Poker Tells: The Lip Pressing Of Weak Players

In this month’s article, we’ll be discussing pressing of the lips, which is a low-confidence tell. In a general sense, lip compression is an indicator of repressed anger, discomfort, disliking, grief, sadness, or uncertainty. It is a clear sign that a person is experiencing something negative and that his level of stressed has increased. It’s an unconscious way for our body to block everything out by not letting anything “infiltrate” our mind through our mouths.

In the picture below, we see a woman that is clearly angry. You can notice frowning in the upper face area (look at her eyebrows), bulging eyes and of course, a great tension in the lower face area, lips, jaw and chin.

Most importantly, notice how her lips are totally gone. You only see a thin line where the lips touch. It’s the opposite of the full lips many men look for in a woman, and the reason why many of them resort to plastic surgery to give themselves a better smile. It’s a sexual interest of men, and we love it. So when the lips disappear, it’s certainly not what we look for in a mate; it’s a negative display.

In the picture below, you can see former Governor Eliot Spitzer who was linked to a high priced prostitution service in 2008. In the wake of these revelations, Spitzer announced on March 12, 2008 that he would resign his post as Governor. During that press conference, Spitzer displayed this facial expression, pressing his lips together signaling he felt increased anxiety, discomfort and/or grief. Notice also that the lips are pulled downwards which is a sign that the expression is intense.

At the poker table, you will see pressing of the lips in many situations, and most usually involve a weak hand or a low confidence state of mind. In poker, this tell is usually a sign of anger, anxiety and discomfort.

So let’s look at three situations you will often encounter this poker tell.

Players on Tilt

Players who have taken a beat and are on tilt often display this tell. If it isn't obvious by the way they are acting already, like for example loud obnoxious behavior at the table, look for a pressing of the lips suggesting they are trying to control their emotions, and their anger, but that they are tilting badly. This is one of those reliable tells you can see in between hands, and that you should use against your opponents. Sometimes you can pick up tells after the play has concluded, and this is one of those tells. And what’s great about tells like this one is that when the hand is over it’s usually a time when players drop their guards and don’t try to hide their tells as much. It’s great time to get a good idea of the true state of mind of an opponent.

As they bet or before

Look for this tell as a player is considering placing a bet or as the chips are being pushed in the pot. In my experience, I have yet to see this tell displayed when an opponent is very strong. Sometimes, players will start pressing their lips even before they actually physically put the chips in the pot, when they are thinking about betting. This is a clear sign of an increased state of anxiety and discomfort.

After a bluff waiting for the action

Perhaps the most common display of this tell happens after a player has placed a bet and an opponent is considering calling (or raising). Remember this tell is a sign of negative emotions and a great sign there is something the player doesn’t like. Unless the player is on tilt, it usually means he is trying to control himself and is getting anxious. You always have to ask yourself why a player is displaying a facial expression or gesture. If the player isn’t on tilt, then there must be some discomfort and uncertainty, and that suggests a weak holding.

Now let's look at different examples of this tell in live poker hands and how you can spot it in your next session and outplay your opponents.

John Juanda at the Professional Poker Tour

Watch this hand first here:

This clip is from the defunct PPT. In this hand, poker pro John Juanda is trying to get John Murphy to fold his hand. After betting the flop with Murphy calling, Juanda bluffs the turn with JT on a 22Q7 board. But pay attention to his lips starting at 1:25 right after john Murphy has called his flop bet, and again at 3:04 of the video after he has bet the turn. They have completely disappeared inside his mouth. Looks familiar? There is certainly something up here. Well, as we can see Juanda is on a total bluff and doesn't really like Murphy's reluctance to fold. Oh yeah, and do you spot Juanda rub the back of his neck at 2:04? This is a sign, as we discussed in last month’s article, that he is experiencing a higher level of stress. So even a professional accomplished player like John Juanda is not immune to displaying this tell at the table.

Mike Sowers at a WSOP Final Table

Watch this hand first here:

This hand features Mike Sexton and Mike Sowers at the final table of the WSOP 10k Pot-Limit Hold’em in 2008. During the hand, Mike Sowers moves all-in with 94o against Mike Sexton’s pocket queens. So let’s look at Sowers after he pushes his stack in the pot. And of course, watch his lips at 1:01 of the video. You can see how his lips are pressed together, and roll inside his mouth. This should tell Mike Sexton that Sowers is weak and lacks confidence. Also remember that final tables of tournaments are a great arena for spotting tells as they are situations where the stakes are high and the stress level is intense, which are two key ingredients where you can spot tells the most.

To conclude this article, I will tell you that this is one the most reliable tell out there and one specific tell that my students give me feedback on the most. It’s pretty easy to see if you are observing your opponents intensely. You really need to pay attention and be on the lookout for this tell in your next live session. As always, you need to establish a baseline for every opponent and compare his gestures and facial expression to that baseline behavior. But if a player who has never pressed his lips in a relaxed state suddenly displays this tell after placing a bet, you can probably assume he is weak and on a bluff.

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