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Poker pros' arms betray their hands

The way players move chips when betting signals card quality

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6:34pm, September 17, 2013

POKER ARMS  When placing bets, poker players' arms, not their faces, betray card quality, a new study suggests.

No bluff: In high-stakes matches, a poker face may not be good enough. Players may have to develop “poker arms” as well.

When shown two-second video clips of the arms and hands of top players making bets in the World Series of Poker, college students did well at judging who was playing a strong hand and who wasn’t, say psychology graduate student Michael Slepian of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and his colleagues.

But when viewing videos of only poker pros’ upper bodies or faces during bets, students couldn’t correctly predict whether players held good or bad cards, the researchers report Sept. 12 in Psychological Science.

In other words, experienced players’ poker faces gave away nothing. “But professional poker players’ arm movements enabled untrained observers to decode poker-hand quality,” Slepian says.

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