Disgust is one of the seven basic human emotions (along with joy, sadness, fear, surprise, anger and contempt). When we smell something bad or when we see something we judge offensive, we crinkle our nose, and our upper lip moves upwards. I’ve done it, and you’ve done it. Even small babies do it. It’s innate. Just crinkle your nose right now and you’ll probably start to feel disgusted towards something.
And as in any emotion, we can experience disgust at varying degrees. Sometimes we are disgusted because we see a child rapist on television, and sometimes it’s because our favourite team just lost a big game. In the same way, sometimes we display a full face disgust, like in the picture to the right, and other times it will be much more subtle, like a slight raising of the upper lip, or a minimal creasing of the upper nose area.
At the poker table, things are no different. When a situation arises that is not to our liking, for example if an opponent thinks about calling our bluff, we are likely to feel disgusted about it. And even if we try to keep a poker face, facial expressions nevertheless leak. These leaks often take the form of what are called micro-expressions, which are 1/5 second displays of a suppressed emotion. They are quickly shown, and as quickly hidden, but for an astute observer, they can mean the difference between winning a big pot or folding the best hand.
Poker is a great arena for spotting micro-expressions, because all poker players try to hide their true feelings. We all strive to keep a poker face. But we all fail.
As you’ll see in this article, even seasoned pros will display micro-expressions, and if they can’t help it, with thousands and thousands of hours playing live poker, I bet you can’t either.
From my own observations, poker players will usually show disgust in one of four typical situations.
While their opponent is deliberating
This usually means that whatever the opponent is thinking about doing, the player does not like. I was involved in a hand recently at the WSOP where a player raised under the gun and it was folded to the cut-off who was deliberating his next move. The raiser then showed a micro-expression of disgust, clearly not happy about the fact that the player was thinking about playing, thus telling me he was weak and did not want any action. The cut-off moved in (preventing me from raising myself :-)), and the original raiser folded.
Right after their opponent has called
Often times, bluffing players will show disgust right after being called by an opponent. This is a very accurate tell that tells us that the bettor did not appreciate the action, in this case the call by another player. So it gives you a bit more information on the state of mind of your opponent if you are the caller.
When they bet
Sometimes a player will show disgust as he puts chips in the middle. When you see such an expression, you have to ask yourself why a person would be feeling disgusted while betting or raising. It’s rare we feel this way when we have a great hand.
After the hand is played and an opponent folded
There are not many tells that give us information on our opponents after the action has concluded. Sometimes, players will show disgust after their opponents have folded, thus telling us that they did not like it. For example, if you are thinking about calling or folding and you eventually decide to fold, watch your opponent. If he shows you disgust, there a very good chance you made the right decision.
Daniel Negreanu on The Big Game
Let’s now look at two examples of disgust at the table. First, let’s look at a real live hand featuring Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson (I suggest you watch the hand before reading further).
Here’s the hand:
After a raise preflop, both Doyle and Daniel flop top pair. Both decide to slowplay and the action is checked around. On the turn, the board pairs the bottom card, making the board Td Jc 3c 3h and Doyle reaches for his chips. Obviously annoyed by the turn card, and that Doyle might have sucked out on him, Daniel shows a micro-expression of disgust (see screenshot).
The expression can be seen at exactly 0:48 in the video. It’s a micro-expression, and it’s real fast (remember micro-expressions last 1/5 of a second and can be even faster). But there is no denying it, we can see wrinkles in the upper area of the nose and a slight raising of the upper lip: disgust.
And even if we can’t usually tell for sure why a person feels a certain emotion, we can probably assume that it’s because Daniel saw something he did not like. The fact that Doyle bets into two players increases the chances he’s got a piece of the board, and that that turn card might have hurt Daniel. So he probably regrets his flop check, and is disgusted by the way the hand is playing out.
So if you were sitting in Doyle’s position and happen to see that expression in Daniel’s face, you should bet for sure. Sometimes, you can be considering a bet when you spot this tell, tipping the scale towards betting. It’s a very accurate tell.
Stan Goldstein on the World Poker Tour
The second hand we’ll be looking at involves Stan Goldstein and Hon Le, at the final table of the Legends of Poker during the World Poker Tour back in 2002. Lets’ watch the hand first.
Stan Goldstein seems somewhat frustrated about the way the final table has been played so far. He’s been playing pretty tight, and Hon Le has been splashing around. In this hand, Stan raises preflop with A3o, and Hon Le calls out of the big blind.
The flop is certainly bad for his hand being KdQc9d, so he checks. Is he trapping? Has the flop missed him? Well, if you look at his face when he checks, at exactly 0:17 of the video (see screenshot), you’ll see that he displays a micro-expression of disgust, as sure sign of how he feels about the flop. In the image below, you can see that his upper lip is raised, and his nostrils are flared. Stan does not like what he sees. And if he’s disgusted about the way the hand has turned out, then he has to have a weak hand, and in fact, he does.
So being able to spot that micro-expression of disgust would mean you can safely bet and take the pot away. Disgust is one of the most accurate poker tells, and I’d say probably one of the more frequent tells I see when I play.
Disgust Poker Tell
Disgust is just one of the many poker tells that a good observer can see at the poker table. Some players are more expressive than others, and some facial expressions are very subtle, but the leaks are there. So if you want to improve your reading skills, and thus improve your win rate, you might want to take up your study of poker tells to another level. The clues are out there, right in front of you. You just need to know what to look for, and understand how to find them. And although we all strive to put on our best poker face when we play, mark my words; there is no perfect poker face!