The Psychology of Poker

The Psychology of playing Poker


The Psychology of playing Poker
The best poker players use psychology to gain advantage during a game.

Winning a poker hand requires a combination of luck and skill. While a firm grasp of the rules can keep you afloat, understanding the psychology behind the game enables you to win pot after pot.

For example, you will need to look for clues of bluffing, consider poker personalities, and analyze facial expressions to enjoy success at the felt. Continue reading to learn how poker psychology could lead to you dominating a game.

Poker Personalities

It is common for players to adopt distinctive styles at a poker table. If you can identify a style when playing Omaha hi-lo, you will be able to tap into an opponent’s psychological weak points. You can then use this knowledge to your advantage.

For example, a player could choose one of the following styles:

  • Passive play – they will rarely place a bet and will allow others to lead a hand
  • Aggressive play – they will place pressure on rivals by raising a bet
  • Loose play – they will play a variety of hands
  • Tight play – they will play a small number of good hands

Understanding the distinct playing styles and how to counteract them can help you to walk away with a pot. Observe each opponent to see if they play tight or loose. For example, if they play many hands, they will be a loose player. 

The next step you will need to take is to identify if they are an aggressive or passive player. If they regularly check and call more than they raise or bet, they’re a passive player. If that’s the case, you could then apply pressure to force them out of a game.

Facial Expressions

According to research by data scientist, Erik Schlicht, poker players exhibit three facial expressions during a game:

  • Trustworthy
  • Untrustworthy
  • Neutral

The study found that people with angry, threatening facial expressions are perceived as untrustworthy, while happy, attractive faces appear as trustworthy. However, neither positive nor negative expressions are perceived as neutral. The research also discovered that players would take longer to fold or decide on a hand when playing against a trustworthy face, as their opponent might not be bluffing.

A skilled player might know your bluffing and betting strategies and use them against you during a game. However, a new opponent will not know your strategy and your trustworthy facial expression could cause them to fold or make a mistake.

Spot Potential Tells

Poker movies often include actors rubbing their noses or twitching when they have an excellent hand. Yet in reality, players show very few physical tells. To gain an advantage, you will need to look for the so-called micro-expressions. For example, a player’s hands might shake, they might not blink, or they could stare at the flop. 

If you are playing poker online, spotting tells can be even more difficult but still possible. For example, you could discover a pattern in an opponent’s bets. For this reason, it’s better to start out playing low stakes poker hands to improve your skill set and familiarize yourself with various patterns of play. Also, don’t forget to make a note of their name to refer to when facing them in future games.

Play the Tempo

playing cards for poker
Playing tactically will improve your likelihood of winning a round of poker.

Every live or online poker player must try to take control of the tempo. For example, if you regularly check your cards during a game of Texas Hold ‘em, your opponents might believe you are chasing your cards. Quickly raising could also cause others to believe you have a good hand and are trying to win a sizeable amount of money.

Identify Tilts and River Rats

Identifying a river rat or a player on the tilt could be lucrative. If you are unfamiliar with these terms, a river rat is a player who bets before the flop if they have promising cards. They will then stick with a game to the river, even if it is a lost cause. 

A player on the tilt means they have invested their emotions into a game and could hemorrhage money at the poker felt. 

Common causes of a poker tilt can include:

  • Failed bluffs
  • Losing many coin flips
  • Losing to a poor player
  • A bad bet
  • Reacting to an antagonizing player

While you should look out for these players during a game, you also should pressure players into playing with emotion. Anger can impair a player’s ability to think both logically and rationally, which helps you to gain an advantage. 

Remember to remain focused and calm throughout a game to avoid going on tilt. If you were stuck in a traffic jam on the way to a casino or struggled to access the internet to play poker online, you could feel angry or frustrated. Look for warning signs you are on tilt and walk away from a game. 

Analyze the best poker players in the world to learn how to keep your emotions in check. They have mastered remaining poker-faced during a brutal defeat or when winning millions. If you allow the excitement to take over, you could become overconfident. While a negative outcome could prevent you from making strategic decisions.


There is no guarantee you will win a game of live or online poker. A firm understanding of the rules and great cards at the table could help you secure a pot, but a more talented player could beat you at the felt. All you can do is play your best during a game, bluff well, and use psychology to understand your opponents and gain an advantage.