I’m a big believer in the power of peripheral vision. I think that with training, your peripheral vision can become a very solid tool for keeping track of your surroundings and the actions of the people around you. Military and martial arts groups work on developing peripheral vision because it’s incredibly useful for getting a quick sense of your surroundings and for doing so surreptitiously.
When I’m feeling really “on” with my reads, I can get a sense of several people’s hand movements and body language at the same time and interpret this quickly. This isn’t always the case – sometimes I really have to make an effort to just notice the minimum, and sometimes I’m just plain lost – but when I’m really “in-the-zone” with my reads, it’s got a lot to do with peripheral vision.
One way you can practice honing your peripheral vision at the table is to just focus your attention on the middle of the table and try to get a sense for what people are doing, all without shifting your focus. When you’re away from the table, occasionally take a moment to do a 360 degree sweep of your area of vision – the sweep should be only mental of course; don’t move your eyes. You’ll be surprised at what you can notice without actually looking at things. And this skill only gets better with practice.
When you feel pretty adept at using your peripheral vision, start trying to mentally cover the entire area of your range of view, not just one small area. Try to, in effect, “widen” your focus. With practice, you will be able to cover a broader area with your observation.
I frequently use peripheral vision when I’m looking for tells that happen simultaneously. This can be a tell like when everyone first gets their hole cards, and I’m looking for people who quickly put their cards down or who stare at them for a long time. Or in a multi-way pot, I’ll try to see which player seems to react most to the board by looking away quickly, or who’s just staring at the board. Or I’ll use it in a multi-way pot to get a sense of who’s looking at me and who’s not in order to make a decision about making a raise or bet.
I think good peripheral vision is a key ability in any sport or activity that requires observation and mental awareness and poker is no exception.