Editor’s note: This is Joe Navarro’s letters column. Readers are invited to send the Tampa resident their questions regarding nonverbal tells at the poker table at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll print the best letters.
Once you determine a player has a “thing” such as a facial movement, a hand gesture or something, is there usually an opposite movement that mirrors that? At a game about a year ago one player, whenever he hit on the flop, would sit back in his chair and not really pay attention to fourth or fifth street. He’d quickly glance at the board and then resume his reclined position. However, at the next game when he hit something big his leg went into a twitch that just about broke the foundation of the house.
Most of us have default behaviors that indicate stress, fear, concern, insecurity or a need to calm down or pacify. If you find a player who shows distress by a quick squint, chances are that will be repeated often, as it is idiosyncratic for that individual. Not likely that there will be a mirroring behavior but rather there may be other behaviors that are consistent with, say, distress, such as furrowing of the forehead, and so as a cluster of behaviors they add greater value to your observations. Leaning back, lacing hands behind the head or taking up space is a sign of confidence, as is pretending you don’t care. Happy feet are a sign of contentment, usually with a monster hand. I still see people saying they can’t see the feet when they sit across the table. They have not read my book carefully. You don’t see the feet unless you’re next to them. But you may see the vibrating shirt or shoulder, both signs of a good hand if it suddenly happens, especially after the flop.
I’d like to know more about rate of eye blinking: standard vs. bluffing. — Pat B.
We know scientifically that when we are stressed we tend to blink more. Richard Nixon’s rate would go from 9 to 60 and Monica Lewinsky’s paramour would go from 12 to 82 at times, especially during depositions. But that is all; it’s indicative of stress not bluffing. That stress may be from being tired, worried about how many chips they have or the hand that has been dealt. Be very careful with blink rate because most people have difficulty with putting it to good use. I’ve seen players increase their blink rate when they have a monster hand and are worried no one will commit to the pot, as well as bluffers whose efforts may soon come to an end. Rather than blink rate look for squinting; it’s far more accurate in revealing when we don’t like something, including our hand.
— Former FBI counterintelligence officer Joe Navarro of Tampa specialized in behavioral analysis for 25 years. He is star lecturer with the WSOP Academy and has penned Read ’Em and Reap, which you can find on Amazon.com.