Why I Would NEVER Write a Poker Tells Book
I get this question a lot. Blake, after your study, why not write a book on poker tells?
The primary reason is the medium.
Books are amazing for stories, insights, and certain educational systems. But when it comes to understanding physical behavior they are a massively inefficient and sometimes a harmful method for learning to read behavior.
There are several reasons why we don’t recommend a book on behavior or write one ourselves.
Seeing a behavior is very different than describing it in words to someone else. How does an author actually explain a behavior?
They can say:
“The player tosses his chip quickly in a careless manner.”
“The player threw a chip in.”
“The player grabbed a chip in 2.3 seconds, thought for 4.3 seconds, and then shoved turn.”
All of these very different sentences are describing the exact same behavior. The discrepancy in interpretation and the absence of a standardized language creates a wide range of problems. When movement is up for interpretation you make yourself open to so many cognitive biases.
Players spend time reading a book, they learn a “tell,” and look for all the instances that support that behavior as a tell when in reality they aren’t even identifying the actual tell the author was trying to describe in the first place.
2. Feedback loops and practice.
A feedback loop is the most effective way to learn to read behavior. You watch a video and you get immediate feedback on the mechanics behind why your read was correct or incorrect. You simply can’t do this in a book. If we are learning to interpret movement, why would we use words when we have access to video? We didn’t do the largest behavioral study on poker players and record hundreds of terabytes of video for the hell of it. The goal was to reinforce those feedback loops and study behavior - so it just makes no sense for us to write a book.
3. Most books on behavior are ultimately built on theory and anecdotal observations.
An author will speak from their experience watching behavior using clips of players from televised events or casual observations. There is absolutely no way to determine if their read has long-term validity.
I cannot tell you the number of times I thought I had a read on a player from a small sample and ended up being wrong. For example I would watch some video and say, “He is definitely throwing his chips out faster when he is on the top of his range,” after seeing this player execute this behavior at least 3 times. Then I would look at the data and realize that this player would do this in practically every post flop spot and it had nothing to with hand strength at all.
There is no real verification or oversight when it comes to the validity of a read in a book. You just have to trust that the author knows what they are talking about which is ultimately dangerous when it comes to reading behavior. Using video and behavioral coding we actually verify the effectiveness of a read. By looking at every single hand a player plays we are able to reduce the bias of “being right” and we are able to stand behind our reads and our logic. This is something that can ONLY be done via video.
I am not saying books can’t help your poker game or you can’t learn to have greater awareness from a poker tell book. I am just saying when you also have video it doesn’t make sense to solely rely on a book when learning to read human behavior. In some ways, I would have much rather written a book. It would have been much quicker and easier, but ultimately, absolutely nowhere as valid or powerful as setting up studies and doing video-based training.
If you want personal experience of how video can completely change your understanding of tells, join The Behavioral Edge, a free 10-day workshop on poker tells.
If you want to learn more about our research or use our data for your own academic project, reach out to us.
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.