Six Signs of a Bluff

5 years ago
How to Catch a Bluffer With These 6 Most Common Signs
24 Dec

You’re on the clock... Your opponent has just made a big bet on the river and it looks like he’s trying to scare you away but is he really bluffing? What if he’s just value betting? What if he knows his big bet would look suspicious in your eyes? What if he wants you to call? You look at your two cards and take a lost look at the five community cards. What is he trying to represent? You know you need more information to hero call your opponent. Does he have any physical tells? And how do I actually spot a bluff by just looking at him?

If you have been in this situation and asked yourself all those questions, you’re in luck. It may be a little late for that last hand, but after reading the next few lines, you’ll be ready for the future.

However, this won't be a list of poker professionals recommendations that can vary and can be quite confusing. Instead we will be sharing the results of psychological research conducted with a computer program. Yes, not a real person but an AI who can actually spot a liar successfully 75% of the time. That’s 25% more than a human being's success rate; Or at least, that’s what the researchers from the University of Michigan are saying.

According to an article called Deception Detection using Real-life Trial Data, the researchers taught a computer to catch a human being red-handed. What did they do exactly? They basically gave the program 118 videos to watch. Half of them were YouTube videos that included various persons responding to questions about made-up films and scripts, thus bluffers. The other half were testimonies from a non-profit organization that helps people who are wrongfully imprisoned with a mixture of both bluffers and truth-tellers

The program studied all those clips and came up with some pretty interesting results that can be very well used at the poker table.

Hand Gestures Are More Common When Bluffing

The AI has spoken: 40% of the liars are using their hands a lot when they are trying to convince the interlocutor while only 25% of the truth-tellers are actually using excessive hand gestures. But this is hardly a tell at the poker table where most of your opponents will be playing with their chips and not gesturing enough. However, one might be able to spot a tell based on how someone plays with their chips. Maybe there is something in how much the fidget with them or how fast they toss them.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Direct Eye Contact

Most of us know liars avoid direct eye contact right? Well WRONG! In fact, in the bluffer’s attempt to convince you he’s telling the truth, he instinctively tries a little too much so he’s much more susceptible to look directly in your eyes than a player who is actually telling the truth. Basically, when he’s weak, he tries to look strong. Natural no?

And now it seems the AI picked up this interesting physical tell and gave the bluffers a 10% edge: while 60% of the truth-teller looked directly in the eyes of the interlocutor, the liars made the same exact move 70% of the time. So next time you’re at a poker table and you look at your opponent who bet big on the river, don’t be fooled by the fact he’s staring back at you like he’s saying ‘I’ve got nothing to hide.’ Because guess what, he still might be lying.

Worrying Too Much Is A Sign Of Strength

Again, weak is strong in general, not just at the poker table, remember that. You opponent might try to look worried, might scowl and grimace just to convince you he has a weak holding when in fact, he doesn’t. The computer program from the University of Michigan can confirm that: 30% of the bluffers scowled and grimaced while only 10% of the honest people used such signs of dissatisfaction.

Why? Because we try to imitate something natural such as telling the truth in an unnatural way and this usually leads to overdoing it or using the gestures in all the wrong situations. Make sense right?

Yes Means No

This is basically the principle of lying, yet this very simple principle can help us both off and on the poker felt. According to the research, the bluffers usually nod their head much more often than the truth-tellers. Plus the head nodders are not such confident individuals we might add. A strong character holding a strong poker hand doesn’t need approval from anyone, they know who they are and what they have so they don't need to tell you and won't try to convince you with their body language.

Sentence Fillers Are Bluffers

This is one of the few actual facts taught well by our parents when we were young. Indeed, those who use fillers like ‘um’ and ‘uh’ are more likely to be liars. And it makes sense also as those ums and uhs indicate pauses in the thinking process, pauses usually used to make things up.

But what does these fillers have to do with the play at the poker table? For one, you can ask your opponent if he’s bluffing. If his answer is ‘Um, no’ then maybe you should consider hero calling. Or maybe your foe read this article too and uses a level 3 type of poker thinking on you. Hmmm…

It’s Not About Me, It’s About Him Or Her

This last sign is pretty tricky and you must pay special attention to the way your opponent is speaking.

It seems the computer program identified that the liars don’t like to speak about themselves that often. Instead of using first-person pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘we’ they choose instead to use ‘he’ or ‘she.’ This way, the bluffer can distance himself from the act of bluffing and tries to trick his opponent in the process.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; just because you noticed someone at the poker table using more ‘he’ and ‘she’ than ‘I’ and ‘we,’ this doesn’t mean he’s actually bluffing. You have to pick up much more information in order to hero call successfully. Be sure to look at all the signs - including betting patterns and sizes - and see if they tell the same story. If they are, then it’s actually a good time to hero call and amaze the table. Not so much? Well, maybe folding is the best action. Either way, we hope you made the right decision. No, really (just check the ‘we’ in the sentence)!

What other physical tells can you think of? Be sure leave a comment below and share with the whole poker community your experience with bluffing and hero calling.

Articles 96

Florian is a freelance journalist and avid poker player with a strong passion to create unique and appealing stories.He is an experienced researcher on various topics, from business and the financial markets to psychology and the gambling industry.He blogs at more


You need to be logged in to post a new comment

No Comments found.