Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.
If you use my style of play, it’s important to get your opponents’ attention. That’s because one of my main objectives at the poker table is to dominate the game and to control the other players psychologically.
Why does this method work? Will it work for you? Does it ever backfire? Can you overuse it?
These are some of the questions I’m going to address in today’s quiz. If you’ve been following this series, you know the formula by now: I get to ask and answer my own questions. That way, unlike with some other interviews, neither you nor I will need to dance around occasional questions that are unimportant or inappropriate. Get ready, get set, go…
Question 58: Can you tell us why you believe your method of trying to make players focus on you in a poker game is successful?
Let me answer your question this way: This is my 100th column for the revived Poker Player newspaper. That’s a milestone, I guess. When the original Poker Player launched in the early 1980s, I wrote even more columns. And I’ve contributed hundreds or articles and columns to other poker, gambling, and general-audience magazines. I’m not sure what the count is, but I’m guessing it’s getting pretty close to a thousand.
Let’s just suppose, for the sake of argument, that I’ve written 897 columns and a total of 278 of them have been for Poker Player. That would mean that 31 percent of all the columns I’ve written that provide poker advice have been for Poker Player. Do you see my point?
Question 59: No. I don’t see your point at all. I’m confused. The question was: Can you tell us why you believe your method of trying to make players focus on you in a poker game is successful?
My point was, in addition to wanting to point out that this is my 100th column, that when you do the unexpected at poker, either through conveying bizarre, non-threatening behavior or making strange plays, you get attention. You leave players scratching their heads. That’s what happened to you just now when I answered in a way that was totally unexpected — and that’s why you got confused, which is what I intended.
When I do this, I steal the stage and demand that interviewers or readers or poker opponents take notice. Doing that in a poker game makes it much easier to manipulate other players, because — in their confusion — they’re less likely to attack if they have an advantage and more likely to give you extra-weak calls when you have them beat.
I always strive to create an image that is friendly but confusing. I know from tens of thousands of hours of actual play that this provides me with extra profit.
Question 60: What specifically do you do to create this image and to get attention?
Well, you might have read about some of the more bizarre things I’ve done. In bigger games I’ve often burned $100 bills at the table.
You can spend thousands of dollars in those games “advertising” when doing so has questionable value. You might try dangerous big-money bluffs and show your hand whenever they fail. That will arguably lead to more calls from opponents with weaker hands in the future. But the cost can be excessive. Or you might play some extra-weak hands just so your opponents see that you’re gambling recklessly, just like they are, but more so. But that can also be too expensive.
In old Gardena days, I’d call with a hideous draw poker hand, stand pat, and let the opener draw cards and check to me. Then, rather than betting, I’d just spread that hand face up on the table.
All eyes would be focused on it. Players would gasp. They’d ask, “Why didn’t you bet?” And I’d say, “Because I thought he had me beat.” I’d called with a hand that couldn’t win, drawn no cards, and then just checked to allow a showdown. Snickers. Confusion. Attention.
And here’s the truth: Burning $100 bills when that only accounts for a fraction of a small blind or playing a hopeless pat hand for a single bet constitutes cheap advertisement. And it’s powerful advertisement that gets monumental results in making opponents more likely to call me in the future when I do have the winning hands.
Now, not everything I do is that blatant. Mostly, I just “talk a good game,” always making sure I make myself seem harmless, but confusing. Getting attention in this way has led to many big paydays.
Question 61: Will such attention-getting methods work for everyone?
If you’re uncomfortable being onstage, don’t force it. There are other images and other playing styles that are successful.
I teach those, too. And if you appear as if you’re forcing it too much, opponents will refuse to be conned. Your attention-getting techniques must be in tune with the table image you’re projecting. They must seem natural. And being able to pull this off requires an understanding of human nature and a lot of practice.
Question 62: Do attention-getting techniques ever backfire?
Quite often, actually.
Sometimes the chemistry isn’t there. Occasionally, you can be onstage and something else will happen around you that steals the attention. And often you’ll establish your dominating image and then the cards will run dry, leaving you no way to capitalize.
Question 63: Can you overuse attention-getting techniques?
Yes, and I’ve done that myself.
You need to make sure that you don’t get caught up in your own showmanship. If you’re getting too much psychological satisfaction from being onstage, you’re in danger of seeking attention too often.
Then the advertising becomes unprofitable. It’s like a business that buys too many billboards or puts too many full-page ads in magazines. There’s a point of diminishing returns and, eventually, a point where you’re getting no returns at all.
Rationally, you should strive to control the game through attention-getting techniques, always remaining on the lookout for those that will bring the most gain for the least cost. But you have to draw the line regarding how much you’ll budget for this.
In a poker game, getting attention correctly and convincingly is an art form. It’s not something everyone should try. But it’s worth considering. — MC