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Poker Tells: Feet

Poker Tells: Those Feet Are Made For Talking!
By Loki Luchs

When strong players are in that ultimate hand, you know, the one where they have medium strength and the opponent thatís raised hugely all-in, they desperately look for any piece of information that could convince them of the right action. If youíve been playing for any extent of time, you know that these decisions are never clear-cut. Most people try to study their opponents, but by this time, most sophisticated opponents have put on their poker faces, so there arenít as many tells to gather. Some players take Phil Laakís approach and wear a hooded-sweatshirt so that when these situations arise, they can pull the strings of the hoody and cover their entire face!

Did it ever occur to you that you may be looking at the wrong part of their body? According to Joe Navarro, a former FBI interrogator and a recent poker theorist, the most reliable source of information for any situation isnít in the face, itís in the feet. Navarroís theory is based on the fight or flight theory. A million years ago, when we were living primarily in the Serengeti, our ancestors would need to be ready to react quickly so they didnít get eaten by a lion. While this isnít the motivation today (with the possible exception of if the glass were to break at the MGM Grand), this evolutionary advantage is still imbedded in our genetic code. Our ancestors, needed to be able to run at the first sign of trouble and today we react the same way to stimuli that seems dangerous.


When a player is waiting for their opponent to deliberate, they spend an extreme amount of effort trying to hide what they have. They concentrate, however, on what most players are looking at: their face. This makes the face one of the least reliable parts of the body! Many players have mastered their poker face, but not many of them have ever bothered to master a full body control, so their feet will still be reacting to the autonomic fight or flight tendencies! When youíre scared and want to run away (i.e. low confidence or bluffing), you get ready to sprint. Your heels are elevated and your toes are bent like a track star at the Olympics. An even better sign is when they take it to the next level and actually wrap their feet around the legs of their chair because they are so nervous! When youíre confident of your ability and youíre certain that you would be able to win in a fight, you naturally plant your feet and wait for the attack to come. This is a high confidence signal that your opponent wants a call.

The problems with this tell are obvious:

1. Itís hard to keep tabs on all of the feet of all of the players in the hand. In most cases, you can only constantly monitor people next to you or at most, two people in either direction. If youíre hiding under the table every hand, people will at best wonder what youíre doing, and at worst, call the police for being some kind of pervert. For best results, this tells should be used against someone who is sitting near you.

2. If a player has already had their feet in one of these positions, itís hard to tell if their position is related to their hand or if itís their normal position.

Iíve found that there are a few ways in which to make this a little easier. Donít try to make a big deal out of looking at their shoes. Itís hard to explain when they ask you about it and then theyíll know how youíre getting your information for future reference. If the person is next to you, I generally lean back in my chair and pretend to stare at the ground, my hands in my lap, or something at the edge of the table. This lets me check out my neighborís feet in my peripheral vision. Another move that I like to hold in reserve is for when Iím against an opponent across the table and itís a critical hand. My opponent has done their bit of acting, now itís time for mine. I moan and groan as I talk to them, and relate how indecisive I am. I push my chair back from the table while resting my hands on the border of the table. Keeping my arms extended, I groan my strife as I put my head down to my lap and catch a single glimpse of the feet of the player across the table. One glance should be all that it takes, because people will think youíre a Phil Hellmuth drama queen if you do this more than once in a session.

Even though this is one of the most uncommon tells to look for, itís one of the most reliable. Few poker players bother to consider their bodies below the table, so its not common for even the best players to guard themselves against it! When youíre able to get a glance at this kind of information, itís worth its weight in gold: Just remember that money walks when their feet talk!


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