I never had an interest in gambling until I moved to Vegas. I was living in the suburbs of Chicago and working as a kitchen manager of a downtown restaurant. I never had time to socialize since work seemed to take up all my time. I was usually too tired from the long days of managing the restaurant. My wife and I were in the process of building a house in a brand new development. After our house was built, we made the decision to moved to Vegas. The timing was perfect, there was a housing boom in full force at the time and we bought our 2nd home at a great price. I moved out ahead of my wife for the purpose of finding work in the restaurant business. She was a registered nurse and was guaranteed work at a very nice hospital. Everything was good, or so I thought. Still unable to find a job at that point, we both eventually settled in our new home in Vegas and sold our house in Chicago and then divorced. I was single and jobless. I went through a few meaningless jobs before I landed a job dealing poker at Binion's Horseshoe during The World Series of Poker. I had a natural love for the game and was intrigued by the math involved in poker. My fascination with being able to get good "reads" on people led me on a pursuit to learn all I could about body language and the math behind poker.
I have always had an interest in understanding people. I studied psychology at Middle Tennessee State University in the early 90's. I have spent the last 11 years studying body language and facial expressions to better understand peoples' personalities. It has led me down a completely different path than I had anticipated. My aim is no longer to improve my poker game but to use research and studies to help myself and others understand personality.
Poker was originally played by groups of guys getting together for a "friendly" game of cards. Games were held in inconspicuous back rooms, dimly lit, where going "all in" could cost you more than the money on the table. There was always the threat of being raided by police, mugged by gunmen or both. It wasn't until Benny Binion moved poker to the gambling mecca now known as Las Vegas to legitimize what we know as poker. However, today's poker is an entirely different game. From excessive numbers of players to accessibility to information found on the Internet about the game and new and improved methods of play, finding the advantages in poker are becoming scarce.
There are three basic ingredients when it comes to playing poker effectively. The first is understanding the numbers behind poker, in other words knowing poker math. Next, is the ability to read someone's body language. And the third is understanding a person's personality. In this article, I am hoping to show you how these three interact with one another and how you can improve your ability to read others.
The first part to learning poker is the math skills. If you are saying to yourself that you are not good at math, that's ok. With a little logic and common sense, you can understand the fundamentals. Just understand that the math never changes. The statistical chance of drawing a specific card has, is, and always will be a 20 per cent chance. The basic are the percentages or probability of making your hand. For example, when I was playing consistently, I would look for certain percentages of my hole cards (Texas hold em) before I would get up from the game and try my luck at another table. I know that I should see a pocket pair once every sixteen hands, suited cards once every three to four hands, and suited connectors once every forty-six hands. The big statistic that saves me a lot of money is the issue with pocket jacks. I always thought this was a strong hand, however I learned that when holding pocket jacks, my percentages of a higher card coming on the flop are greater than my chance of getting pocket jacks! Lesson: don't play jacks to strong, you end up a long-term loser. An advanced skill to keep in mind is your expected value. Without going into too much detail about it, it is basically what you expect to get from a given betting session, and armed with this value, helps make your decisions. It's a little tricky and should be reserved for when you move up the poker ladder to then next level of game. For now just focus on the basic percentages. Don't get ahead of yourself. Get the basics down. It wont take you long. It took me about a week to understand the basics, then I was off to the races. Once I had an understanding of basic percentages and EV (expected value) I was still hungry for more. I felt like something was still missing from my game. I found that in my ability to read body language.
