Body language is a part of nonverbal language. It includes things like stance, gestures, facial expressions, and even small things that are barely perceptible like a brief shrug of the shoulder or nod of the head. We frequently communicate both bodily and verbally and an estimated 70% of what we communicate may be nonverbal. There have been hundreds of books on body language but not many in poker. So this is a small attempt to put information that I have learnt while learning to read people at a poker table.
I started by straight away applying the basic body language reads to a poker table like when a person leans in; it is sign of confidence, hence it translated that the player most likely has good cards.
Another classic example is when a person rubs his hands after seeing his cards; this is sign that he is so excited to see the card that he can’t wait to play their cards.
In short, a poker table is much like real world scenarios like class room, office, college, etc. When a player at a poker table gives away body language information, it is called a tell. So reading a player for tells is crucial for poker player’s game. Below is the order in which I read people at a poker table:
1. Feet and Legs (Most reliable)
2. Arms and Hands
5. Pacifying Behaviours (Least Reliable)
This is the most honest part of the body and can give loads of information. Most people while reading a person start from the top and scan towards the bottom. But believe me the other way round works much better and is far more reliable. Most people go to great lengths to hide what is on their faces but rarely do they focus on their legs. Legs carry so much information that it is relied upon by most pros and ignored by most amateurs in poker. Below are some of the common tells that you can spot at a poker table: * If a person has pointed his feet forward and after he receives his cards turns it away, it is clear sign of disengagement and he no longer wants to be involved in the hand. * If a person is constantly wiggling and bouncing his legs and then suddenly stops and pays attention, this is a sign that the person is about to bluff.
* If a person’s feet go from flat to raised position – resting feet flat to raised heels/toes forward means that the person is ready to act. * When a person interlocks his feet, this is sign of nervousness. This means that the person is holding weak or marginal cards. * A variation of the above is after a person bets (a big bet) he wraps his legs around the legs of the chairs or table, it may suggest that he is bluffing. They are restraining themselves because they think other will detect his bluff. * When a player moves his feet positioned in front of his chair to under the chair indicates signs of weakness or bluffing.
Let’s Get Our Hands Dirty
Hands are an intimate part of poker. They are constantly moving and interacting with the chips and cards on the table, and sometimes even with players. Hands can reveal a lot of information. * Interlacing fingers behind the head is a very strong sign that the player is confident. So if you deciding to bluff don’t try it on this player. * When a player does a hand steeple, this is also another high confidence tell. * Interlacing of fingers and hand wringing is a sign of low confidence. * When a person looks at his cards and his hands tremble or reaching for chips and his hands are trembling, is a sign that he has great cards or as in poker we call it monsters. His hands got scared of the monster!
Lips Don’t Lie
Mouth are a great reading tool for tells in poker but as you come from the feet to the face, the tells get that much less reliable because players will be a lot more conscious of their tells when it comes to their face. The tells listed below are some of the classic tells in poker however one should tread cautiously when one is applying in a real game. * When a person smiles pulling his lips and there is no movement around his eyes is a classic tell of dishonesty (fake smile). Remember it is very difficult to pull off a full smile when you are unhappy so when you see a full smile with the corners of the eyes involved you can be sure he is honest about his representations on the table. * When a person presses his lips together is an indicator of high stress and low confidence.
* Nail biting is another sign of low confidence. * Lip biting is a good indicator of stress and concern. * A subtle tell of lips are lip withdrawal; they indicate that stress is settling in slowly. * Lip licking and biting of objects like pen or chips are signs of pacifying when there is concern. * Tongue jetting out is another tell which indicates that the player got away with something.
Eyes Are the Windows to the Soul
Eyes are very good barometer of our feelings because we have very little control over them. I rely on eyes as an indicator often in my game. Here are some fool proof tells that I have used before: * When a player blocks his eyes either by closing his lids or blocking it with his fingers or palm or object, it is a sign that he does not want to see what’s coming. * This tell might take some used to getting used to but watching the eyes for dilation or constriction is 100% method to get the information out of your opponent. Remember when we like something our eyes dilate and when we don’t like something it constricts. So if a player is dissatisfied with his cards, his pupils will constrict.
* Squinting of eyes indicate high concern.
* Lowering of eyebrows is a sign of low confidence.
* Arching of eyebrows is a good indication of positive feelings.
These are the least reliable because most of the pacifying behaviours are just indicators of soothing oneself or discomfort at the maximum. Pacifying behaviours are done by players who are bluffing or players who are not. Hence, it must not be used in isolation and using them with other tells is the right way to go. * Touching the neck in the front and the back, exhaling through puffed cheeks and touching the face, forehead rubbing and earlobe pulling, air ventilating to the neck are good signs distress and pacifying.
* Women will check the dimple on the neck when they are highly stressed or are fearful. Playing with a necklace or any neck jewelry is indicative of the same. Men will adjust their tie knots.
Common Mistakes while Reading People
1. Not establishing baselines
This is the most common mistake people do while reading people. Baselines are crucial in the field of body language. A person who usually bites his nails or bites his lips on a poker table will probably do the same, hence, must not be mistaken for weak hand or stress setting or low confidence. Hence, before reading any person a baseline must be established.
2. Reading tells in isolation
Another mistake people do reading tells in isolation. You cannot expect a tell to occur in a person nor can you read a tell in isolation like biting lips. It should be congruent with what’s happening on the table and in reaction to what others are doing. In other words, you must ask yourself what was the motivation behind him giving away a particular tell.
3. Reading is not an exact science
One of the essential skills in poker is reading your opponent but there are other aspects to the game like game theory, probability which has to be taken to account. Reading should always be used as one of your tools in making your decisions at a poker table.
1. Body Language: How to Read Others Thoughts by Their Gestures. Allan
Pease. 1988. Sheldon Press 2. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-body-language.htm
3. Body Language. Julius Fast (1971). Pocket Books.
4. Unmasking the Face: A Guide to recognizing emotions from Facial Expressions. Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Freisen (2003). 5. Secret of No Limit Holdem: An ultimate guide to all-in texas hold’em poker. Howard Lederer. 6. Read’em and Reap: A Career FBI Agent’s Guide to Decoding Poker Tells. Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins.