A poker face requires a calm demeanor, controlled emotions, and consistency in your behavior.
A poker face is a combination of a stoic expression, static body language, and formulaic movements to prevent your opponents from getting information on you.
Improving your poker face means identifying your tells, controlling your emotions, creating a movement routine, and more.
A poker face is more than just the stoic facial expression that hides what you’re really thinking and feeling during a poker game (though this expression can be a huge help). Having a poker face is about maintaining consistent, emotionless behavior to prevent opponents from getting information about your hand and your decisions.
You need to develop a strong, consistent poker face (and all the body language that goes along with it) to become a more successful poker player. That’s because poker is mostly about reading people and making decisions based on information you get for other players’ behavior. It can take years to master your poker face and see consistent results, but there are many steps you can follow to develop a winning poker face.
What Makes a Great Poker Face?
A great poker face is defined by three major tenets:
Calm demeanor: Poker is a very emotional game, even for the most experienced players. Seeing a winning hand manifest in the community cards is one of the best feelings ever, but you have to keep that excitement under wraps at the table. Similarly, watching your stack dwindle as you lose to a slightly better hand can be soul crushing, but you can’t show the impact it’s had on you. You must keep your cool no matter what Lady Luck and your opponents throw at you.
Controlled expressions: As we said, poker is about reading people. When you broadcast your every emotion on your face and in your body language, you let other players know what’s up. Even if you don’t realize it, you probably have tells that show when a hand is going your way, when it’s not, and when you’re trying to bluff. Your poker face allows you to control unconscious expressions that would give away what’s going on in your head.
Consistency: While unpredictability can pay off in a big way at the poker table, being as predictable as possible with your movements, expression, and body language actually benefits you. Returning to the same posture, holding your hands the same way, and stacking your chips in a particular fashion are all key elements of controlling (and preventing) unconscious tells from slipping through and giving it all away.
How To Master Your Poker Face
Let’s dive into some tips and tricks for helping you practice and master the three elements of a killer poker face.
1. Identify Your Tells in Certain Scenarios During a Game
You have to know what your natural reactions are to every possible situation in a poker game, whether it be a negative or positive scenario. That way you understand what your body does on its own and you can focus on counteracting and controlling those reactions to eliminate them completely over time.
Learn what faces you make, how you unconsciously shift your posture or move any part of your body, and whether your body produces uncontrollable signs of stress or excitement. Maybe play a few low-stakes rounds with your buddies or, better yet, in an online poker room where no one can see your reactions. Write down everything you notice about your natural reactions, including:
Fidgeting or ticks
Movements on the face
Shift in posture
Where you tend to look during tense moments
Make sure to put yourself in a variety of poker situations, too. You want to know what your body does when you’re really confident that you’re going to win the hand, when you’re trying to bluff out of a bad hand, or when someone challenges you. Understanding your unconscious reactions to different poker scenarios can help you prepare yourself for remaining stoic when the time comes for real.
Getting the full picture of your tells and reactions can take a few weeks of play, so be patient with yourself.
2. Pay Attention to Overcompensation
As you identify your potential tells and learn to control them, keep an eye on how you counteract your reactions. Are you maintaining a calm, stoic demeanor? Or are you trying to do the opposite of what your body wants to do? The first option is where you want to be, but it can be easy to do the second option to try to throw others off. In many cases, experienced players can see right through you trying to smile when you want to scream or sigh when you want to jump for joy.
3. Study Other Players’ Tells
You might see tells in others that you have, especially those you hadn’t even thought of or recognized in yourself. As you play against your friends or at in-person tables, take notes on your opponents’ tells. Look for body language and expressions like:
Licking the lips
Playing with the chips
Stiffening the upper lip
Wiping the face
Then, review your notes after the game and think about whether you exhibit any of these behaviors and when. Now, you have more information on your own behavior that you can correct.
4. Ask Others To Give Their Insights on Your Tells
Do you play home games? Ask your poker buddies to share what they’ve noticed about your reactions to different scenarios and decisions at the poker table. Since they’re also friends with you, they can compare your reactions at the table to your facial expressions and body language in everyday hangouts, too. Not to mention, they may be more honest than others. This information can help you better develop your poker persona and master your controlled demeanor.
Do you play against experienced players often? Ask other players you see frequently to tell you what they’ve noticed about your demeanor and poker face. Offer to share some insight with them on theirs, too. However, some players may not be willing to give you their insights so they can keep their edge, which is definitely understandable. But you may find some who are willing to help you with your game so they have an even better challenger to face.
You can also ask any players you’ve just met to give their first impressions of you as a player after the game. Thank them for the challenging gameplay, and ask what they thought of your game. Offer to swap insights with them, too. This can help you determine if your poker face training is working.
5. Practice Dissociation
Dissociation occurs when you disconnect yourself from your emotions, thoughts, memories, and surroundings. In terms of mental health, this condition can be involuntary and negatively impact someone’s life. But when you’re able to voluntarily dissociate, you can better focus on the logical aspects of poker and ignore the emotional rollercoaster of the game. Doing so can help you remain in control of your facial expressions and body language, maintaining that calm and controlled baseline.
This takes practice over many games, but you can practice ignoring your emotions during the ups and downs of the game as a start. Meditation may help, too. You can meditate to picture your emotional spirit outside of your body and embrace the emotional separation as practice.