The next ingredient is the ability to read someone's body language. The skills you learn here can help you in every aspect of your life. As I continue my research and study in body language, I am still in awe of how this information is not valued enough to be taught in schools. The basic premise to body language is never, and I mean never, take a single body language and make a judgment on just that one trait. Some guys say if you really want to know what someone is going to do on a poker table look at their feet. At their feet? Come on, when I am sitting at a poker table, the last thing I am going to is say, "your all in, can you wait a second, I have to look under the table at your feet and then I can make my decision. " no, I'm afraid this isn't what would happen at a poker table. And it defies our basic rule to take gestures in isolation. The key to body language is to take body language in context. If someone has their arms crossed, it usually means they are being defensive. However, if they are sitting under the air conditioner vent and its 60 degrees in the poker room, it could mean they are cold, not being defensive. This is the best advice I can give you when it comes to reading someones body language. Once you become familiar with the putting body language expressions together in a meaningful way, the more advanced stage is to focus on the face and facial expression. There are more nerve connections between the brain and the face than any other part of the body. The poker face is expressionless, motionless but full of information if you know what you are looking for. There is a lot to facial expressions, too much to cover in this article, but what i can tell you is that your game will drastically improve once you start studying the face and all that it has to offer. Once again stick with the basics, learn to read overall body language, then move to more detailed information in the face.
Once we put these first two together, we have almost completed our poker game. The third and last ingredient is understanding the personality of a person. Poker, at a basic level, is a game about cards. You play cards, you look at cards, and understand the cards. As you progress and step up your game to higher levels, poker becomes a game of observing and understanding people. The cards don't matter as much. Naturally, the best hand wins in a game of poker, but learning the skills to understand body language (in particular, facial expressions) and the type of personalities you are dealing with, is truly what the game of poker is about. It is very important to be able to tell if a person is lying to you. The greatest gift you can have is the ability to not only make good statistical decision, and read their body language, but to baseline the person's personality by what you see and hear at the table. Personality is composed of five key elements. One, the level of intellect. Two, their temperament. Third, their skill level. Fourth, a person's morality. And finally, number five, their attitude. To function highly on all five takes a rather unique individual. And everyone swings on a pendulum from high to low in each area. But knowing this is half the battle. Knowing how to apply this information is the other half. Once you are able to make intelligent decisions based on personality, with enough practiced, can make you unstoppable at any level of play.
These are the three basic ingredients when it comes to playing poker effectively. In this article, my hope was to show you how these three build upon one another and how you can improve your ability to read others and improve your game. First off, learn the math, it wont ever change. It is the foundation to build upon to be good at playing poker at the beginning levels. Next, learn body language skills, emphasize the facial expressions and context. Learn how the facial muscles react to stress and how wrinkles form based on the long-term use of certain muscles. And finally, read someone's personality traits by how they behave at the table, how skillful they are at playing, their level of intelligence and temperament.
By doing these things and becoming a life long student of the game, you should not expect to stay at whatever level you are at. You can improve you poker game and see amazing returns when these principles are applied. A word of caution, once you head down this path, you will see everything in a new light and understand human nature better. Your new found abilities may just lead you into directions you may not expect!
I will end this article with a true, real story. In 2004 I was full-fledged studying, reading body language, and profiling personalities everywhere I went. (I am sorry to those poor clerks at the Smith's on Flamingo). It was new to me then and it seemed as though I could read people at a different, higher level. I could predict how they were going to react based on the things I said and did. It was time to take a chance at the poker table. I had 140 dollars in my checking account and withdrew the money to try my hand at applying this to poker. I played for 31 hours straight, applied all that I had learned at that point and presto, it worked like a charm. I cashed out over 30 times my investment (over 100 dollars per hour) and was able to take home enough money to cover my bills for that month. With the little extra I had, I bought into a satellite at the Mirage a few days later. The WPT kicked off their season that year at the Mirage, so I wanted to test my new strategies at the next level. It was about 200 dollars for the satellite. I won it. Entered another, won it. Entered another, won it. In no time, I won enough money to cover the super satellite into main event that year. They were giving 37 seats that year and I think there were 355 satellite entrants. When they announced we had made to 37, I was about 15th in chips. A ten thousand dollar seat was mine, with only a two hundred-dollar investment. I sold the seat at a very reasonable discount to a friend and didn't play the main event. I took some time off to get better at my skills, and here I am, eight years later. Do I regret not playing? Sometimes. I think about what could have been. But in reality, the matter is I have not looked back on the decision to take a break in regret, and who knows, when the timing is right, you may see me at a final table of a main event someday.