The strategy and fun connected to deciphering one’s poker face has become one of the most iconic, retold stories for centuries in live card room environments around the world.
Is your opponent providing you with a “tell” through his or her expression? Does a smile represent a strong hand? Do facial gestures reveal whether someone at the table is bluffing? And are you inadvertently (or purposefully) giving away information through your own poker face?
Whether you’re a beginning card player who is learning how to play poker or a professional who has become value-conscious of every situation, one’s poker face can be a popular topic of conversation at and away from the tables.
In this article, we will outline some of the elements that go into having a poker face, and review a few of the elements that may help (or hinder) a poker player’s ability to tell a believable story through the use of a poker face.
How to Have a Poker Face
Trying out and practicing your poker face can be something that a novice poker player does just for fun, or a routine that becomes integral to a professional live poker player’s for-profit arsenal.
If you’re just starting out playing the game (or if you’re comfortable with being a casual, recreational player who doesn’t fret over the hard work necessary to extract maximum value from your demeanor at the live tables), then having fun with your poker face can become something that is done for purely entertainment.
Best of all, you can probably learn a thing or two even if you’re not in a particular live poker game to make money – but at a cost.
How to have a poker face is something that is debated by even the most successful live poker players, but some of the mainstays include controlled breathing, limiting your physical gestures, and telling a story that convinces opponents that you are holding a specific hand (or range of hands) from which you can extract an advantage.
Practicing and having fun with your poker face is one thing, but it may take many, many hands and years of experience to hone-in your poker face skills if this is something that you are interested in perfecting in order to make money.
A good way to get an idea of how the most skilled live poker pros react and put on their own poker face in a competitive environment is to check out the multitude of high quality poker streams that have become commonplace on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch.
Another way is to share your insights and gather recommendations from friends, or in some cases, you can purchase a premium membership or request classes from poker coaches that advertise their services – such as poker strategy tips – on the internet.
How to Keep a Poker Face
Keeping a poker face is a skill of its own, especially when one spends hours at a time competing against fellow poker players in a live card room or casino.
Again, your best bet (if keeping a poker face is something that you aspire to train yourself at, with the goal of increasing your expected value at the tables) may be to seek the services of a professional. Of course, if maintaining an even keel emotionally in a way that impacts your poker face is something you’re just trying out for fun, then you can practice at your leisure while not sweating too much if you happen to make a mistake.
Oftentimes, poker players will give off certain “tells” through their poker faces when playing in-person, and it may be difficult if you’re new to the game to contain your hand’s strength or your bluff’s weakness regardless of whether you’ve been sitting in a game for minutes or hours.
Did you just flop quads? If so, you will want to portray weakness in order to entice competitors to stay in the pot. Did you just bluff at a big pot on the river with air? If your opponent senses weakness in your physical tells, he or she may feel more compelled to look you up.
YouTube and Twitch streams can be highly entertaining. An aspiring poker player may be able to learn quite a bit from watching the best players in the game on TV as they keep their respective poker faces under the lights – but you may find that you learn more from personal experience.
Fun and/or recreational players who are more worried about being able to relax and “gamble” at the live tables aren’t likely to extract maximum value on hands that may require nerves of steel and tons of professional experience to maneuver on a long-term basis. However playing poker live can still be highly entertaining even if you don’t have the best poker face at the table.
Poker Face Examples
Here are some examples of different poker faces that you may improve upon in order to deceive your opponents and win more pots when playing live.
Displaying Strength: If you’re holding a weak hand and want to convince your opponent otherwise in order to get a fold, some experienced players may advise you to control your breathing and any other facial gestures that may give away the fact that you’re making a big bluff at the pot. Of course, this requires practice and is a skill that seasoned live pros may be able to help you with in the form of coaching.
Displaying Weakness: If you’re looking to get the most out of your opponent when you’re sure you’ve got the strongest hand (especially when you’re holding the best possible hand – aka “the nuts” – failing to control your glee could very well betray your ability to maximize the pot by convincing your opponent that he or she needs to fold.
Building a Range: Although your poker face may not come into play when there’s a lot of action preflop, you can still maximize your pot odds by building an idea of acceptable ranges for both you and your opponents.
Once again, if you’re looking to seriously improve upon these skills, you may want to seek the services of a professional who can guide you through different scenarios while also incorporating other elements of the game (such as bet sizing, ranges, etc).
