If you had never watched a poker game before, you would swear that at any moment, the players at the table were about to erupt into a major confrontation. The steel looks that they give each other is enough to make some people’s blood chill. These players are all displaying their poker face. Since poker is mostly about the information that you can read from other players, a player needs to have a solid poker face in order to keep the other players guessing. I will go through some of what I do to keep a solid poker face at the table.
When I sit down to the poker table, I tried and use the first few minutes to calm down and set my base mood for the table. If you want a great poker face, you want to remain calm at all times. Any type of excitement or apprehension can make it difficult to keep a straight face while at the table.
What I try to do when I start playing in a session is to sit there and keep an eye on all of the action that is going on at the table. I try and put some type of basic idea in my head of how I expect the players in each seat to play. This helps me to anticipate the types of plays that they will make. This also helps me to relax. Once I have an idea of how they play, all I need to do while I am in the hand is pay attention to which player bet, how much they bet, etc. I don’t even need to look at the player. This will become important why later.
Next, when I am in a hand, I try and make the same types of calculated movements when I play. This helps me to remain calms and helps to reinforce my poker face. I keep my chips in a certain place and even keep in mind which stack I am going to pull chips from. Next, I do my best to memorize my cards after looking at them. This is important as when you look back at your hands, you can give away information. If the board comes with three of one suit and you look at your cards, people have an idea that you are looking to see if you have a card of that suit. The same goes for a straight. Having to do the extra motion of rechecking your cards can take away focus that you are using on keeping a solid poker face.
While I am in a hand, I try and look in one particular area. I try not to look at the player, or if I do, I will look at his arm, his shoulder, or even his hair. I don’t do a lot of “staring into their souls” as most players are relatively adept in not giving off information with their faces unless they are at the lowest levels. Oddly enough, there are times that this will frustrate people, especially if they have an ego that requires you to pay them attention. Phil Hellmuth has the personality type that would get annoyed if someone wasn’t “paying attention to them.”
Also, be careful of where you are staring during your hands. Sometimes, a player will get so intent into a board, they don’t realize they are giving off information to other players. If you are on a draw, do not intently study the board. When the river card comes, you should know whether you have hit your draw. Some players will take time and examine the board to see if they hit their draw. You can even see their eyes go back and forth a little to check the board out. This is a dead giveaway. The same is true if they are looking intently at the board and then immediately look at their chips. They just hit their hand and are ready to bet.
For some of you new to poker, an exercise that can help you to develop a better poker face is to practice lying. I know this sounds a little weird, but think about it. A poker face is being used as a shield to block out information. You need to be able to keep information to yourself. In many cases, you need to deceive your opponents. By practicing lying, you are training yourself, including your face, to not show the signs of deception.
A poker face is one of many tools that you will develop when you play live poker. When playing against inexperienced or new players, a strong poker face will make your play nearly a mystery to your opponents. A great poker face will have your opponents counting more on luck while you will be using skillful play to take their bankrolls.