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How to Spot a Liar at the Poker Table (and Anywhere Else!)

Warwick Dunnett

Truth be told, liars are everywhere. But nowhere are they more prevalent than at the poker table. You can master the game and learn all the tips and tricks you want, but being able to spot a bluff is one of the greatest skills of a good poker player. In fact, it’s a skill that can translate to other areas of your life as well.

In poker, the ability to read an opponent at the table is a huge advantage. It’s called a “tell” – a subtle but detectable physical reaction or change in behavior or demeanor that gives (or tells) the other players information about your hand.

Many of the best “tells” are apparent in the way people bet, but learning the most common physical tells can also give you a lot of valuable information. To do so, it is very important to constantly watch the players you’re at the table with, as well as monitor your own behavior to make sure you’re not giving anything away.

When people are bluffing, in poker and in most other situations, unless they’re sociopaths, they feel some level of discomfort. It’s your job to sense that discomfort. Physically, there are many ways for that to manifest and if you’re vigilant and observant, you can spot many signs.

The first place to look for signs of discomfort is a person’s face. Start at the forehead and scan down, looking for clues which are new and contrary to their normal behavior.

Facial Clues

1. Forehead furrowed or sweaty

2. Pupil dilation

3. Eyes closed or looking up and to the left or right

4. Rapid eye movement

5. Nostril flare

6. Tight lips

7. Smile

8. Wetting lips, swallowing or gulping

Next, take a look at the person’s hands and body. There are several clues to be found there.

Hand Clues

1) Hands covering or touching the face

2) Rubbing eyes

3) Steepling of fingers

4) Touching hair

5) Tugging at clothes

Body Clues

1) Crossed arms

2) Legs crossed when seated

3) Legs not planted firmly on the ground when sitting

4) Holding an object or gripping an ankle, knee or skin of a crossed leg when seated

Behavior changes can also be a tip-off that someone is lying. The first thing to do is listen.

Voice/Speech Clues

1) Someone who is usually talkative or suddenly quiet

2) Change in speech patterns i.e. speaking more softly or faster than usual

3) Pitch is higher than normal

3) Speaking more forcefully

4) Crackling

5) Verbal or non-verbal sighs

In general, the key to spotting a liar is being observant and noticing changes in their behavior or body language. In poker it involves watching the players even when you’re not involved in the hand. While these are general clues, every situation is unique because everyone is different.

There are also a couple of other things to consider. Some more experienced players will try to fake you out and misguide you by purposely displaying unusual behavior. Luckily, actors are often easy to spot. Then there’s another group of people who exhibit all the signs of discomfort but it’s not because they’re lying, it’s because they’ve got a great hand!

The Poker Face

While some people believe you need to have a poker face to be good at the game that really isn’t the case. You can make all the strange faces you want, as long as you’re consistent in doing so.

A lot of other very useful information comes from the hints a person gives you that have nothing to do with the game, but more about their general personality, job and comments they make at the table. Use all your senses and follow your gut. When everything else is equal, listen to that voice inside your own head, it’s usually right.

Warwick Dunnett is a semi-professional poker player and author of ‘Poker Wizards’. Get free poker tips, audio downloads and insights from the world’s top players at

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Posted in Poker 1 month, 2 weeks ago at 4:55 pm.

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