The ‘dark art’ of bluffing is one of the things that makes poker such an intriguing game to play and watch.
Any player who wants to go beyond the basics and start winning serious money on a regular basis must master the art of the bluff. And to truly get the edge over your competitors, you need to be able to spot when they’re lying to you, too.
888poker has put together a comprehensive bluffing guide so you can improve your bluffing game. Discover the tricks and techniques to bluff with confidence, and know the signs to look out for to spot when other players are doing the same to you. We’ve even included some tips from one of our ambassadors to give you some expert insights into how to rule the bluff game.
Table of Contents
- Part 1: How to Bluff Convincingly
- Part 2: How to Spot a Tell
Part 1: How to Bluff Convincingly
There are many secrets to effective bluffing, and you will have to master as many as you can if you want to beat the best players. Here’s how.
One of the first things the other players around the table will be looking for is unnatural hand movements, so you’ll need to keep steady.
Liars tend to move their hands when speaking. They make nervous movements, they touch their faces and run their fingers through their hair. All of these are obvious to other players. Especially obvious are unusual body movements like rocking backwards and forwards or shaking your leg.
Master your body movements, and you are halfway there to perfecting the bluff. It’s all about staying cool and in control (which is easier said than done, of course).
Control Your Voice
Your voice is one of the things that is most affected when you lie. It’s especially common for the pitch of your voice to change when you are bluffing, and it often goes higher without you noticing.
But other players will notice – so you need to keep your voice under control.
Pay attention to your voice and try to spot whether the tone is going higher when you are bluffing. If so, try to bring it back down to normal. Also be aware of the volume of your voice because it’s easier to start talking louder.
Your aim should be to make sure your voice stays natural and matches the environment. Experienced players will pick up on sudden changes in your voice, so don’t give them any clues.
Don’t Turn Away
When you turn away from the player you are talking to, it suggests you have something to hide. It’s one of the clearest signs that you are bluffing, and experienced players will be onto you.
Keep your body facing other players when you talk to them, just like you would in a normal conversation. This part is actually fairly easy when you know about it. What’s not so easy, however, is keeping your posture natural and relaxed.
Control Your Blinking
This one is more difficult, at least for some people, mainly because once you start thinking about your blinking, it’s hard to make it look natural.
What you want to avoid at all costs is blinking too frequently. People often over-blink when they lie, and it’s like you’ve got the lie written right across your face.
When you are thinking about controlling your body movements, looking calm and confident, you often forget about your eyes, and as a result they can give you away.
Start by trying to notice when your blinking is too frequent. This problem is often solved by calming down and taking a few deep breaths (hopefully without the other players noticing).
Keep Your Eyes on the Players
Remember when your teacher caught you lying when you were a kid? You looked down at the floor, up to the ceiling – anywhere but their face.
It’s easy to feel that people can ‘see’ the lie in your face, so the natural solution is to look away. But this will fail spectacularly around the poker table. Shifty eyes, failing to hold a gaze, constantly looking away – these are clear signs that you’re bluffing.
It’s easy to then start trying to stare them out – but that doesn’t look natural, either. It suggests you are hiding something and trying to make yourself look confident, which can backfire.
If you find looking directly into a player’s eyes difficult, look at the tip of their nose instead, which has the same effect.
The difficult thing about bluffing is that you can give away any signs, often ones you are unaware of. The problem is the change in your behaviour. Whenever you change your body language, your voice or your actions, other players will pick up on it and realise something is up.
You have to try and keep in control throughout the game from the moment you sit down. That way you won’t reveal that you are bluffing when you next attempt it.
It’s Tough, but Practice Makes Perfect
Staying calm and relaxed sounds like it should be easy, but as soon as you sit down at the table, it becomes so much harder. That’s why the pros are so good at what they do – they are so difficult to read.
The art of bluffing really is just that: an art. It takes years to truly master it, and the more games you play, the more you’ll learn what is giving your bluffs away, and the more you’ll learn to control it.
If you want to win high-stakes poker games, start small. Blag your way through uncomfortable situations and take notice of how you react. Pay close attention to how you are behaving – your body, your eyes, your voice, your breathing.
Record yourself playing if you can, and watch it back afterwards. What behaviours would give you away if you were watching as another player?
You could even ask someone to watch you and pick up on your bluffs so you have some feedback about the things that give you away so you can then start to work on them.
The Psychology Behind the Lie
If you’ve ever watched ‘Lie to Me’, you’ll know that there’s a lot going on when someone lies. We talked to global body language expert, Carole Railton (FRSA), to find out more about lies to see if we could unearth any insights that could help you with your game.
Q: Why do we find it difficult to lie?
A: Because honesty is in our nature. When we create a lie in the moment, we are giving our brain more work to do than if we told the truth. It takes greater mental effort to lie. That said, when you rehearse your lies you can respond as quickly as you would when telling the truth.
Q: Are certain personality types better at lying?
A: Yes! Extroverts are more capable of lying than an analytical person. An amiable person who likes to maintain the status quo will often lie to keep things on a level playing field. Pragmatic people who are generally slick and successful tend to leave out facts rather than outright lie. They are really good at using as little information as possible to get what they want.
Q: What jobs do good liars have?
A: There are certain occupations that are taught to lie, such as doctors, parents, lawyers, magicians, interviewers and, of course, poker players. These occupations often require practitioners to deliver information without the other person knowing the whole story.
Q: How can we become better at lying?
