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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