Saturday, 22 March 2008

Body language, tells and a list of fish

I've been wanting to make a post about this topic for a long time and finally have some time to do it so here goes.

Since I got into playing poker live I have become a bit of a student of body language and trying to read people.

This is something that I find fascinating and have read a few books, some on body language, others on neurolinguistic programming and others more directly associated with poker like Hellmuth's Read 'em and reap and of course Caro's book of tells.

I find some of the techniques, even with my limited experience of reading people at the poker table, very helpful.

I have mentioned before that I have noticed some very specific tells on people that, given the right situation, could be very profitable.

A couple of the more significant tells I have picked up on include:

One player who used to blink whenever his cards hit on the flop

A few players (including one who played on the original series of late night poker) who have specific ways of putting their chips in when he is bluffing

Another couple of players who bet with one hand when strong and the other when bluffing

That very thin lipped smile when someone is bluffing

One tell that I even noticed myself doing once when holding a big pair pre flop that involved betting then immediately taking a drink.

What I find very surprising is that, of all the people I have played against live, I have only ever come across 3 or 4 people who have looked at me when the flop is being dealt.

There is a huge amount of information given off when the flop is being dealt that most people do not see.

I've lost count of the number of times I have seen someone visibly flinch or twitch when they have hit a set on the flop and I only play once a week live.

So there is a lot of information available for an astute reader of body language (which I am only scratching at the surface of)

I've been a fan of Derren Brown for a long time and one of the most interesting parts of his act centres on his ability to read body language and other unconscious behaviour.

So this Christmas I received a copy of Derren Brown's book "trick of the mind" which I have just read.

It has it's moments of uninteresting sections and at the same time there are some quite funny parts too including a very funny observation regarding the Braille signs he saw next to each fish tank describing the fish in the London Aquarium.

This made him wonder what blind people would get out of visiting an aquarium other than the opportunity to read a "list of fish".

However, he also has a very interesting section about body language.

In one of his shows a couple of years ago "Trick or Treat" that you can see here

he teaches a Granny about reading body language and, from what they show on the program, she makes some good reads - although they wouldn't show her making bad reads - and she actually cashes in a 6 player SNG that had Neil Channing, Paul Parker, Anthony Holden, and a couple of other players.

So it all confirms to me how important being able to read people's body language.

I think it is a very important part of the game that I intend to keep focussing on in order to try to improve.

I just wish I could have been a fly on the wall during that documentary to hear more about the techniques that he mentions in the book.

I do think that practice/experience is also very important and unfortunately they don't sell them on Amazon!


  1. Sounds like you've done your homework. However, don't forget the most important tell, betting patterns. Chris Ferguson was once asked about the live success of some of the online players, and he reckoned it was because they were used to focusing on just that one crucial tell.

  2. Totally agree with you, you have to put everything together and even if you get it right it doesn't always work out.

    I've made reads in the past when someone has made a bet, I've asked them about the bet and got a read that they didn't want the call.

    I've disappointed them by calling only to find out that my read was was right, they didn't want the call... unfortunately that was because they had top set but were scared I would out draw them if the flush came!

    I've also folded 2 pair when the opponent was very confident he was ahead only to find out that he was confident because he had an overpair to the board!

  3. Thanks for sharing, really like your view. Waiting for some more great articles like this from you in the coming days.