Pitting fatigue against tells at the poker table

December 31, 2014, Joe Navarro  

How does fatigue affect tells? It’s a significant question because most people aren’t aware of how much information they’re revealing when they aren’t fatigued. Even when they have a good poker face they blow it by revealing their strength somewhere else on the body. So here is the lowdown:

Unequivocally stress and fatigue, as well as alcohol and drugs, affect tells. They affect how well we can perceive and conceal them.

Our motor skills suffer significantly when we are fatigued or under the influence of alcohol. We know this from 80-plus years of studies conducted on pilots. Not only do we become sloppy, knocking over chips, not covering hole cards, we also do a poor job of observation.

Serious players must treat the body and mind like an athlete treats his mind and body. Many pros work on their mental and physical health, treating their body and mind as an enterprise.

You have to exercise and eat well. You have to train yourself to endure long hours of play where you will make thousands of decisions and observations. You have to train to deal with all the factors associated with major events (noise, close quarters, obnoxious people, emotions, fears and apprehensions, personal or heath-related issues, etc.). It’s not easy to concentrate when your wife is about to give birth or your bankroll is on the line.

Because stress and fatigue wear you out mentally, you may think physically you’re fine, but your face is easier to read and prone to leak information, especially around the eyes and mouth. Your shoulders and neck also will reveal more information.

So what can you do? Stay strong, stay healthy and eat normally so your blood sugar isn’t all over the place. This isn’t vacation; you can’t go on a food binge to comfort yourself because it affects so many of your body systems you need.

Get up from the table often and walk around the room or casino. Humans weren’t designed for sitting but rather walking. Physiologists call the calf muscle a “second heart.” By walking around, you release pooled blood from your lower legs and it helps to get rid of lactic acid build-up, which causes the shakes after stress.
Rotate your neck and shoulders and drink lots of water. Out West you need to drink 40 percent more water each day than on the humid East Coast.

In the end, your well-being is a huge factor when it comes to playing poker. Poker is about the brain operating at its maximum, being able to observe, think and react. And that’s something on which you can bank.

— 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.