You know how it is with any major or even minor competition, especially in the sporting world. Pre-game conversation revolves around the reputations of the players on the field. Videos of past games are studied, the likelihood of opposing players reacting in a certain way is discussed, tactics to counteract certain players’ skills are decided upon. When competing in an event, getting the measure of your opponent is key.
Being aware of the opposing player’s skills and tactics at the poker table is essential, but gaining this awareness can take some skill on your own part. For the poker player, the techniques are deep within his brain and a lot more difficult to measure than the weight of a rugby pack or a soccer player’s shooting ability. And more so when you take the bluffing element of poker into account.
But your opponent’s techniques and strategy for the game can be accessed by becoming familiar with body language. A twitch in the eye, the movement of facial features, a hand movement can all lead you to understand what your opponent is feeling and help you to second guess their next move. But it takes a while to learn to read body language as effectively as Allan and Barbara Pease.
Coupled with the difficulty of reading your opponent’s body language, is the fact that if they may also be a skilled player, and may well have studied the same material as you have, and mastered the art of camouflaging his feelings.
So where to start then? By studying people around you in everyday situations. Test yourself in the supermarket. Select a fellow customer. Can you decide what he or she is going to purchase before they reach for it on the shelf? What do the contents of their shopping basket tell you about them? Watch at the checkout as they present their card for payment. Are they confident they have sufficient funds for the purchase or are they waiting for the dreaded “declined”?
Allow paying attention to other peoples’ reactions become part of your everyday routine. But you can begin this study closer to home, in your own house. At the risk of appearing vain, allow the mirror become your best friend. Make a note of how you appear at different points and you will very quickly learn to read the signs. Does your mouth curve downwards or upwards at a certain point? When you are annoyed or frustrated how do you use your hands? Twitch or clench your fingers maybe? Reading your bank statement can you detect a facial tic, a frown between the eyebrows? An old friend comes to visit, does your face light up with delight in the hall mirror?
If you can read your own body language then you are well on the way to reading an opponent’s. But you need to be careful here. The person across from you at the poker table will be very aware of how his body language can be read and will be attempting to disguise it. Time to go back to the mirror. If you are annoyed can you change your expression to disguise that? Can you force a smile when you least feel like it and get that downturned mouth to lift upwards? By experimenting on yourself you should be able to get an understanding of how your competitor is feeling and the course he is likely to follow.
For the poker player the game is about more than learning how to play the cards. It is also about learning how to read people while at the same time learning to hide your own feelings at the table.