Phil Hellmuth Reveals The Secrets to His Reading Ability

1 year ago
Phil Hellmuth Reveals The Secrets to His Reading Ability
20 Oct

A 14-time WSOP bracelet winner with more than $20,000,000 in live tournament earnings, Phil Hellmuth is one of the most accomplished poker players in the world today. His playing style has received criticism by a number of players in the industry, but it can’t be disputed that the self-proclaimed Poker Brat is doing something right. For him, the key to his success at the poker table is attributable to his reading ability – or ‘white magic’, as he likes to call it.

His ability to distinguish between when a player has the goods and when they are bluffing has allowed him to make some actions at the table that many other players wouldn’t dare follow through with. As Hellmuth explains in his 2006 book ‘Read ‘Em and Reap’:

"Success in the game is 70% reading people and only 30% reading the cards".

Phil goes on to emphasise the importance of studying your opponent’s physical presence at the table to elicit a valuable read, affirming ‘you can stare at people . . . it’s super effective’. There is definitely merit to this claim, as players will often give off physical tells without realising that they are telegraphing the strength of their hand. There’s a piece of advice from Doyle Brunson’s seminal poker book Super System that stands the test of time:

"Always look at your opponent(s) as the community cards are dealt before looking at the board for yourself."

Often, players will exhibit micro-expressions in response to certain cards being revealed which can be used to help you make the right decision at the table.

Phil posits that the eyes in particular are a good way to read people – hence why some players will opt to wear sunglasses when playing (though many live tournaments have banned them in recent years). Co-author of Phil’s book on spotting liars – former FBI agent Joe Navarro – puts forward that:

"When we like something, our pupils dilate; when we don’t, they constrict."

Obviously, an array of other factors can influence pupil condition such as drug use and light exposure, so it is important to consider these things as well when trying to make the correct choice.

Most importantly, Phil encourages players to ‘trust their instincts’ but not be afraid to go on the hunt for extracting information. He concludes:

"You can always stare them in the eye and ask them a question."

Though Hellmuth might not have all of the answers for playing theoretically optimal poker, he certainly can teach us a thing or two about reading players to make highly exploitative decisions on the felt.

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