Joe Navarro’s “Read ‘Em and Reap” Review

[DD] “Navarro’s book was the most interesting of the four”, Deb the Duchess opined, “insofar as he’s not much of a poker player but rather a former FBI agent applying career skills from his profession.”

[LL] “Like interrogating suspects?” suggested Leroy the Lion.

[DD] “Yes, but without resorting to torture.”

[LL] “I think that’s more of a CIA thing.”

[DD] “There are non-poker books, some psychology books for example, that can improve your poker. Navarro’s poker book is the opposite; it’ll help you in real life.”

[LL] “To tell when people are lying to you?”

[DD] “Much more than that. Navarro actually trains you to be more observant… even before a single hand of poker has been dealt.”

[LL] “Sure, you need to know how a person normally acts, so you can detect a change in behavior.”

[DD] “You need to establish what he calls their ‘baseline behaviors’: how they sit, where they place their hands, how their face looks, and even how fast they chew their gum.”

[LL] “Most players can’t chew gum and bluff at the same time.”

[DD] “While Caro briefly mentions some unconscious tells, Navarro bases most of his book on them. He believes that the limbic, or mammalian, part of our brains, betrays our emotions before we can stop ourselves a moment later.”

[LL] “So, player’s immediate reactions matter the most?”

[DD] “Exactly. An actor will likely then do the opposite, while other players will freeze and do nothing, a difference Burgess and Baldassarre explore in depth. But that immediate reaction is difficult to suppress.”

[DD] “A threatening board card or an opponent’s bet can invoke one of the three fear responses: freeze, flight, or fight.”

[LL] “Or as Tyrone the Telephone would say, ‘Hold on tight, take to flight, or boldly fight’?”

[DD] “Yep. Stay still like a deer in headlights, physically separate by leaning away, or go on the offensive by glaring at the bettor.”

[LL] “And how would I avoid making these automatic responses myself?”

[DD] “Navarro recommends a robotic approach. Do everything the same way every time: how you arrange your chips, look at your cards, hold your body and hands between actions, push your chips forward, etc. Don’t talk. Heck, don’t even move if you don’t have to.”

[LL] “Phil Ivey must be his favorite player.”

[DD] “But he also advocates wearing a hat and sunglasses.”

[LL] “So he must really dig Phil Laak’s Unabomber look. I’m surprised secret agent man doesn’t tell you to wear a scarf to hide your pulse and a surgeon’s mask to hide your nose and mouth.”

[DD] “Oh, and your feet, which he calls ‘the most honest part of your body’… Don’t tap them, wrap them around the chair legs, or move them at all.”

[LL] “If everyone followed all the advice in this book, poker players would die of boredom.”

[DD] “No, but it would make it more like playing online poker.”

[LL] “Without the chat box. And much slower. Yawn.”

[DD] “Believe it or not, I actually liked the book. Even if I never intend to follow some of his more extreme advice.”

[LL] “That does surprise me.”

[DD] “Well, that was just the section on hiding your own tells. His information about other people’s tells is excellent: Tells of Engagement and Disengagement, High and Low Confidence Tells, Gravity-Defying Tells (which indicate strength), Territorial Tells, and Pacifying Behaviors (which indicate weakness).”

[LL] “For example?”

[DD] “Like these:

  • Engagement: a nose flare indicates the player is going to play the hand (e.g., preflop).
  • Disengagement: unprotecting the cards is weak.
  • High-confidence: steepled hands are strong.
  • Low-confidence: wringing hands is weak.
  • Gravity-defying: raising heels or bouncing feet or legs are strong.
  • Territorial: spreading out is strong.
  • Pacifying: touching the neck or face is weak.”

[LL] “But what if they’re false tells?”

[DD] “He says those will appear ‘stilted or unnatural’. Also, you should note which players are actors so you can just ignore them. In the end though, I think you just need to give much more weight to their initial responses.”

Title Read ‘Em and Reap”
Author Joe Navarro
Year 2006
Skill Level Any
Pros Unique perspective on tells. Focuses on subconscious tells that are difficult to hide.
Cons Many of the tells may be difficult to detect or fake.
Rating 3.5 (out of five)
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“Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” Review

After a tournament in which Leroy the Lion just missed the money and Deb the Duchess just made it, the two friends continue their discussion on tells.

