Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
Confidence is greatly misunderstood as a poker trait. In today’s self-interview, I’ll set the record straight.
Question 1: In poker, are winners more confident than losers?
Winning builds confidence. Seeing the sun wake you up many mornings in a row gives you confidence that the darkest night won’t last forever. Turning a key in the ignition and listening to your engine hum for the 200th consecutive time makes you confident that you can start your car that way.
So, yes, when you win often at poker, you’re confident that you can keep doing it. Conversely, most losers get discouraged. They don’t know what the magic is to winning. They wonder whether they’ll ever win again. Losers typically display little confidence – and sometimes no confidence whatsoever.
Question 2: So only winners display confidence in poker?
I’ve seen cowboy lookalikes saunter up to the table, appearing menacing and, not long thereafter, limping away. Embarrassed. Whimpering. Those guys displayed plenty of confidence. They just didn’t have the skill to match.
Confidence is important for winners at poker, for whom it can add profit. But it’s a disaster for losers. Teaching weak players to be confident in poker is like dropping cats into a lake from a speedboat so that they won’t continue to fear large bodies of water. Almost all of us have tried that experiment, but if your results were like mine, your cats didn’t gain a bit of confidence, either.
Question 3: Somewhere during that muddled analogy, you said that “confidence is important for winners at poker.” Isn’t confidence natural for winners and mostly unnatural for losers? So, why bother?
It’s natural for winners while they’re winning. Unfortunately, most players who have a long-term expectation of profit, because they have the talent to make consistently good decisions, get confused when they run badly. They often lose confidence.
Please understand, being confident won’t help you get better cards. And being unconfident won’t bring you bad cards. But your level of confidence will affect the results you get from the cards you’re dealt.
There are two main reasons for this: Image and attitude.
When you seem confident, opponents are more leery. They fear you know exactly what you’re doing and will somehow get their money. As a result, opponents don’t push some advantages against winners who seem confident. Their fear causes them to get less value from hands, because they don’t aggressively pursuing edges. That works in your favor.
And your confidence confuses opponents who don’t know what to expect next from you. So, they tend to call more often than they should and make many other mistakes. These mistakes can be traced to the fact that they’re wasting too much of their mental energy worrying about you, rather than making quality decisions.
Conversely, when you’re losing and don’t display confidence, opponents feel comfortable and attack. They get maximum value from hands when they have an advantage. Unfortunately, just showing confidence isn’t quite enough in this case, because opponents will become inspired and play better if you’re conspicuously losing, even if you seem confident.
Keeping a confident attitude, though, will diminish that effect and save you money. But you should pretty much stop attacking and wait out long droughts until the cards make you a force to be reckoned with again.
So, when you’re running bad, back off, but remain confident – and let others know it.
Question 4: Any tips for how to portray confidence?
Yes, you should make your bets, calls, and raises, brisk and certain. Do that even when you fold. This tends to unnerve many foes. The only time to seem hesitant is when you’re doing it on purpose to lure a call or disguise a hand.
But when I say to appear confident, I don’t mean you need to appear skillful. A lot of your profit can come from not seeming to play solid poker. We’ve talked a lot about that in the past.
The trick is to make opponents think you’re playing much worse than you actually are. That wins you the calls you need to amass huge profits.
Here’s are the ingredients of the best image to convey: (1) You look like you know what you’re doing; (2) You look like you’re having fun dancing around and not doing it; (3) You seem confident, anyway.
If you can get that demeanor in action, you’re on the profit path.
Question 5: Is it all right to seem arrogant?
There’s a huge difference between confidence and arrogance. You can be confident and still be friendly. You can still giggle. You can be confident and opponents will still seek you out for their weakest plays, because you’ve made it comfortable to lose to. They know you’re fun to play against and you don’t mind being drawn out on. That kind of confidence makes money.
But arrogance in poker doesn’t usually make money, even if you look confident, too. When you’re arrogant, you’re not going to get extra calls from weak hands. Those extra calls happen just because you’re a painless player to lose to – and you don’t seem arrogant.
In fact, if you appear arrogant, most opponents are going to single you out and avoid you. They’ll find losing to you unpleasant, so why spend that extra, discretionary, weak money in your pots?
Arrogance is especially bad if you also belittle opponents’ play. Then they’re sure to avoid providing you with extra profit. They’ll be motivated to play their best game and beat you. They’ll try not to make the mistakes that caused you to humiliate them. And if they stop making mistakes, does that help you or hurt you? Don’t answer. Rhetorical question.
So, arrogance, never. Confidence, yes, as long as you can stay popular. — MC