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Even professional poker players who have spent careers mastering an expressionless face, no matter the stakes, are apt to indicate the quality of their hand to their opponents. According to a scientific study out of Stanford University, body language is a strong indicator of hand quality even when a player has a straight face. In an experiment, "if a volunteer could see everything about a player from the table up there was no correlation between his judgments of a hand’s value and its actual value. When a volunteer could see only arms and hands, however, [researchers] found a positive correlation, of 0.07, between his guesses and reality."

What's the Big Idea?

To confirm the results of the experiment, a fresh set of volunteers were asked not to rate the quality of the hand but rather the confidence of a player based on his or her gestures while betting. Players who moved smoothly were rated as more confident and this rating corresponded, statistically, to having a better hand of cards. Players with choppy, interrupted movement were rated as less confident and were found to have worse hands. "The moral of the story for players, then, is don’t look your opponent squarely in the eye if you want to know how good his cards are. The secret of his hand is in his hands."

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Read it at the Economist