We, as a civilization, have been raised to lie with our faces. Think about it. When, as a child, you were forced to take family pictures or eat an unpleasant food, your parents would often say something like, “At least pretend you’re happy. Smile!”
Faking a happy expression around those you dislike, hiding your elation in front of a sports opponent on whom you’ve just laid a monster beatdown, even fighting not to wrinkle your nose at the unpleasant smells when visiting a sick relative in the hospital – all of these experiences combine to teach young people how to lie with their faces.
At the poker table, we watch for the flare of a nostril, the wink of an eyebrow, or the twitch hiding at the corner of an opponent’s mouth. But the face, thanks in large part to our respective upbringings, is the least honest portion of our anatomy. We’ve been taught since infancy to mask our true emotions before they flicker across our countenance.
So where, then, can we hope to glean the most truth from an enemy? The answer may surprise you.
It’s the feet. Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? After all, how many players get a chance to glimpse under the table? But think about it. Other than the occasional, “Stop tapping your foot,” how many of us were regularly admonished to keep our toes in check? While the proper control of face, eyes and arms has been drilled into us, almost no one spends much time regulating their lower limbs.
Therefore, the immediate reactions and movements of an opponent’s lower body are one of the most powerful barometers of hand strength and aggression.
While no method of reading is 100 percent accurate, I’ve won many pots off of otherwise excellent players by watching the moment of their legs and feet. Here are some of the most common cues of the shoes:
When an opponent’s feet are angled and ready, cocked like those of a sprinter about to explode from the blocks, this indicates action. Your foe is about to make a move, most likely a raise.
A pigeon-toed player is most often an insecure player. They are uncomfortable with their hand and can generally be induced to fold.
If an opponent’s feet are angled (especially toward the door from which the entered the room), he’s seeking to escape. Not happy with where the hand is going, the subject is desperate to flee from conflict.
If another player wraps their legs around their chair, you’ve got them. This is a self-restraining maneuver – the mind’s subtle attempt to keep the body in place. This is one of the most telling cues you could hope for. From personal experience, I’ve found that this generally means an opponent is bluffing, or is at least hoping to push you away while holding a marginal hand. The same can be said of interlocked ankles. When a player crosses their feet, this is a self-pacifying behavior, indicative of insecurity produced by a bluff or longshot draw.
However, if your quarry’s ankles suddenly unlock and hit the floor after a new card lands on the felt, they may have made their hand. This is indicative of an elevation of confidence. They may have drawn out on you.
In fact, any quick arch of the feet and toes generally means that your opponent likes what they see, such as a fortuitous flop or street.
As mentioned above, no system of tells is absolutely correct all of the time. But the general rules of human behavior dictate that footing is an essential attitude indicator. So remember, watch the shoes. When used in combination with other body tells, they can provide a devastatingly accurate read on the opposition.