Joe Navarro answers your tells questions


Editor’s note: This is the first installment of Joe Navarro’s letters column. Readers are invited to send him questions regarding nonverbal tells at the poker table at

Do you find there are differences between male and female tells? Who is more likely to put off false tells? — dukegal24

I don’t think anyone knows who will put out more false tells, but consider this: Women universally read men better and we read our own ethnic group better than people of other cultures. I often hear players at the table saying they have trouble reading someone who’s from Vietnam or that they have problems reading women. Each culture masks their behaviors differently and, of course, the more time we spend with people different than us the greater the chance we can read them.

As to the other question, men and women have some different behaviors, based on their bodies and testosterone. For instance, at the table men tend to be more territorial, boastful, aggressive, argumentative and engage in challenging eye gaze behavior. This is all testosterone driven. Men also tend to do behaviors that are more robust such as slapping themselves or grabbing at their necks really heavily. Women tend to be more demure. For example, when women are under stress or are not very confident (weak hand) they will touch the dimple at the bottom of their necks (suprasternal notch) or they will lightly touch their necks. Men will grab at their neck and massage it more vigorously, when they feel weak or insecure. So there are differences, but actually not that many.

I’ve read your books and listened to you on Ante Up (over and over). But I still believe my observational skills are weak. Are there tips someone can use to become a better observer at the tables so they’re more readily able to pick up and process tells? — Dave M.

Keep at it and don’t give up. Reading people is a perishable skill; the more you do the better you’ll become. I have one suggestion: Even if you can’t read others at least make it so that they cannot read you. Conceal, don’t reveal. Notice how Phil Hellmuth has adopted this philosophy, making himself more difficult to read by hiding his face behind his hands. This prevents others from seeing your mouth and your fingers making you difficult to read. This alone can save your bankroll.

How do you know when someone is giving a false tell? — Dead Money

True tells occur in an immediate response to some activity or cue. When someone looks at their hole cards and immediately (less than a fraction of a second) steeples their hands, chances are they have a good hand. The longer time between an activity (flop) and a behavior or tell, the less accurate it will be. Bluff behaviors tend to take longer as players decide on what behaviors they want to falsely display.

— Former FBI counterintelligence officer Joe Navarro specialized in behavioral analysis for 25 years. He is a star lecturer with the WSOP Academy and has penned Read ’Em and Reap, which you can find on