A: Practice does make us better liars. A good liar is someone who is confident and responds at the same speed with lies as when they tell the truth. I have worked with poker players in the past through my body language courses, helping them to identify their own giveaway signals and how to adapt them.
Tips from the Pro
- First things first, tell a story that makes sense. If your story doesn’t stack up then it can be very obvious that you are telling a lie.
- To lie convincingly, you must pretend that you believe what you are saying to be true. The more you believe in what you are saying, the more convincing you will be to others.
- Look the person straight in the eyes. Doing so shows you have confidence in what you are saying, and that you have nothing to hide – even if you do!
Part 2: How to Spot a Tell
As if trying to keep your cool and bluff successfully wasn’t hard enough, you’ve got more work to do. Because while you’re busy trying to outsmart the other players they’re doing the exact same thing to you.
Knowing when another player is bluffing is just as important as pulling off a bluff yourself, and that’s why you need to keep your eyes peeled for a ‘tell’ – the little movements or behavioural signs that indicate a player is bluffing.
Here are some of the things to look out for to call someone else’s bluff and beat them at their own game.
Facial expressions are the first thing you should be looking for. They can be obvious, but often they are very subtle – especially in experienced players.
Look out especially for facial expressions that are difficult to control. Flushing cheeks, for example, are hard to hide. Flared nostrils are another one, and again they can be tough to cover up.
Perspiration is also very difficult to control. Look for people wiping their foreheads or palms – sometimes you can spot perspiration on the armpits or upper lip.
Slightly more obvious ones include blinking too much, as we discussed earlier, and biting the lips. These are all things that start to occur naturally when the brain is working overtime.
So, tune into these expressions and try and get a sense of what your fellow players’ normal expressions are so you can better pick up on when they are acting unnaturally.
Language is often a good tell to pick up on. If you can get players talking, you can pick up on the way they use words to hide what’s going on in their hands.
One thing to look out for especially is when players try to force a truth using language, for example by starting a sentence with “To be honest” or “To tell the truth”.
These phrases can be giveaways, especially if the player does not usually say them. After all, when people are telling the truth, they have no reason to enforce it.
Imagine you were preparing to tell someone a lie. You would go through it all in your head and create your version of events so that when you actually come to telling the lie, you are essentially telling a story.
This can be quite easy to spot in a normal conversation. Try to start a conversation with your fellow players when you suspect they are bluffing, and pay attention to what they say. Does it sound like a prepared version filled with lots of details as opposed to natural conversation?
If other players seem to focus on telling a story rather than being involved in a natural chat, this could suggest they are hiding something.
Unnatural Body Language
Just as we looked at our own tips for bluffing, you can use these against other players. What do you do when you are nervous? Do you have trouble sitting still? Do you bite your nails?
Look out for the same signs in others. Twitchy arms and legs are a giveaway, and any kind of fidgeting is worth paying attention to. Sometimes players will overcompensate for their nervousness, and they might instead fold their arms across their chests defensively.
Remember that you should always face people when talking to them. If someone is at an angle to you or avoids looking at you directly, this is a good sign they are lying.
Different Tone of Voice
As we looked at earlier, your voice can often go higher than normal when you tell a lie, and other players will be affected by the same affliction.
Listen out for a change in the tone of their voice. They might try to cover up a rise in tone, so look out for that, too. Liars often speak faster when they are nervous, and if they try to get out what they need to say as fast as possible, they could well be lying.
The Science Behind Spotting a Lie
When you can spot a lie, you give yourself an advantage over other poker players. Behaviour expert Carole Railton (FRSA) shares her expertise on how people lie and how you can spot their tells.
Q: What is the clearest sign that someone is lying?
A: One of the best signs is their eyes. If we have a good hand in our cards, our pupils will dilate. Some poker players wear dark glasses so their opponents cannot learn from their pupil dilation that they have a good hand. Liars also tend to blink a lot and their eyes can also dart back and forward at speed – you will need to practice spotting this
Q: Do men and women lie differently?
A: Women are far better verbal liars than men. Women are also much better at covering their lies, so if you just ask people whether they lie it looks like men lie the most, but when you delver deeper it is the reverse. It’s also true that women are less likely to lie on paper than men.
Q: Any tips on how to out a lair?
A: If someone is telling you a story you find a bit unreal, ask questions that force them to relate events in a different order to the story they have told you. A person who has concocted a false story can tell it in a linear order but will find it very hard to tell the same story in a different way. That’s when you can call them out on it.
Tips from the Pro
Professional poker player and 888poker ambassador, Dominik Nitsche, shares his top three tips on how to spot when someone is lying to you:
- Humans are naturally terrible liars, so when they do lie it is easy to spot. The most effective way of telling if someone is lying is to ask questions and see if their story adds up. It usually doesn’t.
- Bluffing or lying in general makes humans feel uncomfortable. With some experience, it’s pretty easy to spot. People don’t get nervous for no reason, so if they look uncomfortable, chances are they are lying.
- Know the person. Since lying makes most people feel very uncomfortable the majority simply don’t do it. You should know who those people are because when they do tell a lie, it is very obvious.
Practice Bluffing – and Spotting Tells – to Up Your Game
If you want to get to the next level and up your game, you’re going to have to cover up your lies. Don’t let other players see when you are bluffing them, and keep your eyes and ears peeled to pick up on when other players are trying to bluff you.
It’s hard, and it takes a lot of practice – but it’s also a lot of fun. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as playing a good bluff.
So, start paying more attention to your body language, tone of voice and the other areas highlighted in this guide, and master the art of the bluff – one of the secrets to poker success.