Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
Let me teach you a poker trick that makes winning much easier. It’s about caring — and it isn’t what you’re thinking.
Yes, you must care about money when you play poker. But that isn’t the big secret. If you want to win mountains of extra chips, you need to convince opponents that you don’t care. Now I’ll explain why and tell you how.
People like to spread rumors. They’ll tell you that Rosemary was out all night with Jasper, repeating what someone else said. They’ll claim that John was arrested for soliciting prostitutes. They heard it. Everyone knows it by now. So, why not repeat it? Well, maybe because it might not be true.
But this isn’t a lecture on morals or ethics. It’s about how rumors circulate and get enhanced. Maybe you heard that I like to burn $100 bills at the poker table. That “rumor” circulated for decades. People wanted it to be true, and they heard it from many others. So, what’s the harm in broadcasting it?
No harm, actually, in that case. It was true. I did burn $100 bills at the poker table — in fact, quite often. I didn’t just burn them partially and blow out the flames. I watched, along with my opponents, as the C-notes became crispy black ashes. And I knew word would circulate. The rumor would rumble. And it was real.
It wasn’t long before players would ask, when I first sat down, “Are you going to burn a hundred dollar bill for us today?” or something similar. That was great, because then I didn’t actually have to burn one. Other players often would ask what was meant by the question. So, it would be explained that I liked to burn the bills, often related with significant enhancement.
Burning made an impression. But what kind of impression? It was a very profitable one, and here’s why.
Almost all poker opponents will be afraid to get out of line if you seem unconcerned about money. They won’t bet as often with small advantages, because they fear a sudden, unexpected raise will be fired right back at them. And they won’t raise as often with small edges, either, for the same reason.
Of course, you can correctly argue that they should react in just the opposite manner. They should bet and raise more liberally with advantages, because you don’t seem to care about money and presumably will call with weaker hands.
But they don’t. You gain psychological dominance by pretending not to care. Your carefree, unpredictable image unnerves most opponents. And they fall in line.
When they fall in line, they become perfect opponents, from your perspective. Ones that will call more often with inferior hands, because they’re confused. Ones that won’t always bet or raise with clear advantages, because they don’t know what you’re going to do next. Ones that won’t bluff you out of pots, even when the circumstances seem right, because they’d rather choose a less volatile target than someone who doesn’t care about money.
So, it works. I’ve sometimes bolstered opponents’ egos by joking with them and saying stuff like, “You’re a great player. But I have one advantage: You care about money and I don’t.”
Of course, that doesn’t make any sense at all, if you really think about it. The fact that an opponent cares about money and you don’t (assuming that were actually true) should work to his advantage, not against him. But it seldom turns out that way. Convince poker foes that you don’t care about money and you own the stage. The chips are yours to steer.
Okay, I’m not going to ask you to burn $100 bills. That’s an extreme way to win money. It worked for me, because I had mastered all the other psychological nuances that fit the act. I could sell it convincingly.
What happened was that the $100 equated to a small cost of publicity in games where that was only a big blind size or smaller. It’s hard to measure the value scientifically, but trust my assessment: Cheap advertising!
By the way, if you saw the recent All-in: The Poker Movie, you saw me burning a $100 bill in the closing credits. Was I in a poker game at the time? No. Consider it psychological warfare targeted at many future games.
Is it legal?
I’ve been warned that burning money is illegal. But other advisers have said it isn’t in my case. It can be a freedom of expression issue, and no significant damage can be proven. I haven’t defaced money in an attempt to injure it. I’ve completely killed it.
Whether or not my arguments would prevail, I always secretly hoped the FBI would arrest me. That might tarnish my history as a perfect law-abiding citizen, but Oh, Em, Gee, can you imagine the effect it would have on my future poker earnings? If not the FBI, can’t I at least attract the fire marshal?
So, now we’re at the poker advice part. It’s simple. I don’t want you to destroy money. I simply want you to stop showing that it matters. If you lose a big pot, so what?
Just fling chips out there like they’re potato chips — like you don’t care. Actually, you take poker seriously and care more than anyone. But that’s our secret. — MC