21 September 2017

COMMENT: Body Language: How Not to Give the Game Away

Think you’ve got your poker face nailed? What about your eye movements? As it turns out, keeping a straight face isn’t all you need to worry about when you play high strategy games. If you want to up your odds and compete in the big leagues, you need to brush up on body language strategies. In fact, studies have shown that learning to identify certain movements could mean the difference between winning and losing, particularly when it comes to giving the game away and nailing the art of bluffing other players.

So, how do you start controlling all those unconscious movements while simultaneously picking up on your competitors’? 

A study published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found that eye movements, in particular, are a giveaway when it comes to playing blackjack. Researchers from the Colorado College and Emory University observed 58 participants as they played a computerized version of the classic of blackjack and required players to complete mental arithmetic to achieve the card value of 21 as a computer system tracked their eye movements and the sum of the cards. The study revealed that impulsive glances to the right indicate that a player could hold higher-value cards, while a look to the left means that the player is much more likely to be holding lower-value cards. Amateur players who think they have a strong hand also tend to quickly glance at their chips, perhaps subconsciously weighing up how much they could stand to win. While this technique won’t help you to read a competitor wearing sunglasses, if you can remember to control your eyes, it might help you to avoid giving your own hand away next time you hit the casino.

Although the eyes might seem like an obvious way of giving away your hand, did you know that arm and hand movements are equally as revealing? Research has revealed that the arm movements of poker players with a strong hand were much more confident than those with poorer cards. In that study, participants were asked to watch videos of professional poker players and rate their cards based on either their facial or arm movements. The results indicated that judgements based on facial movements were far worse than random guesses, while judgements based on arm movements were significantly better.

This research confirms the theory that controlling your face is only the first step in winning and bluffing in high-strategy tournaments as our body reflexive actions can easily betray what is really going on in our heads. As a result, it’s always important to remember to pay attention to the way you place a bet or throw the dice as you can be sure that other players are paying attention as well. Tossing chips in a nonchalant way may indicate to other players than you have a poor hand and are demonstrating a false display of confidence, so try to maintain a calm and controlled manner with each bet, regardless of your hand.

Posture is also a huge indicator of what kind of hand you or your competitors might be holding. If you notice a player suddenly straightening their backs while playing a hand or placing a bet, it usually means they are feeling a wave of confidence about the move they have made. Additionally, slumping in your chair could let other players know that you have a poor hand or are attempting to bluff confidence, so try to maintain a good posture at all times to avoid giving your game away. The posture technique is also helpful as studies have found that sitting up straight not only affects what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves. A good posture gives you more confidence in your abilities and could end up bagging you the win you’re after.

While this might sound like a lot to be mindful of, once you have full control over your body language, you can start using these strategies to your advantage. Reading other players and controlling your own involuntary signals is one way of winning the game, but using those tells to bluff your competitors will take your game to the next level. It’ll also make you a true master of strategy-based tournaments!

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