FBI man knows tells including poker

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Former FBI agent Joe Navarro has become expert in the art of poker tells. His two books, “What Every Body is Saying” and “200 Poker Tells,” have become favorites of many poker players. His columns in Ante Up magazine are always worth reading.

In the October 2015 issue of Ante Up, his column, “Know the Norm to Know the Tells,” offers some sage advice that is worth further consideration. “Get a baseline of behaviors (as may be related to tells) on all opponents.” What is normal for each when he is not in a hand, and not under stress? (Caution: Don’t try it when your opponent is absorbed in watching the big-screen TV mounted on the wall. The football game can be quite exciting.)

Then, compare this “norm” behavior with changes while he is involved in a hand. That makes good sense. I plan to check it out the next time I go to one of my favorite local casinos.

As an example, Navarro focused on the mouth as a source of tells. Watching poker on TV, you might have noticed how so many pros are wont to cover their mouths while involved in a poker hand. Frankly, I had been under the impression covering the mouth with the hand was a tell indicating the player is bluffing. But Navarro provides a somewhat different point of view: “The mouth,” he says, being “full of nerves and close to the brain, reacts to the world in real time, revealing thoughts and feelings quickly.”

Look at the lips

“When content, the lips are full (suggesting a strong hand); when stressed they compress or disappear.” This could indicate a marginal hand – and, also, a player who might be more easily bluffed out. Now you can use this “mouth tell” against your opponents to help make better decisions during the play of a hand.

And, you might cover your own mouth (as do poker pro Phil Hellmuth and others) so your opponents can’t read you as well. At this point, I am not sure. What do you think? Is it best to cover your mouth – or not?

Hands, too

Another part of the body he calls to our attention is the player’s hands.

“When we’re confident and strong, the thumb tends to stick out. When we’re weak or bluffing, we tend to hide it near the index finger or even underneath the fingers.” I had never thought of this, but certainly will make a point of looking for that tell the next time I play.

And the neck

In my recent book, “The Art of Bluffing”, I did discuss the neck as a possible source for a tell. I cautioned my readers to “avoid touching, stroking or rubbing your neck; that could be a tell when you are bluffing.” And, concomitantly, this tell can help you decide whether your opponent might be trying to bluff you out. As Navarro says, “when we’re troubled, we tend to touch our necks… or massage the flesh around the neck or throat.”

Reverse tells are rarely discussed. They are deliberate “tells” to encourage your opponent to act in your best interests rather than his own. For example, holding a monster hand – better yet, the nuts – you want him to call your bet or raise. Accordingly, you might compress your lips and rub your neck so your opponent is more likely to call you and add to the pot you expect to win.

I have often suggested the use of the Richard B. Reverse Tell to reinforce the Esther Bluff when you are trying to bluff out your opponent. Simply, lean forward in your chair.

As a matter of fact, the Esther Bluff itself is a form of reverse tell. It’s acting in such a way so as to get your message into your opponent’s head that your hand is best so he mucks his hand, leaving the pot to you.

Comments? Send an email to the address below.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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