6. Focus on the Fashion
Your poker face is also about the clothes and accessories you wear to help you hide tells, protect your gameplay, and establish your table persona. Here are some fashion items you might consider as you develop your poker face:
Sunglasses: You’ll often see poker players, both amateur and experienced, wear sunglasses during games to protect their eye movements from others. This accessory is great if you are still struggling with controlling where your eyes go or if you’re just not an eye contact person.
Hats: Many poker pros and beginners alike don a cap, and it can serve many purposes — a conversation-starting fashion statement, a symbol of a poker persona, or a tool to hide eyebrow movements. Consider a baseball cap, cowboy hat, or even a fedora. Note that beanies are more for keeping your head warm and won’t do much to help shield the brows.
Attire: Wear clothes that match your table persona. Be careful not to overdress or underdress based on the casino’s or poker room’s dress code. But also, don’t overdress to try to throw people off as many players can see right through fancy clothes.
7. Determine How and When You’ll Speak
Speech play can be an effective tool for keeping a poker face while also trying to get into your opponents’ heads. But it’s a personal preference based on your poker persona and the strength of your focus. You might do better at focusing and dissociating if you only talk when you need to call out your actions, or you might be able to cultivate a table persona with effective small talk.
Talking too much can have you accidentally giving away too much information or even distract you from the game, something another player can easily exploit. Talking too little may have you coming off cold, which may be to your benefit or a huge tell for experienced players sussing out amateurs.
8. Develop a Routine for Each Stage of the Game
The best way to maintain consistency is to develop and stick to a routine at every stage of a hand. What is your sitting posture? When do you check your cards? How do you protect your cards? Where do you place your hands in between bets? How do you reach for your chips? How do you place your chips when you bet or raise? How do you stack your chips? Do you play with your chips? These are all questions you’ll need to answer before you hit the table with your new and improved poker face.
Pros like Chris Ferguson swear by having a movement routine where you do the exact same thing after the deal, after the flop, after the turn, and after the river. Formulaic, robotic movement is the key to preserving your stoic behavior and body language, thus preventing you from slipping up and revealing your cards (so to speak).
You will build up muscle memory over time as you consistently follow your movement routine. But you can even time yourself completing your actions to identify the most comfortable timeframe for making each action and developing that muscle memory to a T. Practice each action at your own table to hit your marks, like putting your cards in the same location, tossing your chips the same way in the same location, etc.
9. Practice in the Mirror
It might seem silly, but practice your movement routine in the mirror. Watch yourself make each move, and then correct yourself or adjust to have the most stoic and formulaic movement possible. Your routine should be a blend of what feels most comfortable to you and what is most convenient for you to nail correctly each time.
You should also practice your actual poker face and practice maintaining it. Pinpoint the muscles that control those unconscious movements, like your eyebrows and your nostrils. Focus on trying to control the movements, that way you can counteract any unconscious movements that occur. Also, look at your sitting posture to make sure you’re giving off the right vibe for your persona. Watch your face as you call out actions (i.e. calling or raising).
Bring yourself back to those moments of winning a big pot, losing miserably, or stressing about going all-in so you can maintain control and distance those feelings at the same time.
10. Study Body Language
Brush up on your body language knowledge by reading books and watching videos on the topic. You can better identify tells you may be giving away and learn what it takes to really fool a practiced observer.
Books like What Every Body Is Saying and The Dictionary of Body Language by Joe Navarro, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, can help you understand the different conscious and unconscious movements our bodies make in stressful or exciting situations, including lying. The same goes for videos from YouTube channel Observe, which breaks down all sorts of subtle body language in a variety of scenarios, like celebrity apology videos (where lots of bluffing takes place).
If you’re looking for poker-specific body language study, then watch battles between poker pros that you can find online. Study the likes of Phil Helmuth (a notable sunglasses-wearer), Phil Ivey (stone-cold expression), and Daniel Negreanu (who often dissects his and others’ poker hands on his YouTube channel).
Coming Up With an Online Poker Face
Now, it doesn’t matter what your face does or how you sit when you play online poker. But you can still develop an online poker face that is stoic and consistent:
Make decisions within the same general time frame: Be consistent with your timing. Don’t take too long on big decisions as that could give you away to eagle-eyed players. Don’t decide too fast, or you risk coming off as over-eager (which could reveal your hand to others) or even as a poker bot.
Develop a persona for the chat room: Be yourself, be a version of yourself, or be someone completely different. Just be consistent on what you say and how you say it. Don’t start trying to get into someone’s head in the chat. Or, don’t talk in chat at all and just focus on the game. You can always read the chat to glean information without participating.
Choose your profile name carefully: Your username can show off your poker personality. Something on the nose, like PokerPro89, could have other players not take you seriously, which could be in your favor or it could have you be the laughing stock of the community. You might consider not putting birthday information if you include numbers as giving away your age may be giving away too much info.
Pick a profile photo wisely, too: Photos of yourself may be too personal for an online poker site, but that’s up to you. If you do include a photo of yourself, consider taking a snapshot of what you’d look like at an in-person table in the same clothes and with the same poker face expression. You could always keep the default icon to remain a total mystery.
Practice Your Poker Face at an Online Casino
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