Carefully study the details of the enemy so you can glean his future moves. On this point, Sun Tzu’s advice in war is not so different from Mike Caro’s advice in the game of poker.
Mike Caro, “the Mad Genius of Poker,” is a poker teacher, a poker writer, and one of the best poker players in the world. He uses computer analysis, but he is also famous for his work on the psychology and philosophy of gambling. Let’s compare advice from Caro’s Book of Poker Tells to Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
Weak Means Strong, Strong Means Weak
When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is relying on the natural strength of his position. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious for the other side to advance. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is tendering a bait.
In a poker game, the urge to act strong when weak can be overpowering for most players. Its reverse—weak when strong . . . is also widespread.
When players go out of their way to act weak, it’s because they hold strong hands.
The sudden rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an ambush at the spot below. Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming.
Always be alert for a player who suddenly perks up and plays a pot. Usually it takes a genuine hand to rouse a player from a lethargic condition and get him interested in gambling.
When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low, and spread over a wide area, it betokens the approach of infantry. When it branches out in different directions, it shows that parties have been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and fro signify that the army is encamping.
Players who are bluffing and are therefore afraid will be reluctant to exhale their cigarette smoke in a conspicuous manner. Remember, bluffers try to do nothing to bring attention to themselves and promote a call. Most bluffers would like to be invisible if they could. When a player exhales a huge cloud of smoke, he’s not as likely to be afraid of your call.
Clues from Appearances
When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears, they are faint from want of food. If those who are sent to draw water begin by themselves drinking, the army is suffering from thirst. If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes no effort to secure it, the soldiers are exhausted.
Well-dressed people tend to play conservatively. However, a man wearing a rumpled business suit with a loosened tie is probably in a gambling mood and will play looser than he would if that same suit were recently donned and his tie were in perfect position.
Order and Disorder
Clamor by night betokens nervousness. Fear makes men restless, so they fall to shouting at night in order to keep up their courage. If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means the men are weary.
Glimpses of an opponent’s true nature can often be gained by watching the way he stacks his chips. The very organized manner in which these chips are arranged suggests that this player will probably choose his hands carefully, seldom bluff and won’t display a lot of gamble. Of course his mood may change during the game, but in that case his stacks will probably become less neatly arranged. Notice that there are a few extra chips on top of his large stacks. This could be his profit.