By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper

February 14, 2007

Of all the concepts that speed up an accurate people reading assessment- whether it be in a card room, a conference room, or a courtroom, listening skills are at the top the list.

It is easy to miss the subtleties, nuances, and signals that occur in every exchange. It is also easy to catch them by obeying the “listening laws” that are part of my 12-Step System to People Reading Excellence- formulated from decades of experience in reading people in business, politics, and card rooms.

At the poker table, careful attention to these listening laws helps substantially maximize winnings, and minimize losses. The key to this positive state of affairs in my own poker experience is a consistent effort to splice into my read of an opponent not only what he says, but also other audio connections to the hand; the dealer’s interactions, a whispered conversation between two players that are not involved in the hand, the words of a friendly “sweater” at the opponent’s side, or a floor person’s ruling.

Listening for audio clues and taking notice of silence are similarly important, as is eyeballing facial movements and neck pulse.

Common sense and pure logic are your friends at the poker table in validating both oral data and pointed silence.

But no matter how enamored I may be with the notion of womanly intuition, I know that my own results improve markedly with continued validation and adjustments of intuitive impressions of the players in a transaction- from the card room to the board room. In fact, I have watched more bankrolls evaporate in an instant in ‘bet the ranch’ negotiations thanks to intuition that has gone awry.

In a fast paced poker game, the proficient listener has a big edge. One of my 10 listening laws calls for customizing questions for the person and the situation with a view toward eliciting fast relevant answers rather than defensive or nasty replies. Consider the following before you leap into a full on engagement:

1. Are there specific pieces of information you are attempting to obtain? If so, how can you frame a conversation that will lead to this information without direct interrogation?

2. Are you trying to get a “baseline” reading of a person for better interpretation of subsequent interactions?

3. Do you have background information about the person’s current level of self esteem? Do you have information about this person that should be kept quiet?

4. Does the person to whom you will be speaking have specific expectations of you?

5. Is your opposite going to try to rush you into judgment or exert other pressure?

6. How do you feel? Are you clear-minded and in control? Are you calm, grounded, and confident in your own position?

7. Do you appear to be an empathetic listener? Is your demeanor an asset or a liability at the moment?

8. On a scale from ‘life and death’ to casual banter, how important is this transaction or poker hand that is in progress and how much do your feeling show through?

9. If the interaction takes a surprising downturn, will you be able to remain centered?

10. What do you think the other person thinks that you are thinking about his answers?


Law 5 directs the people reading student to “Be in the Now and Stay There.” The thoughtful listener tunes his ear both to the content of an answer and the style of delivery, recognizing that the care you take in framing questions will be reflected in the time it takes to unmask disingenuous answers. Your people reads are only as good as your understanding of the effect you have on the person you are trying to gauge. In poker, the pros excel at playing the player.

How To Listen To the Answers

Obviously, being a good listener is the flip side to being a good questioner. It starts with a simple precept: allow others to say what they want to say fully. The experienced people-reader does not worry about an orderly probe. It will flow naturally from his progressive read.

Questions can be presented in a wide variety of postures and guises-informational, open-ended, casual, humorous, rhetorical, confrontational, seductive, etc. Likewise answers can be filled with spin. A good listener hears with trained ears. In any negotiation, I listen to answers with special attention to how a person responds. Are there points of emphasis, repetitions, significant pauses, or nervous coughs? The modulation of tone is always significant, as is the speed and the volume of a voice. But in a poker game there is precious little time to chat up an opponent so as to peel away the layers of meaning in his banter. Ergo, the test bet is often the dynamite “listening” tool…

Silence can be a more complex response to unravel than long winded words. I ask myself constantly, “Am I hearing evasion or deliberate omissions?” Visual cues frequently come to the rescue in a crisis of silence; body language and facial expressions reveal much about a person’s comfort level, his attitude, and reactions to certain subject matters. Indeed, the way the person uses his eyes while answering questions is almost always a useful indication of thoughts behind the words. Does he maintain eye contact? Does he blink excessively? Does he look down during some answers and up on others?

Thankfully, all but the most savvy poker players have body and behavior tells that can be deciphered with common sense.

Nevertheless, the silent treatment can be unnerving and frustrating. But let’s face it: you are not always so lucky as to be dealing with a chatterbox!

So what do you do when you are stared down or someone is acting as if he is hard of hearing? At the poker table you can’t afford to let the other party shut down your fact gathering apparatus-part of which is interaction with him. It is in your interest to learn the general modus operandi and habits of an opponent in a negotiation of any sort. If you know that the odds are that the silent treatment will emerge as a regular part of a poker player’s table image, your best bet is to try to create an amiable relationship with him-away from the table…

If you ask innocuous, non-threatening questions when he is not in the throes of a big pot, there is a chance that he’ll exempt you from the silent treatment at a critical moment in a hand against him later. In poker, most players are more on guard while engaged in a hand. The hats, sunglasses, and silence are part of the camouflage outfit that competitors wear for special effect – the Game Face. If you see someone- in any situation- wearing his Game Face, you’re going to have to break through the façade, or go around it, in order to get any revealing insights. Between hands, or before and after the game, poker players are generally more willing to chat and socialize as a means of relaxation.

This is a good time to get baseline readings about an opponent’s demeanor; insure that any prior stress with you has fully dissipated, first. Take special note of voice modulations, and eye connections in a non-provocative environment. When he replies with enthusiastic praise for “Phantom of the Opera,” I note his gestures, how his eyes light up, vocal inflections- loudness, pitch, etc.

These reactions will provide you with reliable reads of the person’s behavior when he is on a more even keel – neither excited by the sudden prospect of a winning hand, nor nervous about bluffing with modest cards.

Well, a few hours or days later when I ask him how he likes his hand, even if he does give me the silent treatment, I may get clues from his demeanor. If he replies with the same tone of enthusiasm, I have reason to suspect that he has a good hand. If his response is slower, lower, with eyes averted- even if he tells me the cards are running hot for him- I might have good reason to suspect that he is bluffing.

Other than the most disciplined pros- who know how to use “the silent treatment” as a powerful weapon- most silent players have “tells” or giveaway behavior that an attentive listener/observer can read and understand. You’ll find that a majority of the quiet ones in any negotiation- at the poker table or the conference table- fall into silence as a form of insecurity. They don’t know what to do to protect themselves from giving out revealing signals of weakness and therefore settle on trying to conceal their feelings entirely. With these insecure types, know that your calculated momentary silence in interactions with them can be more powerful than theirs with you. And in any negotiation, sometimes it’s best to wait a second or two before jumping into the dialogue. If you don’t speak right up, a nervous person is likely to keep right on talking in order to fill the awkward void, giving you valuable information that might otherwise go by the boards.

Questions and answers are the most fundamental and formidable verbal interaction people have. By being aware of the different kinds of information that is provided in these exchanges, you develop sophistication as a people reader that most men and women never consciously develop. If you Obey Your Listening Laws in my 12-Step System to People Reading Excellence you will score home runs in the evaluation process of others’ answers.

Ms Eolis has decades of experience as an expert people reader in business, politics, and card rooms. The CEO of EOLIS International Group, she formed the People Reading Institute to offer to the public, seminars, lectures and coaching in her 12-Step System to People Reading Excellence. Wendeen was the he first woman to cash in the final event of the WSOP and has proved that she has staying power with another four WSOP cashes (most recently in 2006) as well as her election to membership on the WPT’s Inaugural Professional Poker Tour.