Articles by Annie Duke

Lessons From the FBI

Let me tell you about the time I met an FBI interrogator named Joe Navarro. Why? Because it was a turning point in my No Limit Hold’em game,

Last March, I was asked to appear on a show called More Than Human on the Discovery Channel. The premise for the episode was to pit human lie detectors against machine lie detectors. They found three people whose living depended on detecting lies; a psychic named Dr. Turri, an FBI interrogator (Joe Navarro) and a poker player (me). The idea was to have all three of us watch the host answer 25 questions. Some answers would be lies and some would be the truth. A comparison was made between how accurately we detected the true answers versus the answers that were lies against the success of three lie detecting machines; a polygraph machine, a machine that detects changes in the voice and a machine that detects pupil dilation.

During the two day taping, I had the pleasure of chatting with Joe and it was extremely enlightening. As a poker player, it is crucial that I be able to accurately detect lies – after all, bluffing is essentially another way of lying. I have learned that there are signs that a person who is bluffing gives. Their face (rapid blinking, pursing of the lips etc.) as well as their body movements (sitting with an aggressive posture, banging their chips in the pot) are all possible signs of a bluffer. I thought I recognized these physical reactions to lying, but Mr. Navarro showed me what a neophyte I was in this department.

FBI interrogators spend their lives questioning suspects. They can spend hours interviewing one person, asking them the same questions over and over again. They can gauge the differences in the way the suspect is acting when they are answering innocuous questions versus highly charged questions. And because these reactions are the cornerstone of the interrogation there is a lot written in FBI journals about what kinds of signs to look for.

Joe Navarro was kind enough to share some the articles he has written for these journals with me. On that day, as I sat and read his articles, my poker game took a jump to the next level.

As I read his articles I started to be able to put names to some of the things I instinctively knew—names like hooding—an extended blink that suspects often display right before they are about tell a lie. I learned that when women are uncomfortable they tend to put their hand to the front of their neck and when men are uncomfortable they put their hands to their chins. Liars tend to grimace right before they tell a lie—they show a slight smile right before they begin to speak. And I learned that people who lie show self-soothing behaviors such as stroking their fingers.

I have since told anyone who asks me for advice that they should find some FBI journals and read articles about interrogation. FBI interrogators need to detect the same thing that poker players do—they need to know with certainty when a suspect is lying and when they are telling the truth. Poker players need to know when an opponent is bluffing and when they have a hand. We essentially have the same jobs.

So how did the humans do in the lie detection test? Well not surprisingly, the psychic performed at less than 50% accuracy. But Joe Navarro and I tied—we both were accurate on 18 of the 25 answers the host gave. And we both beat all but one of the machines.

The clarity that I gained on bluffing that day was essential to my improvement in reading other players. So go find some FBI journals to read and I promise you that your game will skyrocket. The moral of the story? You need to truly digest what interrogators have to say.

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