Deceptive Psychology and Poker

Detecting when people are being deceptive is a skill that few people excel at, with an average 53% success rate when trying to detect dishonest statements. This apparent inability to make accurate judgements has quite a significant impact when it comes to taking part in games such as poker, where deception is considered a standard part of the game.

The psychology involved with poker makes it an interesting subject for study as deception and misinformation are so common.

Dr. Paul Seager is a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire specializing in deceptive psychology. He has used his knowledge to help him win when playing poker and discusses the topic regularly in both psychological and poker publications.

Speaking about poker, the first technique mentioned by Dr. Seager is to use a player’s honest baseline to detect when deception may be at play: “Try to analyse what your opponent’s demeanor is like when they are acting naturally. Are they loud, verbose and animated or are they shy, quiet and reserved?”

Then once play has started, subconscious influences which cause a shift from the natural behavior can highlight when a player is trying to deceive: “If you have observed your opponent being very talkative and animated before the game and then all of a sudden when the cards are dealt he is quiet, you are put on alert and become suspicious – you can assume that he is holding a monster hand.”

Paying attention to what an opponent is saying is also an important tool to use. Generally, people are better at picking up on lies when both visual and vocal cues can be used. People who are using speech to be deceptive tend to use fewer first-person pronouns, as well as being more negative in tone. Keeping an eye out for when people are distancing themselves from stories, as well as using words, to convey negative emotion like hate can be of use.

Dr. Seager’s second point is to analyze your opponents’ personalities. An understanding of their approach to the game can allow you to make informed decisions on how to adapt your own: “It is important to remember that in poker you are not only playing the cards that are dealt, but your opponent too. This secondary aspect of poker can be categorized as a meta game. It is best described as the hand you play isn’t based on mathematical calculations, but was played in an attempt to unbalance your opponent mentally.”

Learning to spot deception with these techniques when playing poker is all well and good, but what if the others around the table know these concepts and attempt to give off misleading signals? According to Dr. Seager, this shouldn’t be of great concern: “It can be very difficult to feign a tell. For example if a player is mid-conversation at the table and looks at their cards without taking a break from the conversation and shows no emotion it is an impressive feat. To not have any tell, or to fake one, is a difficult skill to master and only a few talented players have this type of restraint over their emotions.”


Adelson, R. (2004). Detecting deception, Monitor on Psychology, 35 (7), 70.

Bond CF Jr, & DePaulo BM (2006). Accuracy of deception judgments. Personality and social psychology review : an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc, 10 (3), 214-34 PMID: 16859438

deTurck, Mark A., Feeley, Thomas H., Roman, Lori A. (1997). Vocal and visual cue training in behavioural lie detection.Communication Research Reports, 14(3), 249-259. DOI: 10.1080/08824099709388668

Image via Bilciu / Shutterstock.

Mychal Whittle, BSc

Mychal Whittle, BSc, is a biology graduate from the University of Leeds. He now writes professionally around a range of biological and psychological topics.
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