How did November Nine get so good at hiding tells?

November 22, 2011, Chris  

In preparation for the November Nine, I reviewed videos online. There were several unique things about this group. The first was how young they were and how it has become an international event with so many nations represented. Perhaps those are obvious things, but what stood out more was how this group had such few poker tells. How they got this way is a good question. Had they been reading the literature on poker tells, including my writings, or had they figured this out on their own? I don’t know, but I can say, compared to years past, this group seemed to conceal strength and weakness better than most I’ve studied.

If you’re a student of poker tells, take the time to review the videos online or through ESPN and you’ll see what I mean. What will hopefully jump out at you is how still these players hold themselves when engaged. I think this has helped them get where they are because even for an experienced observer like me, they are difficult to dissect.

Notice how Anton Makievsky, Matt Giannetti, Phil Collins and Pius Heinz in particular all hold still. They don’t look, they don’t engage in superfluous conversations or make eye contact. They’re so much different in this regard than older players. They just sit their contemplating their moves, they act, and then they retreat to their various perch positions from which they wait, avoiding eye contact.

As I have written many times before here and elsewhere, the more we talk and move at the table the more we’re prone to reveal information subconsciously. Our lips conceal but our bodies reveal, except of course when we hold still. As I noted in 200 Poker Tells, when we hold still, we can virtually disappear at the table because after a while players stop looking at us because there’s nothing there to reward their efforts. When there’s no conscious or subconscious reward for looking at something or someone, our brain after a while skips that person or object as there’s nothing there to see and we tend to orient toward movement.

But that doesn’t mean these players don’t have tells. Without doubt we see the common ones such as a nose crinkle (something negative), compressed lips (concerns), a twitching of the corner of the lip toward ear (negative thoughts), eyelid flutter (frustrated, worried), nervous hands placing chips (strong), hard swallows (weakness, doubt). Those were all there, but frankly most people would have missed them.

One player stood out because of an interesting behavior that deserves honorable mention. Collins does something rather interesting. He always seems to move at the same slow methodical speed. What that does is dull us into ignoring him because it’s always the same. Most people would have difficulty doing this. He seems to have found his sweet spot by making his moves all the same (strong or weak) and it works. I think there are few people who could do this as well as he does; emotions often drive the speed at which we do things. So he has taken a different tact and it works for him.

As I looked at Heinz I was reminded hoodies have a disadvantage to others especially if you’re sitting next to them. I’m opposed to hoodies because that’s not how the game evolved. They block the view of the face to players on either side, which puts them at a disadvantage over someone in front. I think they should be forbidden. Otherwise, why not put a box over yourself? Why they tolerate this in tournaments is beyond me.

We had an international final table, which brings with it some interesting things. There are cultures (especially from Europe) that stand out because when people are strong and confident they’ll raise their nose and chin (France, Germany, Russia) and when they’re lacking confidence they’ll lower their nose and tuck in their chin. Obviously we don’t always see this, but I have noticed that this shows up every once in a while with these players as a testament to cultural influences in nonverbal communications.

This truly was an exciting event and the November Nine played exceptionally well. Obviously they worked hard to get where they are, in the most democratic of activities where anyone has a chance to win no matter where you are from. My hat’s off to them, but I’m still wondering: Where did they learn to hide their tells so well?

— Joe Navarro is a former FBI special agent and the author of 200 Poker Tells and Read ‘em and Reap, both available on Amazon. For additional information go to joenavarro.net or follow him on twitter: @navarrotells.