May 14, 2015
Many professional poker players attribute their success at the tables to having complete control of their body language and facial expressions. Players never want to let opponents know what they’re thinking, so they employ a variety of techniques to throw off other players. Here are some tips from the experts about maintaining a poker face – which, incidentally, can be as useful in business and in life as it is in poker!
Unless you’re relaxed, your behavior is going to be a dead giveaway to intuitive opponents at the table. It all starts with getting, and staying, calm – a matter of deep breathing, eliminating worries from your brain, and telling yourself it’s only a game. Get relaxed before you even sit down at the table, because doing so is more challenging in the heat and tension of a game.
When you have a poker face, you’re not happy, you’re not sad – you’re neutral, and your facial expression communicates nothing but mystery. When you win, you’re not elated and cheering. When you lose, you’re not miserable and angry. The key to a poker face is lack of emotion, positive or negative.
Too much talking at the poker table is a sure sign of nervousness – and of an amateur. And nothing communicates that you’re insecure about your poker hand than incessant small-talk. Let a cryptic smile, a sidelong glance, or a gleam in your eye do your talking for you, and – even if this is your first time at the rodeo – keep your childlike enthusiasm in the bottom drawer.
The same way that too much talking signals insecurity, unconscious body tics and nervous gestures are giveaways, too. Drumming your fingers on the table, biting your nails, fidgeting in your seat, scratching your nose are all red flags to anyone watching you from across the table. Remember, a talent for keeping your opponents guessing about what you’re thinking and feeling is a key strategy in poker.
The way popular YouTube® poker expert Nick Brancato puts it, poker players should strive to “minimize the amount of behavioral information they’re giving off.” One way to do this, he says, is to have routines that you stick to, and to not vary them. For example, if your habit is to look at your cards as soon as they’re dealt, always do that. If your custom is to wait until it’s your turn to play before you glance at your cards, stick to that. Varying your behavior is always a tipoff that something is up – and it’s a clue you don’t want opponents to have.
Avoiding meeting someone’s eyes telegraphs secrecy, and the desire to hide. A necessary part of a poker face is nonchalance, and connecting with someone eye-to-eye when talking to them is desirable. Meeting someone’s gaze is primal and positive, kind of a law of the jungle – looking nervously down or away gives them a kind of control or dominance over you, something you never want to happen in poker.
Having a poker face implies a level of sophistication – not only about playing, but about winning and losing. When you win, smile warmly and don’t gloat. And should you lose – and we all do, occasionally – be sportsmanlike and congratulatory.
Even for the experts, it sometimes isn’t easy to maintain a poker face in the excitement and occasional high-stakes of a great card game – and that’s true regardless of whether you’re “up” or “down.” But the successful reining-in of emotions, be they exhilaration or disappointment, is crucial if you’re to maintain the sophisticated demeanor necessary to really triumph at the poker table – in style.