Don't bluff this man

Updated: November 18, 2005, 10:24 AM ET
By Andrew Feldman | ESPN.com

Don't stroke your face or neck. You are telling other players at the table that you are soothing yourself in the midst of a bluff.

Don't move your hands. You could be telling other players at the table that you are eager to bet a big hand.

Don't talk. You could be telling other players at the table, well, you could be telling them everything they don't already know.

"Everything you do will give something away to an observant player," Joe Navarro says.

Why should you care what Joe Navarro says? Why should you care about a guy who doesn't really play poker?

Here's why: Navarro is a former FBI agent who specialized in nonverbal behavior. This is the guy in the interrogation room that knows if you are telling the truth without a lie detector. He can and will read you like a book. You didn't want to meet him under those circumstances.

Today, you want to meet Navarro before you play your next hand. He is the premier source for poker players who need to know what this nonverbal behavior means at the table. Navarro's 25 years of training and research has given him an extremely unique ability in the poker world.

Navarro held his first lecture at Camp Hellmuth in August 2005, and in the back of the room, Phil Hellmuth and T.J. Cloutier were taking notes. Navarro was amazed.

"I had never seen Phil Hellmuth or T.J. Cloutier take notes at anything and both of them were there borrowing paper from other people," Navarro said. "What was really gratifying was that day they put the stuff to use at the camp tournament and they thanked me for it."

As I mentioned in my column about the camp, Hellmuth was able to use Navarro's teaching against yours truly when Hellmuth noticed an involuntary dilation of my eyes when I made a big hand on the river. I had no idea what I was giving away, and I couldn't stop it if I did. Hellmuth knew it, and read it. Navarro's information works.

Even though poker was booming, Navarro never had any intentions of using his complex background for poker.

"Having worked at the bureau in the behavioral area, I had studied players for years," Navarro says. "What really got me into poker was the TV special I had with Annie Duke."

Duke and Navarro were set up for an hour-long television special on reading people. Having never played poker, Navarro was initially confused by the terminology Duke was using. As they began to discuss what Duke looked for at the tables, Navarro realized things weren't all that different.

"She was talking in terms I had never used, but she did the same thing I do, just using different names," he said. "Annie is a phenomenal observer of people. She was as good as any agent I had ever worked with."

As great as Duke is, Navarro believes that collecting and giving away information at the poker table is the No. 1 problem for professional poker players.

"There are two major weaknesses," Navarro says. "Poker players do not collect enough intelligence from the players around them. If you are going to be a pro, you need to be exhausted at the end of the day because you should have been collecting from everyone else. Their reactions, how their feet move, etc. They ought to be doing this because it's their money.

"Second, poker players don't know how much information they really give away. They don't realize how much they transmit with their own body. They reveal an extraordinary amount of information. They don't monitor themselves. They might put sunglasses on, but they don't watch their hands, etc."

Navarro's next lecture at Camp Hellmuth 2 in February will focus around the four parts of the body that players need to read. These include tells in the face and feet. Turns out, the feet, not the face, is the most honest part of the body. For instance, if a player goes from flat footed to on the balls of his feet after moving all-in, he probably doesn't like his holdings and expects to lose.

So does that mean a player should stare under the table during a hand? Won't a player miss out on other information?

"Although you cannot see the feet unless you look under the table," Navarro says, "the feet are connected to the legs and you can see the shirt vibrating, moving right and left. You can pick something up that way."

Navarro also believes that when sitting at the table, putting things into context is extremely important. If a player is whistling during a hand, he is most likely pacifying himself (translation: He's nervous as all hell). However, if he no longer has a hand, he might be bored of the game's play. Context is everything.

As you might guess, Navarro has more information that can be discussed in a group setting. Camp Hellmuth is also offering a semi-private lesson with Navarro with a VIP package.

"The VIP session will be like having your own pro football coach to work with you," Navarro says. "It's kind of like having a QB coach. No matter how good you are, you will always need someone to tweak your game. You could have been playing for 20 years, but a small hint could help a great deal."

Don't have the opportunity to get to the camp? Navarro recommends videotaping yourself and having your play analyzed by someone who knows what to look for.

Navarro knows he's the man when it comes to nonverbal behavior, but he also knows his limitations and believes he's not a great poker player.

"I was playing poker merely as a laboratory," Navarro says. "I don't play to win, but so that I can watch people very closely. The best way to pick up a lot of information is to sit at the table just a couple feet away. I grew up in a house where gambling wasn't allowed, but the study of the behavior was. I'm not a gambler."

Lucky for everyone else.

Editor's note: The ESPN Poker Club will be giving away four seats to Camp Hellmuth starting Nov. 21. For more information, please go to Camp Hellmuth

Andrew Feldman is the ESPN Poker Club's columnist, producer and tournament director. To contact Andrew, e-mail andrew.j.feldman@espn3.com .

Andrew Feldman is ESPN.com's Poker Editor. He is the host of the Poker Edge Podcast and co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Andrew has covered the poker industry for ESPN since 2004.

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