The Most Important Part of the Body for Poker Tells
Before we start discussing the most important part of the body for poker tells I should make clear that when speaking about nonverbal information 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 we define as information that is deduced from observing a player’s behavior. Behavioral information is not necessarily repeatable or part of a greater behavioral pattern. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend that you watch the video where we look at the 2 types of nonverbal information in more detail.
That being said, when discussing nonverbal information at the poker table, and specifically identifying poker tells, the most important part of the body for poker tells in the majority of poker players is the hands. There are 7 core reasons why this is the case.
The number of tells that are a result of hand interaction significantly outweighs any other part of the body. For example, the way a player plays with his chips and how that speed and style can rapidly change throughout a hand. The speed and style of the way a player bets. A player’s card apex. The time it takes for someone to check his cards. The way a player will use specific gestures or hands movements to reduce or conceal certain emotions. The way a player will place a chip on this cards. How a player holds his cards. The 10-20 different ways a player can hesitate at the table. In the Beyond Tells study, 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. Required for play.
At a table you don’t have to talk, you don’t have to move your face, you don’t have to get up and down. If we are looking for changes and deviations in movement one the best places to find that is in the area of the body that is required to move the most. You have to check your cards, you have to raise, fold. Your hands are the most required element at the poker table.
3. 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.
Things like genuine displays of emotion in the face happen extremely quickly and randomly. You need to be paying attention to the right person, at the right time, and make sure you are focusing on the right part of their face. The timing of when a player uses his hands is way 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. Trying to standardize behavior can backfire.
People are so terrible at standardizing behavior that their attempts sometimes make it easier to pay attention to them. 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 an amazing way to reduce tells. However, if you aren't successful you can make it significantly easier for people to spot deviations in behavior. It’s like when a player tells you that he always puts a chip on his cards to protect them. He doesn’t take into consideration that he places his chip on his cards quicker when he has a strong hand.
6. Recognition and interpretation.
The hands will be way 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 what a specific movement in the upper half of the face meant. Hands are simply 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 watch.
7. Intention and cognitive process.
Because the hands are necessary in order to execute the majority of decisions you make at the table we often see information embedded inside this movement. This is ultimately why the hands are so damn valuable. The information you gain from them is often connected to some sort of thought process. Whether it’s an experienced player who slightly hesitates because he believes he might get more value by betting a smaller amount, or a hesitation from a very inexperienced player who finally gets a big pair and doesn’t want to “mess up.” 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 required so much at the table. Even though you can standardize your movement, so many players will have a difficult time actually implementing standards.