A Healthy Bet (14) – Better Poker Through Chemistry

A Healthy Bet (14) – Better Poker Through Chemistry

As it appeared in Ante Up Magazine – Dec. 2009

By Frank Toscano, M.D.

World Champion, Peter Eastgate has a tell and I can fix it. I didn’t notice it during last year’s November Nine broadcast but ESPN edits those shows so much that facial expressions you see on the screen might not occur in even the same hour as the hand you are watching. Instead, it was a few months later on High Stakes Poker, that I first saw it.

Internet wunderkid Tom “Durr” Dwan had rags but that didn’t stop him from betting enough chips to buy a Mercedes. Don’t you just hate the way he does that? I know I do. Anyway, Eastgate had trips but he began to agonize that maybe, just maybe, this time Durr held a monster. That’s when it happened.

Usually Peter’s 22 year-old forehead is as smooth as butter, but as he struggled with the idea of giving up this juicy pot, his brow furrowed. His eyebrows moved downward and closer together and two deep vertical creases appeared between them in the area called the glabella. He was clearly very uncomfortable. He had a good hand, a very good hand, but you could see that he had lost confidence. Durr saw it too. Even if Eastgate called, Durr knew he could take it away from him on the next street. Eastgate eventually laid it down but the hand was lost with the furrow, not the fold.

I saw him do it again twice at this year’s WSOP. Similar situations – good hand for Peter, big bet from an opponent, loss of confidence, furrow, fold. Normally I’d keep this kind of valuable poker strategy information to myself but I doubt that Eastgate is going to be furrowing his brow at my home game anytime soon. The key thing is that this tell can easily be fixed with a little chemistry.

Some of you may know that, like Superman, I have two identities. At night, I don my super-powered E.R. white jacket and stamp out disease in one of our nation’s healthcare safety-nets. If you get drunk and beat up, I can hold your hand and say, “there, there.” If your dog ate your Vicodin, I can call a vet. (Sorry, sir, no refills.) And if you get swine flu, I’ll heat up some soup.

But during the day, I assume my secret identity. I become a mild-mannered Medical Spa doctor who makes beautiful women just a tiny bit more beautiful. My Medical Spa alter ego purchases Botox by the truckload just to keep up with demand. I know Botox well and I know it can help Peter Eastgate’s forehead.

Botox is an interesting molecule. It’s made by bacteria that grow in improperly canned foods. It blocks the part of muscle fibers that recognize messages coming from nerves. If the message is blocked, the muscle doesn’t contract. Wrinkles disappear; furrows go away; Peter looks relaxed; Durr backs down; Peter wins a car. Peter’s furrows are pretty deep so he’ll probably need a lot of Botox, maybe 35 or 40 units which, by the way, costs less than what he would have tipped the dealer if he had won that pot.

The late John Bonetti, a three-time bracelet winner, also had a tell that Botox could have fixed. Watch reruns of Poker After Dark, and you will see his bushy eyebrows shoot up to the ceiling whenever he had great hole cards. Forty or fifty units in the forehead and those eyebrows would have stayed put.

Now I’m not suggesting that Botox is the answer for poker tells – far from it. Behavioral experts will tell you that hands and feet and shoulders broadcast many more tells than foreheads. But you should be aware that Botox certainly can be used to hide furrowing, wrinkling, crinkling and even frowning.

Be especially wary of those sly ladies who secretly use Botox to look a little younger but nevertheless enjoy the benefits of hiding some facial expressions at the tables. I won’t name any names but take a real close look at any of the lovely female poker pros over 40. Do they have clear, smooth foreheads, classically arched eyebrows, curiously absent crows’ feet? Some of them just don’t seem to age much from year to year. They look well rested, even perky. Could it be good genes? Or is it skillful use of chemistry? I know which side of that bet, my money is on. My “secret-identity self” can sniff out Botox from across the poker table.

That’s not to say that all Botoxed foreheads look good at the table. To see a really bad Botox job, check out the shockingly dreadful 2003 poker movie Shade. Skip all the painful pot-splashing and string bets and fast-forward to the showdown when Sly Stallone and Melanie Griffith appear. Sly’s glabella never moves. That’s okay, but check out his “Spock brows”, a result of too much Botox in the wrong place. Probably done by the same doc that did Melanie’s lips.

So, if you want to look a little younger, a little more refreshed or if you would just like to soften your pensive frown, erase your crow’s feet or smooth your forehead, Botox works pretty well. Seek out a doc who’s a real Botox pro. But if you really want to hide your excitement over flopping the nuts, pay close attention to what your hands, feet and torso are doing.

And, Peter, if you really can’t control that furrow, I can fix it.  Give me a call.