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Poker News: August 17th, 2010

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HEADLINE: Want to win at poker? Look trustworthy, Wellesley researcher says

Forget what you may have heard from Lady Gaga. If you want to win at the poker table, the worst face to use is a neutral, inscrutable ‘‘poker face.’’

That was the surprising conclusion of Dr. Erik Schlicht, a visiting researcher at Wellesley College who used the game to study the way humans make decisions under pressure.

"What we wanted to look at was the way people behaved in situations where there is a risky decision to make," Schlicht said. "Traditionally, researchers do this by simulating wagers or lotteries. But I thought if we could use a scenario people were more likely to encounter in their daily life, like playing poker, we could get a sense of how people respond to biological cues, not just the abstract."

The cues in this case were facial expressions. Schlicht and his team tested how people responded to a computer that raised wagers on a hand of Texas Hold'em while displaying different facial expressions on the screen.

"We told them they could either call or fold, and what we found was that they thought longer when the computer screen showed a trustworthy face, and that they were more likely to fold," Schlicht said.

The worst face to get an opponent to throw in the towel? The traditional ‘‘poker face,’’ Schlicht said.

The research, which has been featured in Scientific American and the New York Times, confirms what others have found about how people analyze risks.

"People are very poor at weighing risks in the heat of the moment, but they're very good at fine motor control and reading expressions," Schlicht said.

However, Schlicht cautions, using his research to win big at the poker table might not be the best strategy.

"Oftentimes, getting people to fold is not what you want, and even if it is, people's interpretations of your expression will update over time," he said. "You might be able to fool someone for a few hands, but probably not much longer."

Sarah Thomas can be reached at

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Article downloaded from the World Wide Web on August 18th, 2010

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