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No Poker Face

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There's a poker face, a tell tale face, then there's Sydney's face.

Poker isn't just a game of cards, it's a game of wits.

This venerable pastime, played by everyone from lowlife Old West thugs to debonair millionaires, is founded on the ability to read faces and prevent your own from being read. To scrutinize the slightest nuance in others' words, eyes, affects. To exercise absolute control over every muscle spasm, eye twitch, and verbal tic. To keep your head under pressure, calculate the odds on the fly, and control your emotions with an iron fist. This is where the term "Poker Face" comes into play; where you have to maintain completely blank expression on your face regardless of the cards you have on hand. That way your opponent(s) would be unable to guess or decipher what your cards are, and thus you can even the playing field or even gain an advantage during the game. It is for this reason why having a poker face is so vital for every player when playing any card game.

And then, there are these characters.

These people couldn't hold a poker face if their life depended on it. Every emotion on their faces is broadcast for all to see, which makes for a very short and easy game of cards.

Due to the popularity of Ranma ½, this trope has become a Stock Shout-Out in Japan. When playing Old Maid, or a similar game where players take cards directly from others, the character with no poker face will fluctuate wildly between anguished cold sweat and an enormous shit-eating grin depending on which card the other player is about to grab. Often this results in a fake-out, where the other player pretends to take the bad card and gives the hapless fool a brief moment of elation, only to pluck the good card at the last moment. Cue wailing from the loser.