[LL] “So, did you spot any new tells tonight?” Leroy asked.

[DD] “I did, but it definitely took a lot of concentration. It wasn’t easy.”

[LL] “Figaro the Fish is a fount of information.”

[DD] “You said new tells.”

[LL] “And you don’t need any tells to take his chips anyway. He’s very generous.”

[DD] “They say to start by focusing on the loosest player in the game, since you’ll be in the most hands with them.”

[LL] “Carlos the Crazy!”

[DD] “He’s practically straight out of the first book I read, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells.”

[LL] “Everything he does is loud.”

[DD] “Caro has him pegged — his flamboyant personality matches his loose aggressive playing style. And he’s the perfect bad actor.”

[LL] “Strong means weak, and weak means strong.”

[DD] “Precisely what Caro says. Carlos will try to talk you into a call when he’s got the goods and try to get you to fold when he’s bluffing.”

[LL] “Which is most of the time.”

[DD] “Caro lists 58 specific tells in his book, half of which are acting tells, and I’ll bet that crazy guy has most of those. I’ll have to recheck the book to see what I missed.”

[LL] “What are the other half?”

[DD] “Subconscious tells, which Navarro explains much more thoroughly, and general tells, which didn’t seem that useful to me.”

[LL] “But despite the fact that the original material was published before you were born, you still found it useful?”

[DD] “Yes, beginners don’t know to hide their tells, and I guess even some intermediate players like Carlos are able to fool enough people with their acting that they keep doing it.”

[DD] “Caro is a bit repetitive though, which is the only way he was able to fill out a 300+ page book. The 58 tells fall under 25 general Laws of Tells, which he lists both with their specific instances and in a separate chapter. He spends another two chapters on Important Tells Revisited and a Play Along Photo Quiz.”

[LL] “At least all the repetition helped you learn the tells though, right?”

[DD] “I suppose I have to admit that.”

Title Caro’s Book of Poker Tells
Author Mike Caro
Year 2003 (originally published as The Book of Tells in 1984)
Skill Level Any
Pros The original book on poker tells.
Cons Many of the tells no longer apply, except from beginners and some stronger players who like to act. Photos are poor quality.
Rating 3.0 (out of five)
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Tells


[DD] “Leroy, do you think I have any tells?” Deb the Duchess asked.

[LL] “Why would I tell you if I knew?” the Lion countered.

[DD] “Because I have a tell on you that I can trade it for.”

[LL] “Well, in that case…”

[DD] “Do tell.”

[LL] “Your new card protector gave you a tell. You’re actually pretty good about using it all the time, but you vary the position of the protector on your cards.”

[DD] “Ah! I know what you’re going to say. I put the guard closer to the middle of the table when my cards are good.”

[LL] “Exactly. If you think that’s a safer place, then just do it all the time, and you’ll be good to go.”

[DD] “Thanks!”

[LL] “You’re welcome.”

[DD] “Your tell is probably something you already know about, but you still need to fix it.”

[LL] “What’s that?”

[DD] “You’re much too obvious about counting the pot when you’re on a draw.”

[LL] “Agreed. But what can I do about that? I need to know if I’m getting the right odds to call.”

[DD] “The best solution is a bit of work but will have other benefits — keep track of the pot size all the time.”

[LL] “I used to do that a little bit, but when online poker became my main game, I got quite lazy since the total was always right on the screen. I really should get back to doing it.”

[DD] “There is an easier solution though…, just blatantly count the pot occasionally when you’re not on a draw.”

[LL] “Hiding my real tell amid false tells! A bit devious, but I like it. Thanks!”

[DD] “You’re welcome. Fair trade, right?”

[LL] “Absolutely. Why did you bring this up now though? Did you just notice my tell?”

[DD] “Heh, no. I’ve known about it for a while. But I’ve been reading a bunch of books on tells, and they talk about getting rid of your own tells. I thought the best way to find out if I have any tells is just to ask someone observant.”

[LL] “Thanks for the compliment. What books have you been reading?”

