Joe Navarro answers your questions: April 2009


Readers are invited to send Joe their questions regarding nonverbal tells to and we’ll print the best letters.

I noticed the other day that I was shaking my leg as the cards were being dealt to me during one hand. I never shake my leg, but at this particular moment I became conscious of it. I stopped it right away. But since these things sometimes happen subconsciously, is there a mental checklist you suggest to be sure physical tells stay at the forefront of my consciousness and therefore can be eliminated? — Jack in Tampa

Jack, while playing, go through a mental checklist and ask yourself: What are they reading on me? The less you move and the more you block the mouth area the less there is to read. If you have noticed, Phil Hellmuth has adopted a technique from my book for concealing behaviors (elbows on table, hands up to the mouth, thumbs hidden under the chin). If you can perch yourself like this for a few minutes, this will ensure you’re revealing nothing. It’s a good way to calm down and to assess for leg movements. Try it out.

I attended one of your World Series of Poker academies and someone asked you how do we differentiate what the tells mean. In other words, if someone is nervous, how do we know if he’s nervous because he’s bluffing or if he has a monster hand? I think your answer was along the lines of, “Well, then you have to know your player.” But that isn’t always easy to do. Can you expound on your original answer? — Elizabeth from Pompano Beach

Elizabeth, there is probably nothing harder than human behavior to decipher because we are all influenced by so much and so yours is a great question. People can become excited (aroused) from something positive or something negative. Usually what we see is that when it’s something negative, there may be something like the chest heaves up and down. We see this with criminals who get caught, but then this is attended to by a lot of pacifying behaviors. When we are excited in a positive way, we tend to see a lot of indicators of that excitement (opening of eyes, nose flares, etc.). Then you have players who are shaking when they have a monster hand and others who shake when they are bluffing. All I can tell you is this: You have to get to know your players, because this is not exact. If it were, it would be easy.

I recently heard on the Ante Up PokerCast an interview with Mike Caro, who wrote the original book on poker tells. He said he hadn’t had the chance to read your book. Have you read his book? And if so, what is the biggest difference in the books? I’m thinking of buying one. Thanks! — Jose in Miami

Jose, I would definitely buy Mike Caro’s book. I think he has a lot of good information from a player’s perspective. My book took a scientific approach and looked at the research that had been done in the past 20 years on how the brain works and how it processes information such as a rag or monster hand. I also combined it with my work in the FBI catching spies. My book was not intended to replace Caro’s book, which can never be replaced. My work is merely a contribution to the literature on the subject of tells. I would say buy them both, and buy them used if you have a limited budget or check them out at the library for free. I read his book after I wrote my book and I think it is still a classic, definitely worth reading.

— Ex-FBI counterintelligence officer Joe Navarro of Tampa specialized in behavioral analysis for 25 years. He’s star lecturer with the WSOP Academy and has penned Read ’Em and Reap, which you can find on Email Joe at and he’ll answer your questions.