Subtrope to Bad Liar. See also The Tell and Pinocchio Nose. Contrast The Stoic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Accel World, Kuroyukihime, piecing together several different clues, comes to the erroneous conclusion that Chiyu, whom she's just met, is actually Cyan Pile, the Burst Linker stalking her for the point bounty. In response, Haru claims that Chiyu, his long-time Childhood Friend, isn't capable of that, since, among other things, "Everything she's thinking shows up on her face and in her attitude." While Haru's ultimately right, Chiyu is later able to trick Nomi, staying with him until she gets enough levels to unlock the ability to take back Haru's wings for him, so perhaps she's a better actor than he thought.
  • In the Bloom Into You anthology story, "Let's play cards with senpai", Touko's poker face is fine. The rest of her body? Not so much. They're playing Old Maid and Yuu accuses Touko of having the Joker, which Touko denies with a straight face... while shaking so violently that her chair is clacking against the floor. This flaw is mercilessly exploited by both Yuu and Sayaka, which means Touko loses and (almost) has to wear the maid uniform they found.
  • In Gabriel Dropout: Tapris ends up in a game of Old Maid against Satanichia which will determine Gabriel's fate, but Tapris' face reveals all, and Satania is easily able to avoid the Joker.
  • Hiroki, the "probably" gay son in I Think Our Son Is Gay, can't hide his sexuality without turning into a stuttering mess and his face turning red as a beet.
  • INVADERS of the ROKUJYOUMA!?: The intro features all the housemates playing a game of cards. The main character figures out which card to pluck from perpetual frowner Yurika based on which one makes her cry when he reaches for it.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Diamond is Unbreakable: When forced to play a study game with Yukako, Koichi notices she smiles when he's about to pick the right answer. Yukako immediately realizes this and forcibly demands he consumes pencils and erasers as punishment.
    • JoJolion: Satoru Akefu has little practice in masking his emotions when riled up, with his visage outright morphing to that of his real form whenever he's worried or angry.
  • Love Live!:
    • In an episode of Love Live!, Umi is playing Old Maid with Kotori and Honoka. She holds two cards facing toward herself and lets them pick one. Kotori reaches for one, and Umi gets a look of dread on her face. Then Kotori reaches for the other one, and Umi positively lights up. This happens again in The School Idol Movie.
    • A yonkoma for Love Live School Idol Festival ALLSTARS shows that Ruby Kurosawa is as bad as Umi when it comes to holding a poker face, beaming or looking stricken depending on which card in her hand the other person is reaching for.
    • In episode 7 of Nijiyon animation, the OVA of Nijigasaki Highschool Idol Club, the eyes of Lanzhu are even showing which card is Ayumu reaching for.
  • My Monster Secret: The Establishing Character Moment for main character Asahi, the world's worst liar, is him attempting to bluff his way through a game of old maid. It doesn't work.
  • Nisekoi: Kosaki Onodera ends up proving to have very big expressions in card games for Ichijou to notice effortlessly. However, her faces are so adorable that Ichijou can't help but take the joker card anyway. Chitoge Kirisaki is even worse with her face becoming completely gloomy when she takes the joker card. Their faces are so bad, Ichijou feels the need to tell them about it.
  • In No Game No Life, this is one of the reasons why Stephanie Dola is so terrible at games, as her face reveals everything. Unfortunately for her, she's constantly at the mercy of Sora who specialises in reading people.
  • Ranma ½: Ranma is revealed to have a terrible poker face during the Gambling King Arc. When playing Old Maid, Ranma will get excited when his opposition is about to take the Joker, while looking sad when they pick another card. Ranma is later humorously put through Training from Hell to help him get a poker face, only to fail spectacularly. He injures his face so much that it becomes bandaged up and even then, his expressions still come through. Unfortunately for the Gambling King, he also suffers from it — it takes Nabiki to point it out, but sure enough, once Ranma sees that the Gambling King makes a face better described as "ecstatic" whenever his opponent is about to pick the Joker, the game becomes much easier.
  • Shinozaki-san Ki wo Ota Shika ni!: In chapter 36, Akina and friends are playing Old Maid with an anime-themed deck. At first, Akina thinks it'll be easy since Kaede has no poker face. But she draws the joker anyway because she was distracted by how cute Kaede is. Once she sees the joker is an anime character vomiting, she finds herself unable to keep a poker face either.
  • Spy X Family: While playing a game of Old Maid, Anya is unable to keep a poker face, allowing Damian to easily guess which card is the Joker.
  • The Witchs Marriage: In chapter 19, the normally-stoic Melissa's face turns to anguish when she plays a game of Old Witch with Tanya. Her mouth becomes a big V that inverts itself according to whether she's relieved or distressed.
  • YuruYuri: In "Yuru Yuri Everyday", Akari switches between cold sweat and an enormous shit-eating grin during a game of Old Maid.
  • Yuuutsu-kun to Succubus-san: Eru the angel is unable to maintain her expression in any way during a game of Old Maid with Sakuma. Sakuma, being a demon, is much more proficient than Eru. However, while her Poker Face is excellent, her Poker Wings leave much to be desired, as Eru's attempts to pick a card elicit either dead silence or frantic flapping.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Crime Syndicate of America's first appearance, they capture the Justice Society of America and force the Justice League of America to battle them on Earth-2. After the Syndicate's defeat, the League discuss what to do with them. The looks of horror on the villains' faces when it's suggested they be imprisoned on Earth-1/Earth-2, coupled with the smug smirks they display when it is suggested they be left on their homeworld Earth-3, make it easy for the JLA to realise something's wrong (which is revealed to be that the JSA's prison has been rigged to destroy Earths 1 and 2 if it is tampered with). The CSA lose their chance at having the last laugh, all because none of them can keep their emotions hidden.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, it turns out that Hobbes actually can hold a poker face. His tail, on the other hand... He doesn't even notice that his tail is revealing he has a good hand and suspects Calvin is cheating.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Emoji Movie, Gene is a Meh emoji who's capable of making more than the Meh face. Throughout the beginning of the movie, he tries and fails to keep up the Meh face while on his way to work, much to the hostility of others (since emojis in the movie are supposed to only be able to make one face).

