Note: Originally published (2001) in Poker Digest magazine.
Three issues ago, this caption accompanied a photo of me in Poker Digest: “I warn students in advance that if they tell me bad-beat stories, I won’t listen. I’ll look interested and gesture madly and compassionately, but I’m using the time to think about other things. That way I don’t have to be bored and they can feel that I care. It works for everyone.” When you read point #5 below — as you and I continue our exploration of poker advice that helps us win everyday in real life — I hope you understand the importance of that caption.
5. Never seek sympathy. Look, losing at poker is lonely. Sometimes the cards are so miserable that you feel as if you’d like to show or describe every bad beat, just so everyone could realize just how monumentally horrible they were.
But then you’d have to make sure your opponents were paying attention. Perhaps you could devise a quiz they could take at the end of the poker session – a quiz that would determine whether they truly remembered how much you’d suffered. But, almost certainly, they’d flunk. So, I teach gamblers never to complain about bad luck. First of all, nobody really cares. Their own exaggerated memories of personal bad luck dwarf whatever you’re complaining about. And if you complain to opponents in a poker game, they’re inspired by your bad luck. They’ll think you’re not a force to be reckoned with, they’ll play better, and this will cost you money.
And there’s another important consideration that works against you when you complain. You might — deep down — begin to root against yourself. If you complain that you missed 36 flushes in a row, you might halfway hope that you miss the next one so you can blurt, “See what I mean!” Besides, the world record for missing flushes might be 37 in a row, and if you connect, you not only lose your chance to gain sympathy, you blow yourself out of the record book.
It’s the same in life. There’s absolutely no reason to tell tales of misfortune. You’ll inspire life’s opponents, and you’ll lose esteem among life’s allies. So, if your luck is bad, keep it to yourself.
6. Keep your hand secret. If you habitually exposed your poker hand before the showdown, opponents would know what you had, and they’d know for certain whether to play against you, whether to raise you, whether to pass. It would be stupid to play poker that way, but people do that everyday in real life. How? They don’t keep secrets. Listen: Never volunteer personal information to anyone who isn’t a friend, unless you know specifically that you have something to gain by volunteering the information. Sound heartless? Well, OK, it’s all right to volunteer useful information if it can’t harm you. It’s also all right to give information sometimes if you’re getting information in return.
But think back. I’ll bet for every time you regretted keeping secrets, there are many more times you regretted telling secrets. People simply give away too much information, and it eventually haunts them. Secrets can seem insignificant at the time they’re shared, but later the sharing turns out to be an important mistake.
Like it or not, successful people keep secrets much better than unsuccessful people, just as successful poker players conceal their hands better than unsuccessful players. Repeating: It’s a fact that people who succeed keep secrets. Never reveal important information about yourself unless you have a specific reason for doing so. Starting now, practice telling yourself mentally why you’re giving information before you give information.
People talk about their lives and their opinions, giving information that may later be damaging. They do this because they want to seem friendly. But, there’s a special way you can be just as friendly and, instead of putting yourself in jeopardy, gain an advantage. How? Instead of giving information about yourself, use the same time to ask other people about themselves. If you’re talking to a potential competitor, don’t volunteer information; ask for opinions. I do this at the poker table. After a hand, I ask an opponent how he would have played my cards. Usually, the player is flattered and offers a sincere answer, such as he would have folded. I remember that answer, and weeks later — long after the opponent has forgotten our conversation — I bet into him and win the pot. It’s the same in real life. You remember the information, and you use it later.
A simple secret
By the way, when I consult with businesses, there seems to be one recurring problem that comes up again and again. How can supervisors best smooth relationships between themselves and employees who don’t like them. The answer is simple. Ask the employees for their opinions. In life, you can patch up most relationships simply by softly asking a person: "What do you think?", "What would you do in this situation?", "How would you handle this?" People are universally flattered when you ask for opinions. It works with enemies, it works with employees, it works with children. Trust me, and try it. And it’s consistent with the powerful poker technique of concealing your own hand while learning as much as you can about your opponents.
One of life’s most important goals is to gain as much useful information from others as possible, while guarding your own secrets wisely.
7. Don’t humiliate your opponents. Always allow opponents to save face, no matter how tempting it is to gloat. When you make it painful for opponents to lose, they play better, but you want opponents to play worse . Additionally, life is complicated enough without motivating people to get even with you. So, always give those you conquer a chance to save face — unless you’ll never have to confront them again.
In poker, it’s the same. Unless your opponent is permanently broke after losing this pot, don’t humiliate him. Angry players often return to harm you.
Don’t gloat; win graciously.
8. Don’t even the score. This one’s hard on your ego, but listen anyway. In life you don’t need to get even with the person who did you wrong. Similarly, you don’t need to get even with the person who bluffed you in poker. You shouldn’t care where your next opportunity to gain comes from. You don’t have to get even or break even with anyone. Play the opportunities as they arise. Success stacks up the same, no matter where it comes from. Some people are so busy getting even, they never have time to get ahead.
In gambling and in life, a few people are going to get the better of you. So what? If you won a bet on a basketball game, would you be upset that the other team’s center scored more points than your team’s center? Of course not! You won the bet, so what do you care? Same in life. If you win overall, don’t fret over a few lost skirmishes, and never waste energy trying to get even with those who beat you.
In my next column, we’ll march on with our investigation of profitable poker concepts you can use successfully away from the table. I hope you’ll join me then. — MC