Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
Poker is about deception. And winning at poker requires an ability to disguise who you are at this very moment and a talent for making your intentions unclear. Let’s talk about that in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: Is it necessary to be deceptive in poker? Can’t you win by being yourself?
Actually, I’ve occasionally known players who could win by just being themselves. But don’t expect that to happen to you.
Those rare individuals had personalities that naturally confused opponents. They were not mellow, nor did they seem reflective about their decision making. Instead, each of their actions seemed to be spontaneous, mysteriously motivated, and unpredictable.
The reason they won was because their decisions turned out to be pretty reasonable. But their natural mannerisms appeared so out-of-sync with rational thought that opponents perceived they were playing weak hands and bluffing more often than was factually the case.
Notice that this is precisely the table image I recommend, because it’s the most profitable. You need to bewilder opponents and make them believe you’re less rational that you are.
Of course, you and I must work to perfect that image. Those few players I’ve been talking about seem to possess it by nature. Their bizarre personalities probably don’t work well for them in business or personal relations, but do at poker.
Now to the first part of the question: Of course it’s necessary to be deceptive. Deception is what poker is about. You’re always trying to trick opponents.
You want them to call when you have the best hand. If they knew for sure they were beat, they wouldn’t call. If they knew for sure that they had you beat, they could always bet – or deceive you by checking and letting you do it for them.
The point is, most of the time neither you nor your opponents know for sure what each other has in poker. And the better you are at disguising your poker hands and your poker emotions, the less certain opponents will be and the more money you’ll make.
Question 2: Can you describe a way you use today’s word “disguise” to win at poker?
Sure. Be a “rock,” meaning you should choose hands you enter pots with conservatively. But, at the same time, project an image that suggests you’re reckless. Nothing wins more money than this.
Question 3: What other disguises earn money?
You need to disguise your poker prowess. It’s tempting to let players at the table know how smart you are. Don’t do that.
Make it seem as if every success, every hand you win is the result of good fortune. When I spot a tell that means I’m going to win a pot by calling, I never say, “I’m calling, because I know you’re bluffing. You shouldn’t have stopped chewing your gum.”
Instead, I act as if I’m unsure about the call. I hesitate and finally toss the chips in reluctantly. I won’t try to convince opponents that I did the right thing. Yes, I was certain about what to do, but I want to disguise my skills and seem uncertain. There’s more money in that.
Question 4: Can you give me one more please?
Sure. Money should be important to you. But don’t let opponents know that – ever! One of your biggest poker disguises should be suggesting you don’t care about money. This, in itself, is the reason people who play larger limits day after day have an advantage against players jumping up to those limits.
What happens is that the jumpers-up see the upward money shift as important. One very bad session at this higher limit can devastate their bankrolls and mean that it might take a long time to recover at their normal limits. The regulars in the bigger game sense this and attack. The newcomer folds too often out of fear and attacks too seldom – also out of fear.
One of the things I do to make opponents feel I don’t care about money is to burn $100 bills at the table. Maybe you’ve seen me do that or heard about it. Actually, in games where average pots are thousands of dollars, the advertising cost of burning $100 is small. But the message is powerful, and it tends to keep opponents from attacking at unexpected times. In effect, $100 often buys me psychological control of a game!
When I was younger, I’d sometimes enter games too large for my bankroll. Sometimes the regulars would try to use mocking words to intimidate me. I would respond with something like, “I’m sure you’re a better player, but unfortunately you have one problem against me.”
They’d typically ask, “What’s that?”
“I simply don’t care about money. It really, really doesn’t matter to me. Ask anyone.” And then I’d cackle convincingly. This simple psychological act turned the tables on opponents with larger bankrolls. I’d stolen their money leverage. Often they were timid about attacking me, because I had believably stated and then sometimes demonstrated on the first few hands that I had no respect for money.
Question 5: Is there anything else you could say about poker and the word “disguise”?
Not really. We could talk about slow playing hands to disguise their strength. But why bother?
Sometimes I use “either-or” chat to convince opponents that I either have an unbeatable hand or that I’m bluffing. The disguised truth is that I have something in-between and am making it safe for me to bet without fearing a raise. That kind of disguise works.
But the point is this: If you don’t feel comfortable deceiving people, if you can’t disguise who you are and what you’re feeling, if you’re not prepared for make-believe, then poker isn’t your game. — MC