How to Get and Keep a Poker Face

Poker involves analysis and misdirection.  The analysis part is partly common sense and partly mathematics.  The misdirection side of poker involves bluffing and making opponents misread your hand.  A poker face is a vital part of the misdirection side of poker.

What is a Poker Face?

The term poker face has entered everyday language because it describes a very important part of many situations.  Negotiators have to keep a poker face in order to get a better deal.  Athletes need to keep a poker face in order to not anger opponents.  Even children need to keep a poker face when they are confronted by an inquisitive parent.

The difficulty lies in both achieving a poker face and maintaining it for long periods of time.  Even such a mundane activity as using the Juicy Stakes rake calculator will enable a good opponent to read your hand!  The rake calculator is such a straightforward part of every hand that you need not pay any attention to it! 

Instead, you should give a lot of attention to being calm and relaxed!

The Importance of Staying Calm and Relaxed

This is the first rule of poker face maintenance but anyone who has ever tried to keep a poker face knows it is a lot easier said than done!  How does someone achieve calmness? How does one continue to be calm in the face of an emotional “storm”?  How does a person relax when their mind is pounding with uncertainty and, on poker or business, the chance to win a lot of money or to lose a lot of money?

Winning and Losing Six Figures

A story from Chicago is appropriate here.  Back in the 1970’s, one of the Chicago television stations ran a series of reports about average Chicagoans in extraordinary circumstances.  One of the segments was about a man in his early twenties who traded commodities on the Chicago Board of Trade.

He had become a trader at a very young age and was already a multi-millionaire.  He was interviewed as he sat eating breakfast cereal in his parents’ house where he still lived.  The interviewer asked him how he kept so calm as he traded the large deals that were the hallmark of trade in that market.

The young man said that the day before he had “made” six figures in profits but the day of the interview he had “lost” six figures.  His answer to the question of how to stay calm in such a firestorm of pressure was simply that he had no choice; if a trader gets too emotional either on the highs or on the lows they burn out fast!

How to Get Calm and Stay Calm

Here are a few good tips for getting and staying calm:

  1. Be in excellent physical condition.  This doesn’t mean weight lifting or jogging for two hours every day.  It means eating moderately, drinking alcohol moderately, getting enough sleep, and never spending more money than you can afford to spend.  People who eat too much or eat the wrong foods—especially junk foods—are not calm.  People who drink too much alcohol are not calm.  People who don’t sleep enough or don’t sleep well are not calm.  People who spend money wastefully are not calm.

  2. Have a routine and practice it.  The biggest giveaway of your hand is your reaction when you get a good hand in the deal.  Most hands are junk and players should fold almost all junk.  But every so often, you’ll get a high pair or ace-king.  You need to practice showing no emotion when you get such a hand.  Players who don’t practice this reaction are like singers or musicians who don’t practice their scales: they cannot be calm when calm is of the essence.

  3. Learn to remember your hand so that you never have to look again.  The knowledge that you know what you have will have a calming effect on the hand.  It is an essential part of having a poker face.  Keep in mind that a good poker face simply means that you have overcome every emotional obstacle that could prevent you from maintaining the secrecy that winning the hand requires.

  4. Learn to modulate your voice in the same manner for all plays.  You should sound the same when you fold as when you raise.  A raise could be a bluff or it could mean that you have a solid hand.  If you change your vocalization, an astute opponent will pick up on that and will have a very good sense of which way your hand is going: bluff or strong.

  5. The way you put chips in is also important.  One of the things we can learn from the YouTube clips we all like to watch is how the players put in their chips.  If you throw in the chips when you limp in but are more aggressive when you have a good hand, opponents will catch on.  Always try to bet in the same way.

  6. Practice sitting in a comfortable way.   It seems so obvious that we need to be comfortable in order to be calm but it is a lot harder to achieve in poker than most players realize.  For one, poker requires sitting for long periods of time.  Secondly, our bodies are used to reacting when thing are going well.  Dancing is all about letting our bodies react to goods vibes!  So, if we show discomfort, we won’t be able to maintain the proper poker face.

  7. Never think that pretending to be calm will fool your opponents.  Strong opponents may actually know more about you than you know about yourself.  So, if you lean against your hand thinking that the opponents won’t draw a conclusion from that behavior, you are mistaken!

  8. Finally, understand that your poker face is largely a function of all of the physical actions you take over the course of the hand!  This simple insight eludes many poker players from amateurs to experienced players.  The way your face looks when you are playing poker will be a function of all of the elements we have listed and expanded on here!

  9. And you have to practice keeping a poker face on every hand.  Some players don’t like the robotic nature of poker for this reason.  Unfortunately for them, their erratic behavior makes their facial expression very readable to strong opponents and they will wonder why they can’t grow a pot when they have a good hand and, conversely, can’t make a successful bluff when they felt the timing was right for a bluff.

Conclusion

A good poker face is made not born!  No one starts playing poker as a grizzled veteran of thousands of hands.  One of the many reasons we at Juicy Stakes Poker advise new players to start in low stakes games is because it takes thousands of hands for most players to develop the skills to move up to higher stakes games.

Maintaining a good poker face is just one of those skills and it is one of the most important!

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