For years now, amateur and professional poker players alike have worked hard to discover their ‘tells’ and eliminate or disguise them. A ‘tell’ is a reaction that is visible to other poker players that reveals whether the player has a decent hand or not. A tell may be obvious, like a nervous tic or drumming one’s fingers on the table. It may be something more subtle, like a shift in body posture or a wrinkling of the brow.
The best poker players are able to pick up on these various signals and then use them to their advantage. As a result, many players have started wearing hats, hoodies and even sunglasses to try to hide these unconscious signals. One example of this is Irish-born native Phil Laak who earned the nickname ‘The Unabomber’ after appearing at poker tournaments wearing a hoodie and sunglasses.
All of this camouflage may be for naught, according to research recently conducted by Tufts University in the US. The research revealed that players arm movements as they deposit chips into the pot are a more consistent gauge of whether or not players have a good hand. Players with a good hand were judged to have much smoother hand and arm movements than players with bad hands.
During the study, participants were asked to watch videos of poker players and decide whether the player had a good or bad hand by observing the smoothness of arm and hand movements as they placed their bets and raises. At other times, the participants based their conclusions solely upon facial expressions. The results of the study revealed that the participants were able to pick out more bad hands based upon arm movements than when they based their decision on facial expressions.
As a result, the best advice for poker players may be to work harder on developing a ‘poker arm’ than working on their ‘poker face.’ In any case, it’s worthwhile for poker players in general to study their opponents’ arm movements when they place a bet, as it may result in an advantage at the poker table.
And isn’t that what poker is all about?