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Zach Elwood: Why Psych Experts Get Poker Tells All Wrong

Elwood’s ebook Looking through Poker Tells has been the discuss of the sector with the likes of Kathy Liebert, Max Steinberg and Mason Malmuth heaping praise on the e-book. 

While most textbooks in the previous five a long time have been devoted to the math aspect of the match, Elwood has revitalized the tells style with his sensible tips for studying opponents.

In a particular guest put up Elwood breaks down what psychology authorities like Joe Navarro get mistaken about poker tells.

By Zachary Elwood

How men and women act when actively playing poker is distinct from how they act throughout other pursuits.

I have observed numerous so-known as “body language experts” consider to use their basic information to poker. Except if these professionals have played a whole lot of poker, they are doomed to make mistakes. Poker is a special atmosphere, with unique circumstances.


You may inquire, “What about felony interrogation?” You may say that criminals are equivalent to bluffers, simply because they are making an attempt to cover one thing and do not want to be found.

You might argue that Joe Navarro was an FBI agent and that he wrote a well-acknowledged ebook on poker tells, so there must be some similarities in between these two spheres.

Confident, some information will cross above among felony interrogations and poker actively playing. There are some similarities in human behavior throughout rather significantly each and every exercise. But there are also several distinctions in these two locations.

There are numerous approaches that a very good knowing of basic human actions can are unsuccessful at the poker table.

I will use examples from the poker tells book Study ‘Em And Reap (composed by Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins, presented by Phil Hellmuth) since I consider that book consists of some of the most typical misconceptions that consequence from trying to utilize basic behavioral expertise to poker players.

Is Poker Similar to a Criminal Interrogation?

Read em and reap

Read ‘Em and Reap

Let’s begin with the misconception that a felony interrogation has much in typical with a poker sport.

You may well consider that a bluffer may possibly be similar to a guilty felony who is getting investigated. Equally are carrying out some thing they are striving to get away with each are attempting to deceive.

But here’s the principal distinction: a person becoming interrogated, whether or not harmless or guilty, does not thoughts appearing anxious, frightened, or unconfident. In truth, it could be to a guilty person’s reward to look all of these things, to greater seem innocent.

Whilst a poker player who is bluffing has an instinctual urge to not want to seem anxious, afraid, or unconfident. A bluffer, or even just someone with a vulnerable hand, does not want to show actions that might make other folks understand him as susceptible or weak.

That is the main difference, and it is a big a single. Someone seasoned in interrogating criminals may possibly suppose that human feelings show up in the same way in poker as they do in the interrogation space. But poker is its possess particular environment, with its personal policies.

Let us look at a couple of illustrations from Go through ‘Em and Enjoy in which this simple misunderstanding crops up.

Pressed Lips and Biting Lips

Mike Caro

The original poker tell master Mike Caro

Navarro states that lips pressed limited collectively show a man or woman below anxiety, as does biting the lip. While this is typically correct for most non-poker conditions, in poker you are seldom likely to see a person making their discomfort recognized in such a way, and you are especially unlikely to uncover a bluffer doing this.

In fact, in my ebook Studying Poker Tells I outlined pressed-collectively lips as an indicator of a powerful hand. Numerous gamers with strong arms instinctually try to appear weak pressing lips with each other is 1 way to do this. Biting lips is another.

These are related to other (mostly unconscious) methods that gamers with robust arms try out to look vulnerable, like slumping in the seat, emitting Mike Caro’s so-named “poker clack” (the tsk-tsk, “too bad” audio), or shaking the head marginally.

Whilst you may at times see pressed lips or lip-biting exhibited in truth, it will typically be in situations in which it does not issue much, this sort of as when a participant seems to be down at their gap cards pre-flop and then folds, or when a participant is experiencing a very last guess where they are just debating amongst calling or folding.

Biting Nails

Patrik Antonius

Have not observed Patrik Antonius bite his nails. Yet.

Navarro factors out that biting nails is indicative of tension, and that it signifies “a weak to mediocre hand.”

Again, although this is typically accurate for non-poker scenarios, you will be not likely to see a particular person involved in a serious pot, regardless of whether bluffing or just vulnerable, bite their nails.

As with the pressed lips and the biting of lips, most individuals are normally conscious that biting your nails is indicative of stress, so why would somebody with a susceptible hand do it? (Also, it created me surprise what kind of degenerates Navarro was playing with that he was observing this behavior frequently.)

Pacifying Actions

Navarro lists a couple of “pacifying behaviors” that are indicators of a particular person encountering stress.

These self-soothing behaviors incorporate: rubbing the neck, rubbing the brow, exhaling via puffed cheeks, stroking the encounter, pulling the earlobe, whistling, and neck air flow (such as altering a neck tie).

As with the prior behaviors, it is straightforward to picture a anxious criminal getting interrogated undertaking these things in purchase to relaxed himself, but it’s quite challenging to locate a pressured poker player, specially a bluffer, performing these factors.

This is just since these behaviors are so nicely-recognized as indicators of distress, so poker gamers with even the slightest knowledge will instinctively stay away from partaking in them when they hold weak palms. In fact, the reverse is real gamers with robust hands will be far more very likely to engage in behaviors that are related with nervousness or disappointment.

Summary: Poker is a Distinctive Atmosphere

It is attainable that in very reduced stakes game titles, and with really rookie-stage poker gamers, the anxious and self-soothing behaviors shown earlier mentioned might be exhibited in truth. But at most stakes, and with even marginally knowledgeable players, you will be unlikely to witness individuals behaviors from players with weak hands.

Phil Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth

I’m really self-assured that if you scour the a lot of countless numbers of hrs of televised poker available on the internet, you will practically by no means uncover these behaviors from a bluffer or even from a player who is susceptible in the center of a hand.

I consider Navarro’s misconceptions of basic poker conduct are a great illustration of what transpires when somebody with a first rate amount of behavioral experience attempts to “cross over” his expertise to the poker globe.

Navarro was presently the creator of a basic conduct ebook called What Every single Physique Is Expressing prior to he satisfied Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke, teamed up with a ghostwriter, and produced Study ‘Em and Enjoy.

It was probably assumed that his qualifications as an FBI agent and as the author of a entire body language guide, coupled with some advice in poker lingo from Marvin Karlins and some advertising from Phil Hellmuth’s name, would permit Navarro to produce the definitive e-book on poker actions.

But the couple of details I have brought up listed here are very good supporting arguments for the thought that the poker table is a exclusive surroundings, with its personal behavioral strain factors, and it defies the application of basic behavioral understanding.

To discover a lot more head to the Reading Poker Tells website or just purchase the guide right from Amazon.

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