Poker Face Texas Hold’em
When it comes to overall popularity, Texas Hold’em has dominated the poker scene throughout the 21st Century, meaning that major card rooms around the globe will primarily spread this format instead of traditional limit games that include 7 Card Stud, 5 Card Draw/Stud, and Omaha Hold’em.
Because of this, you’ll most likely be incorporating your poker face skills into a Texas Hold’em game if you’re new to poker and desire to get into the action without the hassle of a wait list.
No Limit Texas Hold’em is a beast of its own, in which players may risk their entire chip stack over the course of a single hand – regardless of how deep their chip stack is. So it is vitally important that you pay attention to the “hints” your poker face can provide opponents.
If you’re bluffing off your entire stack on a river bet in which your opponent only needs to call in order to drag the pot at showdown, unintentional facial gestures (as well as other “tells”) can sink your chances of getting your opponent to fold. This may be particularly true if the player across the felt from you is an experienced, successful live poker player.
You only get two hole cards in Texas Hold’em, and if you’re new to the game, you’ll want to check out our guide on how to play Texas Hold’em along with other resources before you take a seat and play in your very first live or online real money game.
While Texas Hold’em can be an exhilarating experience for recreational players, keep in mind that it can have a highly volatile impact on your chip stack (and corresponding bankroll) when played in the No Limit format.
How to Have a Good Poker Face
If you’re seriously interested in having a good poker face – one that will improve your overall expectation and in turn be useful as a professional player – then you might want to enroll with a poker training site or alternatively seek out coaching from high-performing live pros.
On the other hand, if you’re mainly playing live poker to have fun, at stakes that are “low” in correlation to your own entertainment bankroll, and aren’t overly concerned with extracting maximum value for every scenario, then you can experiment at your own leisure to find out what methods are the most entertaining to you.
It truly requires “more” than mastering your own facial expressions in a live poker game, especially if the stakes you’re playing happen to represent a larger-than-comfortable portion of your personal bankroll.
Keep your eyes on the demeanor of your opponents as the check, bet, raise, and fold to slowly grasp the concepts of maintaining a good poker face, and attempt to discover mistakes that other players at the table are making in terms of their own poker faces.
Poker Face Coaching
There are many high quality poker coaches around the globe who specialize in teaching live poker skills — which includes how to maintain your cool and (hopefully) mislead your opponents through purposely manipulating your live tells.
You can ask about this facet of the game whenever you contact a live poker coach, and he or she will be able to better explain the lesson plan on offer and guide you through the process.
If you ever find yourself deep in a large poker tournament in which you will be a participant at a televised final table on the next day, you may want to seek out the services of a professional to help you work on your poker face while you’re competing under the lights for big money paydays.
Receiving coaching leading up to a big tournament day has become rather commonplace in the poker world, and you are likely to come across numerous offers from coaches to help you work on your game (and live poker tells) if you’re about to embark on an important final table journey.
Summary: How to Have a Good Poker Face
The bottom line is: one’s poker face can have a dramatic effect on profit (or lack thereof) when competing at the live poker tables. Having fun is by far the “easiest” way to work on your poker face, physical tells, timing tells, and other elements of real money poker competition.
However, if you really want to have a poker face that greatly enhances your chances for success at the real money live tables, you’ll need to deeply analyze your own play as well as that of your opponents. Having the right poker face at all times is a skill that experienced, successful pros may be able to help you with – or you can also check out TV coverage of how players act and react during important hands.
Don’t get too down on yourself if your poker face doesn’t have the desired effect during a specific hand. Work on your skills and – if you have the luxury – make sure to have fun with working on your poker face while not taking yourself (or the results for any given hand) too seriously.
Your poker face can say a lot about both you and your hand, so attempt to “tell a story” to your opponents that convinces them you’re strong when you’re weak, and vice-versa. If you eventually become very skilled at this component of live poker, it could very well lead to increased expectation when you’re playing live.
But don’t forget to likewise keep an eye on your opponents to see if you can decipher what they are trying to tell you about their own holdings, as this will be equally as important as working on your own poker face.
Best of luck to you at the live poker tables. Try out your poker face the next time you find yourself in action at a brick and mortar card room or casino and see if your poker face leads you to more profit, more fun (or both) at the table.