If you decide to disconnect from virtual play for a while to play in a live setting, you need to think about how body language and physical appearance are going to affect your performance. In a real-life setting, poker players try to read other players by looking at the way they are dressed, the way they hold themselves, and their facial expressions, so you need to be careful not to give the wrong impression (unless you want to give them false tells, of course, but that’s a risky strategy).
I’m not saying you have to wear a big cowboy hat like those guys in poker movies, but you will need to think carefully about how you dress and how you’re presenting yourself to the other players at the table.
What to wear
The number one tip would probably be this: don’t try too hard! If you show up at a live poker game wearing a tuxedo like a James Bond wannabe, people are not going to take you seriously. This isn’t a movie! Lots of poker players favor clothes that cover their faces, such as hoodies, hats, and sunglasses, as these can help to minimize visible physical tells. But, conversely, they can also draw attention to you, perhaps mark you out as someone who lacks the experience to control their physical tells and might, in specific contexts, be perceived as a sign of weakness.
Another potential downside to covering your face with hoods and glasses is that you may be preventing yourself from using your facial expressions to give false tells. As we mentioned earlier, this can be a risky strategy, but if you’re an experienced live-action player and confident in your ability to manipulate your opponents’ thinking with false physical tells, then ditch the sunglasses and hoodies.
You need to think carefully about all of these variables, where you’re playing, who you’re playing with, and what you feel comfortable wearing when planning your outfit for a live poker game. As it’s essential to stay relaxed and calm during a poker session, choosing clothes that you feel most comfortable in is probably the best approach.
The other factor in this equation is body language beyond the facial expressions mentioned above. It’s common to hear statements such as “80% of all communication is non-verbal,” and, while there is some debate on the exact figures, what is doubtlessly true is that non-verbal communication, i.e., body language, is incredibly important, especially in the context of a live-action poker game.
Strong = weak
A very general rule to follow is this: strong body language means the player has a weak hand, and weak or disinterested body language means the player has a strong hand. For instance, if a player puts on a brash and confident air when making bets by raising their voice, slamming chips about, and being very emphatic in their movements, then they may well be trying to overcompensate for weak cards. If, on the other hand, a player sighs dejectedly, folds their arms, and leans back from the table during play, they may well be sitting on a great hand.
These are very general rules of thumb, of course, and you’ll also need to observe other player’s behavior over time, looking for patterns and trying to construct some frame of reference. Try and gauge what their normal behavior is and watch out for deviations from it, then you will start to get a more definite sense of how to interpret their body language.
For example: what is their regular breathing pattern? Can you notice their breath becoming heavier or shallower? Do they like to maintain eye contact, or do they prefer to look away? Is their general body language open, or closed? When you have established some reference points, you will notice when their behavior deviates from this norm, which may well indicate that the player is holding some good cards. Be observant of and responsive to changes in your opponents’ body language, and you could find yourself improving your game.
In short, poker is a complicated game, and successful players have to be able to process large amounts of information from several channels to win. Your opponents’ physical appearance is one of those channels. Tune in to it.