The Most Important Part of the Body for Poker Tells
First I would like to stress that this video discusses the most important body part for POKER TELLS. This distinction is important because when speaking about behavior at the poker table I am referring to two types of information.
The first type is a “poker tell,” which we define as a behavior that is correlated with a specific piece of information.
The second type is “behavioral information” which is simply information that is deduced from observing a player’s behavior. It is not necessarily repeatable or part of a greater behavioral pattern.
There is a major misconception about using behavior at the table: players are often too concerned with establishing patterns before using reads. Sometimes behaviors create a narrative that is so powerful that you don’t actually have to establish that a behavior is a pattern before using it.
That being said, when it comes to identifying reliable patterns in players, the most important part of the body is the hands. The follow seven points explain why.
1. There is a huge amount of behavioral information in the hands.
The number of tells that are a result of hand movement significantly outweigh any other part of the body. For example, the speed and style of chip shuffling, which can rapidly change throughout a hand; the speed and style of the way a player bets; a player’s card apex; how a player holds their cards or puts a chip on their cards; the time it takes for someone to check their cards; the smoothness of hand movements during a player’s actions or decision time; the many different ways a player can hesitate at the table; the level of tension; and the way a player will use specific gestures or hands movements to reduce or conceal certain emotions all provide valuable insights into a player’s mental state and thought process.
In the Beyond Tells studies, a majority of the poker tells we found were a result of paying attention to hands. There are players where just focusing on hands alone and nothing else can provide you with amazing insight into hand strength.
2. Hand movements are required.
At a table you don’t have to talk, you don’t have to move your face, you don’t have to get up or change your position. If we are looking for changes and deviations in movement, one the best places to find them is in the area of the body that is required to move the most. You have to check your cards. You have to take actions. Your hands are the most required element of movement at the poker table.
3. Hands can’t be concealed.
You can put glasses on your eyes, cover your face, wear a scarf to cover your neck, but when it comes to hands you can’t hide the movement. Your hands have to be used in order to actually play the game.
4. The timing of hand movement is predictable.
Other pieces of information, like genuine displays of emotion in the face, can happen so quickly and be over in less than a second. In these situations you need to be paying attention to the right person, at the right time, and focusing on the right part of their face. The timing of a player using their hands is much more predictable and ultimately easier to isolate. A player can slightly gesture or move forward and then you can start to pay attention to that individual.
5. True standardization is too difficult for most players.
People are so terrible at standardizing behavior that their attempts sometimes make them easier to read. For example, a player pulls back their cards, checks them, and holds them in a specific way, not realizing that there is a slight difference in distance when hands are strong versus marginal. The standardization of behavior is something a lot of players get wrong, it’s not easy and often the process they use makes it significantly easier for people to spot deviations in behavior. For example, a player may always put a chip on their cards, but won’t realize that they place the chip faster when they have a strong hand.
6. Ease of recognition and interpretation.
The hands will be much easier to interpret than other parts of the body. For example, without any in depth training, a player would have an easier time spotting changes in the way a player bets or check their cards as opposed to decoding the meaning of a specific movement in the upper half of the face. Hands are less complicated than other regions of the body. In 2013 a study by Micheal Slepian touched upon this issue when he had participants decode poker hand quality from minimal visual information, and also found the hands were the most effective area to pay attention to.
7. Embedded information on intention and cognitive process.
Because the hands are necessary in order to execute the majority of decisions you will need to make at the table, we often see information embedded inside this movement. This is ultimately why the hands are so valuable. The information is often connected to some sort of thought process. The information will still require interpretation based on context, but whether you have an experienced player who slightly hesitates because they believe they might get more value by betting a smaller amount, or a very inexperienced player who hesitates because he finally gets a big pair and doesn’t want to “mess up,” the behavioral information in the hands during an action or a decision can almost narrate a player’s thoughts. When behaviors are connected to a thought process, it makes interpretation more accurate at the table.
The hands are so important not only because of the fact that you can find so many patterns embedded in the movement, but also because it is a part of the body that is difficult to standardize or conceal, and they are fundamentally linked to our most important actions at the table.
If you want to make this all practical and show you how to read hands at the table, check out The Behavioral Edge workshop.
Reach out if you have any questions.
Me! The guy writing this and the person you see in all of the videos. My entire professional life has gravitated around three things: Poker, Psychology, and Nonverbal Behavior. Below are some of the reasons I am uniquely qualified to discuss poker and tells.
I am the Founder of the Behavioral Research company The Nonverbal Group
I am the Founder of School of Cards and have been coaching poker for close to a decade.
I was an Adjunct Psychology Professor at the City University of New York.
Beyond Tells has several components but it’s essentially divided into two big pursuits, Training and Research.
It’s the largest ongoing behavioral study of poker players.
It’s the most comprehensive training on poker tells ever created.