I’m at a bar in Alaska, nursing an eight-dollar screwdriver, when the bartender asks if she can change the tv channel. I’ve been absorbed in picking apart my cardboard coaster so, no, I don’t mind.
She surfs through the channels, skipping Fox News and a fishing show, till she finds what she wants: a live broadcast of a poker game.
I know less than nothing about poker. How many cards do you get? How much are those little plastic coin things worth? Why is it fun to watch a bunch of dudes play cards?
I pick at my coaster and half-listen while the announcer says “Now, that’s a common tell. We’ll have to see how this plays out.”
And my former English teacher ears perk up because TELL IS NOT A NOUN WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???
So I do what anyone in 2017 does: I google “poker tell.”
In poker parlance, a ‘tell’ is “a change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that is claimed by some to give clues to that player’s assessment of their hand. A player gains an advantage if they observe and understand the meaning of another player’s tell, particularly if the tell is unconscious and reliable.”
There are huge listicles and even entire books devoted to spotting these tells. Experts have written thousands of words about unconscious behavior changes that belie someone’s belief about their state of mind.
I thought about the ‘tells’ in my own life, the things I unconsciously do when I’m tired, frustrated, or unhappy.