Poker Tells – Lesson #6 – Posture and Engagement

 

A player’s posture and silhouette can tell you a lot about them and about their hand. Let’s break that into two parts. What is their mental state? How do they feel about their hand.

How Are They Feeling?

It’s very tough to cover up everything. That is why we are able to pick up tells, even on experienced players. It is particularly taxing to control your entire body at all times, which means that we can almost always get a read on how our opponents are generally feeling. Posture is very tough to fake for more than a few minutes because it requires unflagging concentration while being uncomfortable.

A player’s posture can tell us whether they are engaged in the game or busy thinking about something else. It can tell us if they are excited or bored. When assessing an opponent’s baseline posture, ask yourself how they are feeling, what they are thinking, and what those things mean. Get a feel for how they are sitting and how they are feeling. This will make it easier to determine changes in their posture later when you are in a hand together.

Signs of Engagement

  • Leaning forward
  • Elbows on the rail
  • Watching flops they aren’t in
  • Asking “What did you have in that hand?”
  • Thinking about each decision
  • Jacket off, sleeves rolled up, etc
  • Sitting up tall
  • Head moving to watch the action even after they fold

Signs of Disengagement

  • Leaning back
  • Sitting back away from the table
  • Wearing a hood or headphones
  • Eating
  • Non-poker conversations
  • Arms crossed
  • Looking around the room
  • Watching TV
  • Not knowing when it’s their turn
  • Yawning
  • Eyes partially closed

Using these indicators, you can determine whether any opponent is engaged in the game. Once you know whether they are interested and paying attention, you will have a much better feel for their game, even if their posture doesn’t change when they are in a hand, but rest assured – it will.

Posture is much like breathing. We don’t pay attention to it until we think someone is watching. And as soon as we pay attention, we start trying to look natural. Especially when we have a monster hand or are running a big bluff. If your opponent looks legitimately comfortable, they probably are. If they look nervous, that is probably accurate too. While some players fake tells, posture tells are tough to fake and make it look believable.

One bit of posture I’ve always found interesting is hand protection. If a player is protecting their hand preflop before it’s their turn, they often have a big hand and are afraid that it could be mucked before they have a chance to play it. With players who look at their hands right away, typically a sign of engagement, they will often protect their hands only if they want to play the hand.

Exercises

If you want to get better at reading posture and engagement, there are two easy exercises. First, walk around the card room and assess how engaged each player is. Think about what kind of behavior you expect from each player and why. What makes you think they are feeling a certain way. With a little practice, reading an opponent’s posture will become second nature and you will get used to taking a baseline reading on each player at your table while you play.

Second, do the same with your opponents all night at a poker table. How much do they care about the game and how many hands do you think they will be playing? Are they excited to see flops, or are they bored and waiting for a hand to wake them up?

As with any piece of body language, this skill will develop gradually. If you put in just a little work and try to pay attention to posture for a week or two, taking note of your opponent’s posture will become second nature.

I find posture reading to be most useful in tournaments. When you move to a new table it is a big help to be able to get a feel for how each of your opponents are feeling right away. Your opponent’s posture can be the difference between a fold and an all-in reraise once you get a good feel for reading their body language.

As with any poker tell or appearance read, I highly recommend Blue Shark Optics to insure that you don’t tip them off to the fact that they are being watched.

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