Here’s a lip-smacking good poker column

April 02, 2015, Joe Navarro  

It has been a while since I last wrote about the lips and the mouth so here is a quick synopsis for those who are new to this column or as a reminder to those that follow me here and on Twitter (@navarrotells).

Let’s start with the one we see most often and I talked about in my book, What Every Body is Saying: Lip-biting.

We bite our lips, believe it or not, because we can’t suck our thumbs anymore. When we’re stressed we tend to bit our lips more often, this stimulates the nerves and soothes us. You’ll notice when a tough decision at the table needs to be made there’s a lot of lip-biting. But notice the player who suddenly on fifth street bites his lip. Most likely he missed his chance at a hoped-for combination, most likely he’s weak.
Of all the lip behaviors, lip-pursing has to be one of the most accurate tells.

When genuinely observed, in other words they aren’t doing it for your benefit to mislead you, it’s about 75 percent accurate that the player doesn’t like his situation and will most likely fold or if he’s pot-committed he’s weak. This is especially accurate after the flop or if the lips are pursed dramatically to the side as the community cards are unveiled.

The following behavior involves the lips but it’s really within the realm more so of the mouth. The behavior is what we call a Cathartic Exhale and that involves a slow exhale where the mouth looks like it will whistle with puffed cheeks but the person merely lets out air over a long period. We, by the way, usually do this behavior when we almost hit the car in front of us. A player in a weak situation often does this behavior unknowingly telegraphing to others that he’s going to fold or if he’s committed, he’s doing so against his will because he’s marginal or weak.

Then there’s lip-touching. When we’re stressed or focused, we’ll touch our lips, pull on them, tap on them or even lick them repeatedly. It helps us deal with everyday stress and of all the tells this is the weakest one because almost everyone does it and some repeatedly. However, every once in a while you’ll see someone who rarely does these things, do them, and it means a lot more.

So there you are, a recap of tells of the lips. Always remember get a baseline on your opponent to see what is normal for them so you can decide when these behaviors are more likely to mean they’re weak or marginal.

— Joe Navarro is a former FBI Special Agent and is the author of What Every BODY is Saying and 200 Poker Tells. He writes about poker tells exclusively for Ante Up Magazine.