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November 1, 2013

ROCK DOC: The science of detecting bluffs

(Continued)

Next, the researchers had the students study video of the players’ arms as the players placed bets on the tables in front of them. Using just that information, the students were often able to predict which players held strong hands versus which had weak ones. Those with good cards seemed to move their arms more smoothly compared to those with poor cards who were bluffing as they placed their bets. The bluffers appeared to have more awkward arm movements.

One thing I find quite impressive about that result is that the college students studying the video were not professional poker players. They may have played the odd hand of poker in their lives, but they were not experts. Nonetheless, these comparative novices could — on average — make a pretty good guess as to whether folks in the World Series of Poker in fact held good hands or not.

If the results of the Tufts study hold up, we’ll need to update the Kenny Rogers song. It’s not just the way poker players hold their eyes that can betray them, but the way they push their chips across the table.

Good luck with your next hand of cards.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters is the author of “Planet Rock Doc.” This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. Peters can be reached at rockdoc.wsu.edu and on Twitter @RockDocWSU.

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