Tone of voice can lead to poker tells

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The tone of her voice can be a great tell.

By carefully listening to your opponent as she speaks, the tone and pitch can give you real clues – information – to help you make the best decisions in your own favor. Alternatively, your own voice tones can reveal information you would rather your opponents were not aware of.

Recently, I learned of the voice-related research conducted by the Torb Pedersen Institute (TPI), a rather unique organization headquartered in Miami Beach, Florida. Its multi-disciplinary team (doctors, psychologists and engineers) has identified and isolated sources of unusual muscular contractions during oral communications that can provide vocal clues – tantamount to tells in the game of poker.

Mike Caro (“The Mad Genius of Poker”), Joe Navarro (former FBI agent), George (“The Engineer”) Epstein, and other poker experts encourage us to look for tells – primarily body language; but, to my knowledge, none has ever suggested vocal clues of the type TPI has studied. Be aware of these so you can better read your opponent; and, concomitantly, you can take precautions to avoid inadvertently revealing information your opponnent can use against you.

Over the past 20 years, TPI founder Torb Pedersen – “the voice guy” – has worked with world leaders and celebrities to improve their vocal health and ability to communicate with others. These include corporate CEOs, members of the White House press corps, major record labels such as Capital Records, and Grammy Award-winning artists such as Gloria Estefan – even the government of China.

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The Principle

Different muscular contractions, it was found, correlated with the individual’s emotional outlook, thereby resulting in changes in vocal pitch, speed, quality, volume or expression. The speaker is unaware these vocal clues (tells) can contradict or distract from their intended message, and, instead, may reveal underlying negative thoughts.

For example, Pedersen worked with a corporate attorney who often ended his statements in a high pitch. Although his words were powerful, his insecurity was being revealed through his unconcious desire to ask a question through his vocal tone.

“As his voice rose, what he was really saying was, ‘Do you approve of this? Is this OK?’…And subconsciously as we listen, we realize he is insecure; so we don’t really trust him, even if we don’t know why.”

Were this to occur during a poker game, this tell could lead to suspecting your opponent is trying to bluff you into mucking your hand. Couple this tell with previous observations of this player. If you have seen her play deceptively before, there is a good chance she is doing it again. Use that information to make the best decision on how to respond to her bet. You might even want to raise her. Bluff out the bluffer!

Pedersen recognizes that, unlike many other forms of non-verbal communiucation – facial expressions, eye contact or body language, “vocal cues can be difficult to identify and manage.” It takes skill and effort; but it could be well worth the sweat.

TPI has identified over 1,200 neuro-muscular reactions to stress, or vocal cues – “1200 Sounds that Prove You’re a Liar.” Here’s its advice that we might apply to avoid giving tells to our poker opponents:

• End a sentence in a high pitch only when you intend to ask a question.

• Avoid speaking in a combination of high and soft tones; it makes you seem guarded (suspicious).

• Think more about your listener than yourself to avoid signs of need from your communication.

• Take care when breathing while speaking: Too fast, shows anxiety; too slow, suggests aggression.

To these, I would add the following:

• Don’t speak while the hand is in play. Then you cannot give a vocal tell. Let your actions speak for you.

• If you seek a vocal tell from your opponent – to better read her hand – calmly ask her a short question, such as, “Could that river card really have helped your hand?”

Listen carefully to her response; the tone may be the tell you need to decide how best to play this hand.

We invite your comments. Email to [email protected].

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