Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
This is my 200th column in this modern Poker Player newspaper series. I say “modern,” because I was editor-in-chief of the same-named publication founded by Stanley Sludikoff (also the current publisher and founder) in the 1980s. I wrote many early columns for that pioneering newspaper, before this series began. In fact, the newspaper you’re holding is a revival of the original Poker Player that helped put poker on the map.
Enough history. In today’s self-interview, the interviewer has decided to ask for clarifications about poker tips that I’ve provided in my previous 199 columns. And I’m fine with that.
Question 1: In your first modern column, today’s word was “Idiots.” And you called people idiots who devalued psychology in poker. Could you elaborate?
On reflection, “idiots” was a needlessly insulting choice of words and “pond scum” would have been more appropriate. Anyway, I’m still as sure of the concept as ever.
Psychology is the land where money grows in poker. You need a basic understanding of strategy to win. But, beyond that, most of the profit comes from manipulating and reading opponents.
Sure, you can always fine tune your game by incorporating the latest analysis and research. In fact, I’ve devoted a big share of my life to doing poker research. Hopefully, much of what I’ve discovered has been helpful to serious players. But there’s only so much fine tuning you can do.
At some point, you’re good enough. Refine your strategy more and you’re only adding pennies worth of value to your winning expectation. Beyond that point, psychological warfare is everything. Most of the profit you’ll earn after you learn to play superior poker comes from psychology.
Poker tells is a branch of that psychology. Coaxing opponents into calling with bad hands is another. Giving other players “permission” to play poorly without being ridiculed brings enormous benefit.
Question 2: You’ve said that in order to win the most money possible through poker psychology, you need to have a lively image?
Yes, we touched on that in the same column. I’ll elaborate. The most profitable type of image you can bring to poker is one that makes opponents happy. You should be fun, polite, wild, silly – whatever it takes.
Be entertaining; be lively. Yes, your aim is to mess around with opponents’ minds, and you want them to be intimidated. But you don’t want them to be intimidated out of anger or irritation. You want them to be intimidated out of confusion. There’s a huge difference.
When you’re unpredictable, but fun to play against, weak opponents will barge into your pots with more inferior hands than usual. They’ll play those unprofitable cards against you specifically! That’s because they sat down at the table for the entertainment of testing fate. And if you make the adventure more engaging, they’ll choose you for their weakest plays.
And, remember, weak plays are your only source of poker income. The more often opponents bless you with bad decisions, and the weaker those decisions are, the more money you’ll eventually earn. Lively images win money.
Question 3: But what if you plan to bluff. Won’t a lively image work against you?
Okay, here’s the deal with that. You should try to avoid games where bluffing works.
The biggest weakness average poker players have is that they call too often with substandard hands. They enter too many pots. And they are reluctant to fold hands once they feel they have money invested. All this works in your favor.
I know. I hear you. You’re thinking that the concept applies more to limit poker than to no-limit poker. Not really.
Opponents make too many weak calls in no-limit poker, too. There are some really tough games where bluffing probably is profitable in the long run. But the strange thing is, those same games where bluffing is profitable aren’t games you should usually be playing!
Sure, there are bluffing opportunities, even against loose opponents. I’ve discussed them. Never ignore a good bluffing opportunity. But, basically, if you find yourself at a table where bluffing is often the right play, you’re in the wrong game. That’s because you can make more money elsewhere.
Question 4: What about poker tells?
Tells are an important part of poker psychology. Oddly, the more lively your image and the more you interact with opponents, the more tells they’re likely to display.
If your image is nondescript, players don’t react to you as much. And they don’t exhibit as many tells. So you earn less profit.
Question 5: You say it’s bad psychology to antagonize opponents, right?
Yes. You might be able to upset an opponent by criticizing a bad play or making him feel uncomfortable. Grumpy intimidation can win an extra bet now and then.
But it’s shortsighted. That extra bet will cost you. Weak opponents have discretionary money and borderline hands they can play or not play, depending on their mood at the moment. Make it uncomfortable for them to lose to you and they’ll decide not to give you that extra-loose play in the future. In fact, they may decide not to play in your game at all. And you lose that money.
Never insult opponents, especially weak ones. Say things that will encourage weak play. When they draw out on you, they’ve paid the price for the adventure. Don’t be upset. It’s a good thing.
Question 6: It looks like I got stuck on your first column. If I do future interviews like this, I’ll try to cover more ground. Okay?
Okay. — MC