[DD] “I’ve read these four so far:”

Year Author[s] Book Rating Summary
2003 Mike Caro Caro’s Book of Poker Tells 3.0 The original poker tells bible [as “The Book of Tells” in 1984]; still has some great advice but many suggestions are dated.
2006 Joe Navarro Read ‘Em and Reap” 3.5 FBI interrogator’s point of view, focusing on the limbic (mammalian) part of the human brain.
2006 Randy Burgess
Carl Baldassarre
Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells 3.5 How to read tells and use them to advantage.
2012 Zachary Elwood Reading Poker Tells 4.0 Well-organized pre-, in-, and post-action tells, mostly using No Limit Hold ‘Em for examples.

[DD] “But the tournament’s about to start, so we’ll have to talk more later…”

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Stan’s Lists – Poker Movie Scenes


[LL] “Pretty much every poker game in the world is now played with table stakes1“, Leroy the Lion commented. “So why do all these stupid movie scenes go the Wild West ‘bet-your-life-savings-if-you-want’ route?”2 [Casino Royale works around this cutely with the car keys] [Movies set in the Wild West get a pass, I guess]

[RR] “Too many scenes with cheating,3 too”, Roderick the Rock added.

[SS] “It’s pretty sad for Hollywood that ridiculously unlikely monster hands4 only rank as their third biggest poker sin”,5 suggested Stan the Stat.

[LL] “I understand that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public, but it truly is insulting…”

[RR] “But in Hollywood, every car that crashes explodes, too.”

[SS] “After disqualifying all the hands that had non-table stakes, cheating, or monster hands (and sometimes all three), it was fairly easy to select my top ten movie poker scenes (although I limited Rounders to two scenes, when it could have had more):”

The Best Poker Movie Scenes (in alphabetical order)

Movie Scene (video link) Year (IMDB) Scene Description6
California Split 1974 The movie starts with an explanation of some poker etiquette as they play 5-card draw lowball in a casino.
Casino Royale 2006 James Bond (Daniel Craig) plays Texas Hold ‘Em in a Bahamas casino.
The Cincinnati Kid 1965 The title character Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen) plays 5-card stud.
Cool Hand Luke 1967 The title character (Paul Newman) plays dollar-limit 5-card stud against other prisoners.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story 2003 No Limit Hold ‘Em is explained and played as a savvy pro makes some moves.
In Time 2011 Texas Hold ‘Em players bet a portion of time from their lives instead of money.
Lucky You 2007 L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall) gives his son Huck (Eric Bana) a Texas Hold ‘Em lesson in a diner.
Maverick 1994 Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) meets and plays poker with Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) for the first time; says he’ll lose for the first hour to get Angel (Alfred Molina) to let him play.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) reads all the hands in the judges’ game of 7-card stud.
Rounders 1998 Mike McDermott and some of his fellow grinders feast on the tourists and businessmen in Atlantic City.

Footnotes:

  1. Table stakes mean that players can only bet the chips and money they have visible on the table.
  2. Non-table stakes examples: The Cincinnati Kid and Honeymoon in Vegas.
  3. Cheating examples: The Lady Eve, Lucky You (collusion), Shade, The Sting, and Trinity Is Still My Name (hilarious though).
  4. Monster hand examples: Casino Royale, Dreamgirls, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Parent Trap.
  5. Other Hollywood annoyances: string bets and raises, splashing the pot, discussing the current hand out loud, and slowrolling.
  6. Some scene spoilers (highlight to see): : in the Casino Royale scene, Bond wins his famous car (Aston Martin) as the car keys on the table are allowed to be bet, cleverly working around the table stakes rule. The Cincinnati Kid makes a great read, calling an overbet with just a pair of Eights, beating a pair of Sixes. The Cool Hand Luke scene is the one that gave the movie its title, as the hero bluffs out the winning hand. In the Stu Ungar scene, the veteran cleverly agrees to show one of his hole cards for a chip on a 7332 board (he has 72, so the young guy assumes he has a full house). In the In Time scene, Salas gambles on an inside straight draw and hits on the river to get paid off just before his time expires. In the Maverick scene, the title character keeps to his word, using the hour to spot everyone’s tells.

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