  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: Princesses Don't Do Summer School: When springing a trap on his players, the narration notes the game master's obvious tell and how he's been told to never play poker:
    It was a huge smile, a massive grin plastered across his face. His friends had often told him to never play poker, which was fine by him. [Tabletop Roleplaying] was more his game, and it was time to pull the ace from his sleeve.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Terry has a tell in which he flexes his right pec whenever he has a good hand.
  • Criminal Minds: Garcia knows how to play poker, as in which hands are better than others, but she doesn't understand the point of betting or a poker face. When she gets her cards, she scowls and demands "Seriously?" to Rossi's amusement.
  • Friends: The first time the girls join the guys' poker game Phoebe completely fails to hide her reactions.
    Phoebe: (sees her cards) YES! (the entire gang look at her) ...or no.
  • In The George Lopez Show, Ernie is pointed out to be terrible at poker specifically because any time he gets a good hand, he gets really giggly, a signal to everyone else to fold.
  • Jessica Jones: In the sixth episode of season 1, Kilgrave is playing Texas Hold 'Em against some men implied to be gangsters, reacts to a useless hand with an "ugh" face, and visibly pulls back. One of his opponents says that he should work on the poker face. However, it turns out he's not planning to win fairly.
  • Joey: In "Joey and the Poker", Joey is playing poker with Alex, and thoroughly losing; he wonders what he's doing wrong. Then he draws three new cards, and his eyes go big and he gasps before pressing his mouth into a line and trying to act nonchalant.
    Joey: Alright, well, I guess I'll raise.
    Alex: I fold.
    Joey: It's like you can read my mind!
  • M*A*S*H: The second season episode "Deal Me Out" lampshades this - when Sidney reacts badly to seeing the cards he's holding in the poker game, Hawkeye asks, "What's the problem, Poker Face?"
  • Red Dwarf: As "Cured" reveals, Cat is shown to have an inability to not show his emotions when he is playing poker, a fact which Lister tries to teach to him. He's able to resolve this in the end.
  • Josh Lyman from The West Wing. During a flashback to how the Bartlet campaign came together, Josh tries to convince Sam Seaborn to come along to a speech by then-Governor Bartlet but Sam declines. Josh asks what he should say to convince Sam if Bartlet turns out to be a valid candidate, Sam replies that he won't need to say anything as "You've got a pretty bad poker face". After seeing Bartlet in action Josh returns to Sam's office, stands at a window where Sam can see and points at the giant smile on his face. Sam immediately quits his job and joins the campaign.

    Video Games 
  • Later Alligator: The first minigame you play is against Pat's cousin, Slick Mickey. His minigame is a very poor attempt at a Shell Game, in which the player has to find the queen card. If the player moves the cursor towards the queen card, Mickey will shake and sweat. If the player moves the cursor towards the other two cards, Mickey will slouch and gain a smug expression.
  • In a Neopets game that has the opponents' faces as a gameplay mechanic, only one late-stage player has anything resembling subtlety — smirking near the corner when he has a strong hand — and even he has a comically visible reaction when it's not going his way.
  • In Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, the gang decide to play a game of Texas Holdem. Leafa evidently has a very poor poker face and her brother Kirito is able to see right through her bluff. However, the biggest offender has to be Klein, who tries to bluff with an All-In when he only has a measly hand of a pair of 4's, which Kirito immediately picks up on and beats him to.
  • Tomodachi Life has a mini-game where the the goal is each player takes a turn picking each other's cards until someone makes a pair. When it's your turn to pick, the Mii's expression will change as you hover your icon over their cards. Miis will usually have no poker face (or make the wrong expression) when you are hovering over the winning card, but a Mii can sometime throw you off by using no poker face to hide their losing card.
  • WarioWare: D.I.Y.: The microgame "Joker Face" has you facing such a character. Their expression makes it very clear what card is the joker. In the updated version in WarioWare Gold, some rounds have them attempt to hide their tell with sunglasses while other rounds have them sweating.

    Visual Novels 
  • The protagonist of Liar! Uncover the Truth is noted to broadcast her emotions over her face. One character notices when her stocking was torn because he saw her looking down at her leg in worry; if pressed on how he knew, he explains and adds that she's an open book. Another sees her entering a fancy restaurant and notes that her eyes immediately go as wide as saucers. He remarks to her:
    "You look like an untouchable goddess, but every tiny expression reads on your face."
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, Phineas Filch's body language is very blatant about what he's feeling, which gives players a hint on which statement in his testimony is a lie.

  • Grrl Power: Sydney Scoville is terrible at poker, because she gets exuberant whenever she thinks she has a good hand, making the others fold. She still wins anyway, because she repeatedly misidentifies what an actual good hand is.
    Alt Text: There's a poker face, a tell tale face, then there's Sydney's face.
  • Steffi of Kiwi Blitz has a terrible poker face, according to Ben. Word of God puts hers as the worst among the cast.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy: Played for Laughs in "Take My Wife"; While playing poker with his friends, Peter Griffin sees that he has a good hand. Not only does he smile widely, he also pulls a rope that summons a mini-parade and lowers a banner reading "Great Cards!" When asked if he has any good cards, Peter unconvincingly claims that he doesn't.


Video Example(s):


Can he read minds too?

Anya's poker face skills need work as she practically guides Damian to a card he needs.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / NoPokerFace

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