Joe Navarro: From FBI Agent to World Class Poker Academy Coach


Think you can hide behind that hoodie and sunglasses at the poker tables? Guess again.

For 25 years, Joe Navarro worked as an FBI special agent in the areas of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment. During his stint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Navarro interrogated terrorists and master criminals alike. Needless to say, he is an expert at detecting non-verbal communication and body language--the man can read people like a book. Navarrro has now joined forces with the World Series of Poker Academy, (the official poker training school for the WSOP), where he applies to the poker tables the exact same science he learned from his work at the FBI.

Navarro's Mind and Body Seminar, held in July at the Rio in Las Vegas, was what sold me into attending the academy. According to Navarro: "The vast majority of the nonverbal cues we display are driven by our subconscious mind -- they are important indications of how we are feeling and what we're thinking."

Navarro said that the key to becoming a better poker player is to collect as much information as you can on your targets. This involves learning how to observe your opponents without being noticed. In turn, keen players should never let their emotions take over at the poker table--the more tension one has, the less capable they are of observing what's going on around them.

During his seminar, Navarro revealed more than 200 nonverbal tells. He took the class through observational exercises in order to determine whether a player is bluffing or hiding pocket Aces. Here's a trick: people are good at telling one lie but have trouble telling two lies. If you think a player is bluffing, ask them a question. ("Are you going to hurt me with that hand?") Watch their body language for response. Their poker bluff is the first lie. Answering your question is their second lie. As the cognitive load slows the brain down to respond, watch for their nervous tics. Fascinating stuff.

After I took Mind and Body Seminar, I ventured into the main WSOP tournament room. The game suddenly became broken down to a dance of body language and non-verbal communication within a battle of mental wits. My enjoyment of watching poker was brought to a whole new level once I knew what to look for. With new insights, I enjoyed trying to pick out which player was bluffing and which was harvesting a good hand. I just needed to look for the signs (Biting of the lip, a brief clenching of the hands, the wrinkling of the forehead, etc.) All poker interactions are merely a series of non-verbal body language.

Through Navarro's astute advice, here are a few non-verbal observations you can use to not only read players at the poker tables but also in everyday life when trying reading everyone from your boss to your romantic partner.

  • Head tilt. You see it both when a date is going well or at the poker table when a player has a strong hand.

  • Pursed lips. It usually means you disagree with something or plain don't like it. When you see it in poker, 92% of the time the player will eventually fold.
  • Nose crinkle. It's the same behavior we had as children. Clearly the person is showing dissatisfaction.
  • Mouth. Lips are full when confident and disappear when a person is not comfortable. You see it at the tables when a player wants to release stress due to a bad hand.
  • High chin. When someone is strong their nose and chin will be raised high. When they lack confidence they will be tucked it in.