Poker Tells – Lesson #4 – Shades, Hats and Never Seeing the Flop Again

In Chapter 3 we mentioned wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses. These things are so important when you are playing bigger games or higher buy-in tournaments that failing to do at least one of them puts you at a significant disadvantage. While many players believe they don’t give anything away, this is just due to the overconfidence and hubris that are so common in the poker world. Even if you believe you aren’t giving anything away, or that your opponents aren’t smart enough to pick up anything, you should be wearing shades or a hat because concealment is not the primary reason we wear them.

The real reason for wearing sunglasses at the table is not to cover your tells, it’s to prevent your opponent’s from knowing where you are looking. People behave differently when they are being watched, and you want to see their natural reactions. Watching your opponent’s every move while you appear to be looking at the flop and waiting for them to act can yield a tremendous advantage, especially against weak or inexperienced players.

Wearing shades also prevents inexperienced players from seeing what you are doing and starting to study players themselves. If a new player sees you winning often and starts to watch what you are doing, they will realize that you are watching your opponents instead of watching the flop and they will start to do the same thing. They will also start to behave very carefully when they are in a hand with you. Let them think that you wear the shades to cover your eyes to avoid giving away tells and they will go right on doing whatever they have been doing, giving you information every hand.

So while many players think glasses that conceal your eyes are simply armor to prevent giving away tells, the truth is that the shades are a weapon, allowing you to pick up many more tells than you would otherwise.  This is an important difference.

The first thing that is helpful about wearing a baseball hat is that blocking light coming in from above can increase your vision by up to 10%. If you want to test this, shine a flashlight into your eyes from the side and back up from this web page until you can no longer read the words. Then turn off the flashlight and you will be able to read it again. Light coming in from the edge of the eye is distracting and could cause you to miss a tiny eye tic on an opponent across the table or a slight pursing of the lips that gives away his hand.

If you aren’t wearing shades, then a baseball hat serves another purpose too. You can drop your head to cover your eyes with the brim of the hat any time you need to, and can also watch other player’s hands, feet, neck, mouth or anything other than their eyes without fear of being noticed. Just make sure that you can’t see their eyes. As a general rule, if you can’t see their eyes then they can’t see yours. And just like wearing shades, be careful of where your head is pointed because that will be where people assume you are looking. It doesn’t take long to develop your ability to cover up nearly everything you are watching by using a baseball hat.

And speaking of where you are looking, let’s talk about where you should be looking in order to spot tells. Or in this case, where you shouldn’t be looking. You should never watch the flop as it is revealed. Never.

If you want to improve your people reading skills and start spotting some of the tells that we mention later in the book, you need to make a commitment now. You need to stop watching cards hit the table. You need to chastise yourself every time you watch the flop revealed or see a river card fall. You need to wait to look at your cards and watch each of your opponents look at their cards and sneak a look at yours whenever you can. You need to let go of your desire to see the board cards as soon as possible and be happy with the knowledge that the flop will still be there in five seconds, but your opponent’s initial reaction will be gone forever.

Watching your opponents as they see their hole cards or see the flop revealed is important because there is a large group of tells that are only visible for a fraction of a second. I call these “reflex tells” because they come from a part of the brain that we have very little control over and most players have no idea that they have these tells. If they realize they have done something, it is immediately corrected when the conscious brain takes over. We’ll cover these tells later, but for now it is important to know they exist so that you are watching your opponents instead of watching the flop. Remember, the flop will be there for you in a second, but their reaction will be gone and you may have missed some valuable information.

When the flop falls, if you are wearing Blue Sharks, you can simply point your head at the flop but point your eyes at your opponent and you will often see a reaction to the flop. This is the most common time to spot a tell and it will be the time that makes you the most money. Even very strong players often have brief reflex tells when they hit or miss a flop, turn, or river. Reflex tells are even more powerful in Stud games where you can see the card, as well as their reaction to it, and you get more chances to spot reflex tells.

If you aren’t wearing shades, you can make do with a baseball cap as we discussed above. In the absence of any way to conceal your eyes, you have to be sneaky. While it’s not the perfect solution, you may be surprised at how easy it is to watch your opponents without them noticing. Lucky for those of us who pay attention, most players just want to see the cards, they are eager to see what will happen with their hand and they will be staring at the flop as it falls. In many lower limit games it’s possible to have six players see a flop and have none of them notice that you are watching them. They will be so absorbed with watching the flop that unless you make it painfully obvious, they will never know they are being watched.

The best choice in these cases is to look at the cards in the dealer’s hand right until he is about to flip them over and spread them out. When the flop is about to be revealed, you can leave your head in the same spot and move your eyes over to your opponent. After you see his or her reaction you can look at the flop yourself. If you keep your head pointed at the flop, your opponent’s peripheral vision will never pick up the fact that you are looking at them and they will behave naturally and give you lots of information.

It helps to play a game with yourself. Did they like the flop or hate it? What are they thinking? How did their face and body language change? What does that mean? In a significant number of players, you will find tells in that first fraction of a second and over time you will get better at knowing what they mean.

Occasionally you will look up to watch a player watching the flop and they will be staring back at you. This will almost always indicate that you have run into a strong player and you should be aware that they will be watching you and that they have probably pegged you as a strong player as well.

So remember. From now on. You don’t watch the flop happen. Fish watch the flop happen. Sharks watch the fish for a reaction and then look at the flop to see what the fish was so excited about. Then they eat the fish. Because that’s what sharks do. Sharks watch fish. Fish watch flops.

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