“Beyond Tells” Review

[RR] “Did you get any new poker books for Christmas?” Roderick the Rock asked Deb the Duchess.

[DD] “No, but I got myself a few old ones. I like to browse the used book stores, and I find a decent poker book every once in a while.”

[LL] “The poker world moves pretty fast. Are you going to be playing like it’s 1999 tonight?” Leroy the Lion wondered.

[DD] “Better than that… 2005. And the first of the three books I read is about psychology and poker tells, neither of which has changed much recently.”

[RR] “What was the book?”

[DD] “Beyond Tells: Power Poker Psychology. The author, James McKenna, is a psychologist, so he has a different perspective, which is good. Less than half the book is specifically about tells. He spends most of his time psychoanalyzing the various types of personalities and how that effects how they play poker.

The most interesting part of the book is when McKenna divides people psychologically into four quadrants based on Responsiveness and Assertiveness. He splits two of the quadrants into two subtypes, ending up with these six types:

  • The Boss: Reserved and Aggressive
  • System Player: Reserved and Receptive
  • Loner: Very Reserved and Receptive
  • High Roller: Responsive and Aggressive
  • Party Hardy: Very Responsive and Aggressive
  • Hunch Player: Responsive and Receptive

For each of these types, he lists their perception, playing attitude, playing style, strengths, body language, percentage of the U.S. population, needs, traits, preferences, and chips/play space. This was by far my favorite part of the book, although he also splits people two other ways: winners, losers, and nonwinners; and ‘always’, ‘almost’, ‘never’, ‘until’, ‘after’, and ‘over and over’ players.

A few other interesting sections of note:

  • Analysis of fourteen common poker sayings like ‘All in wins again’ (usually true), ‘Deuces never loses’ (usually false), and ‘You won’t be a winner if you don’t leave when you are winning’ (statistically true to maximize your winning sessions, but I’d say it’s bad for your bankroll overall).
  • Analysis of fifteen frequent comments like ‘One more time’ (he says this usually means the player already has a hand, but I don’t agree), ‘I’ll let you have it this time’ (usually when folding a weak hand), and ‘Loose call’ (usually the truth).
  • Comparison of each of Mike Caro’s 25 tells to a pair of contrasting playing styles. Although these tells are referenced throughout the book, this appendix systematically helps explain why each of them can have different meanings.

Although you’ll learn a fair amount about poker tells in this book, the biggest benefit may be in improving your own play by rectifying the weaknesses your game has based on what categories you fall into.

Title Beyond Tells: Power Poker Psychology
Author James A. McKenna, Ph.D.
Year 2005
Skill Level Intermediate+
Pros Some very good nuggets of wisdom, especially the Responsibility/Assertiveness chapter. The sections that aren’t about tells are very good.
Cons Slow build up to provide background. Examples are mostly Seven Card Stud.
Rating 3.0

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