Ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro answers your poker tells questions

July 24, 2012, Chris  

In my home game, someone told me I often sniffed when I had a big hand. I don’t know if they were fooling with me, but what can be done about subconscious tells like this? — Danny Yang, via email

You aren’t the only one that does that. A lot of people when they are nervous or excited find themselves touching their nose or sniffing.
Excitement causes the hairs inside the nose to move and that tickling sensation causes us to touch or sniff. Keep in mind other people do this when they’re nervous or stressed so make sure you get a good baseline on them.

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During a recent tournament, I suddenly realized I was shaking my leg. The Navarro Perch helps cover upper body tells when you’re engaged in a hand, but what can you recommend for minimizing tells of the lower body? Is there an exercise, and can you explain what shaking legs may mean at the table? — Peter Weiss, via email

Peter, invariably our bodies reveal what we think or feel, even when we have a poker face. Our brains react to the world around us in real time. Many times we’re forced to hide what we know, what we think we know or what we’re feeling, and this is especially true in poker. Realizing you have the best hand at the table compels you to remain facially solemn; what you may not realize is your leg is bouncing up and down, like a sewing machine in excitement at having the nuts. This up-and-down movement, what I’ve called “happy feet” over the years, leaks out what we’re feeling and thinking.

Most people don’t even realize they’re doing this unless someone tells them. I tell players to look at other players who all of a sudden find themselves bouncing that leg up and down.

Usually you see it in the shirt or the shoulder as it too vibrates. If it suddenly occurs and the person has been slow-playing, chances are they’re sitting on a monster hand and they’re calming themselves.
As I noted in 200 Poker Tells, all repetitive behaviors soothe or pacify, so if they’re doing it, you have to wonder if it’s because they’re up against the ropes or because they have a monster hand. Chances are it’s the latter.

— Joe Navarro is a former FBI agent and author of What Every Body is Saying and 200 Poker Tells. Follow him on Twitter at @navarrotells.