Texas Hold ‘Em. In the last fifteen years the game has gone from near obscurity as a poker game limited to the American Southwest to a worldwide powerhouse with hundreds of thousands playing it in almost every country on Earth. There are movies, TV shows, and ESPN has hit pay dirt with its yearly coverage of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
Everyone wants to get in on it, and for those looking to sharpen their game there are myriad paths, there are books, videos, online tutorials, and even in-person poker coaches.
But just how far would you go in order to crush your local game or yell “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” at your local casino? How badly do you want to win? Would you consider being injected with a neurotoxin that paralyzes your facial muscles?
Because that’s just what New York City internist Dr. Jack Berdy is offering with a new plastic surgery option: PokerTox.
“The purpose of it is to create the perfect poker-face,” Berdy told me, “which means that your feelings about your cards, good or bad, are masked from your opponents across the table. Few people can maintain a poker face; they have “tells” that give them away.”
For the uninitiated, a “tell” is some unconscious trait that “tells” your fellow players if you have a strong or weak hand, if you’re bluffing or truly holding the winning hand. Mike “The Mad Scientist of Poker” Caro has written books on tells and insists that through careful study, you can get an edge at the gaming table. Berdy’s selling the idea that if you have a face frozen by Botox injections, you’re safe behind your slack visage.
It sounds good, but even a cursory study finds that the vast majority of tells do not involve your face. They’re not excessive squinting means a bluff or big wide eyes mean a killer hand. They are behavioral in nature, such as how a player stacks chips (neat equals conservative player, not likely to bluff / messy equals loose player who will play marginal hands,) when a player looks at his or her cards, or how they move chips into the pot when they bet. Most are fairly simplistic and they do make for fun Hollywood script material. In the most popular poker movie “Rounders,” Matt Damon is able to beat John Malkovich in a key hand by observing how he eats Oreo cookies while playing.
But really if you want to know what your opponents are holding, you should concentrate on learning their betting habits, not trying to read the odd tic or when they fiddle with their tie clip. Their style of play is best found out by playing with them for a while. And if you really are afraid that your overly expressive mug is costing you big pots, then buy a hat and some sunglasses. It’s a lot cheaper than PokerTox, which will run you between $600 and $800 a fix.