the power of books is often is how they give the reader a conceptual framework of how to think about things and how ideas relate to other ideas.

“I’ve had people tell me, ‘I had all your books and didn’t think I’d get anything from the videos but I was wrong; they really helped cement the concepts.’” Says Elwood, which speaks volumes for the power of both mediums. He knows that his books often appeal to recreational players and assesses what most of his readers take from his books.

“I think the main value most players get is learning how to avoid giving off the most obvious tells,” he says. “That is something I’ve had many recreational players tell me: that when they read my books or watched my videos, they were like, “Oh my god, I’m doing that.” That can be a big deal when you’re a recreational player playing a decent player who is making use of those tells on a regular basis.”

Elwood loves poker and believes it to be a ‘fascinating’ game, but also says his advice for players comes from a place of wanting to protect them from another side to the game too.

Zachary Elwood
Zachary Elwood is one of the most famous poker authors in history and his Poker Tells series have inspired countless players to play better over the years.

“Poker is a game you could spend your whole life on and continually improve; it’s got elements of math, and complex game theory, and psychology, and you can focus on different things at different times,” he says. “At the same time, in practice it’s often a predatory game, with a good chunk of people’s profit coming from people with gambling problems, people who simply have no clue how much they are outmatched and in a Dunning-Kruger way, just have no real clue about all the factors that can give someone an edge, or make someone consistently lose money. In that sense, I feel like my book did a service in helping players be aware of some of the unseen edges and maybe get them to be more cognizant of the ways in which they might be the sucker at the table without knowing it.”

Praise for Elwood’s books is far-reaching and covers fans, players and legends of the game alike. Steve Ruddock, a poker player and journalist described Elwood’s second book in glowing terms. “Verbal Poker Tells will change the way you talk,” he said. “Elwood did a lot of research for this book, and my hats off to him for compiling this type of database.”

Elwood doesn’t only write or make audio or visual accompaniments to his work, he speaks in seminars too. The celebrated chess and poker pro Jennifer Shahade said: “The seminar is perfect for group learning because players of all levels can apply various aspects of it. Elwood has clearly put a lot of time into compiling and analyzing his material. I also love how honest he is about the relative importance of deciphering poker tells in an overall poker strategy.”

Thanks to Gamble Online, you can enter our Twitter competition this weekend to win the collected works of Zachary Elwood in the form of his Poker Tells books and videos.

To enter, simply retweet this tweet, like the tweet and follow Gamble Online’s official Twitter page and you’ll go into the draw for one lucky reader win all existing Poker Tells videos (as streaming and downloadable files), access to all future poker tells videos and email notifications when new videos are added or videos are updated. The collection is worth $238, and you can watch more about Zachary Elwood’s revolutionary poker tells videos here.

Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller is a veteran casino writer with decades of experience under his belt. He's played at –and reviewed– countless of online casinos, and has written dozens of casino game guides. His strategy articles, and gambling news updates have been a fixture in the industry since 2004. A native of North Texas, Cliff is a long-suffering Dallas Cowboys fan. He enjoys sports and games of all sorts, including sports betting.

Back To Top
Back To Top