When you’re playing a Texas Hold’em tournament, you’ll constantly be in situations where people are trying to read you and what kind of cards you might have. They’ll be looking at how you hold your cards, what you say, where your eyes look, and any facial expressions. The more experienced the players are at your table, the more likely it is that someone will figure out what your strategy is, just by looking at you. Here are some ways to throw them off.
1. Wear Sunglasses
You see this in the World Series of Poker a lot, though not as much in smaller games. If you wear sunglasses, people can’t see where you’re looking, period. This also cuts out part of your face, so it’s harder to read your facial expressions. If you want to go for an even better effect, wear sunglasses with mirror lenses. This may not be tolerated at some casinos because it is very distracting to be looking at a reflection of yourself nonstop during a poker game. However, this is simply because the tactic works.
2. Wear a Hooded Sweatshirt or Baggy Clothes
The benefit of wearing baggier clothing is that your body language is harder to read. The tighter your clothes are, the more obvious it will be if your shoulders clench up or if your neck tightens during a hand. Also, if you have short sleeves, it will be apparent if you are nervous and clutching the cards too hard, because your bicep and forearm will be taut. The less of yourself you show, the less clues you’re giving about tension in your body.
Having a hood on makes things even easier, though it will be obvious what you’re trying to do. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. If people think you’re a paranoid freak at the table, this could throw them off and get them a bit off their game.
3. Intentionally Look at the “Wrong Card”
When you’re staring down four cards on the Turn, everyone at the table is wondering which one you’re looking at. Let’s say you’ve got two queens, and there’s one Queen on the table. If you’re focusing on that Queen, there’s a good chance that someone might pick up what’s going on, either consciously or unconsciously. However, if you stare very intently at the 7 card, then this will make people confused about what you’re doing. Their intuition will tell them you’re holding out for another 7 on the River, and this will cause them to play differently.
4. Imply Your Betting Strategy is Different from How It Is
When you are up to bet or check, a good way to throw people off is to stack some chips in a way that implies you’re thinking of betting a significant amount. Do this on hands where you know you will fold. Look like you’re thinking about the hand for a few seconds, with chips ready to go, and then just “suddenly decide” to fold at the last second. When you play this way, people will have a much harder time being able to tell what your true betting strategy is.
5. Meditate Before the Tournament
The more relaxed you are when you come to the poker game, the less likely you are to emotionally and physically react over your luck at the table. Meditating for twenty minutes before you drive to the game will help you both make better decisions and keep from revealing what’s going on inside your head. You’ll get much more out of this practice if you make meditation a daily practice instead of something you do right before a tournament. I want to advise you that you do not get the same effect from relaxant drugs or alcohol. Sometimes these can help, but there are way too many side effects to consider.
6. Start Meaningless Conversational Topics
Anything that will take the attention off you will help prevent people from figuring out your poker strategy. In past articles we’ve said to avoid small talk, because it can distract you from your game. However, once you are comfortable enough with your playing, you can use this as a tool to distract other players.
Talking about politics is a cheap tactic that can do serious damage on someone’s focus. If you’re playing in a redneck bar in Kentucky, a good bomb to drop might be, “I heard Obama is going to tax poker players extra in his new bill. Now you have to pay taxes on both what you bet and what you win.” Obviously, this is completely false, but would cause such a fury that the players would be thinking about anything but what your two cards might be.
Another sneaky thing to do is to start conversational topics about poker, but unrelated to your hand. If you have two Queens and are waiting for another one, then something to say might be “Did you hear at the last Poker Stars tournament, someone won with just two 4’s, after three straight flushes?” Now people are thinking about flushes and 4’s instead of your queens.
Beyond those two topics, anything where people have interest can make a big difference. For example, if you say, “So how is that new job going, Charlene?” and she launches into a huge story, then you have a lot of good things going for you at that moment. For one thing, she’s obviously distracted. Second of all, while she’s blabbing, the other players are not noticing how much of their focus they’re losing from comprehending what Charlene is saying. In fact, if you actually know Charlene’s story beforehand, you will have an even easier time because your brain’s capacity will not be taken up with entering fresh data into your mindbanks.
In the end, your poker decision making strategy, your awareness of others, and your inner focus will be what wins most of the games for you. However, it’s always helpful to have smaller tactics and techniques to keep you at the winner’s table as much as possible.