Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2009) in Bluff magazine.
Never let anyone dictate what type of image you bring to the poker table. Don’t let me make that decision for you. I can only tell you what works for me and what I believe is the most profitable psychological weapon in poker – a lively and good-natured personality.
Fine. But if your mindset makes you desperate to hide in a cocoon and avoid attention, you’re not going to be comfortable going onstage. Unfortunately, that means you’ll need to sacrifice some of the free money that opponents are willing to pay when you put on a good show. I know, that concept is shocking, but it’s precisely what happens. Good entertainers get paid in real life, and that happens in poker, too. Argue about it all you want, but it’s the truth nonetheless.
Oddly, I don’t see my opponents as adversaries. I see them as an audience. I see them as friends. I believe it’s my job to make sure poker opponents are happy and that they like me as much as I like them.
Please listen. What I’m teaching you isn’t some far-fetched, utopian philosophy. It isn’t psychobabble echoing from the hippie love generation. It’s a path to poker profit. My single most important goal when I enter a poker game is to make my opponents happy. That’s why you often hear me say that I cheer for my opponents. I really do – and I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I want my opponents to win. Besides, if I cheer for them, only two things can happen – either I’ll be rooting for the winning side or I’ll win the pot as a consolation prize. Either way, I’ll never get upset.
I realize that my opponents constitute not only my audience; they’re my customers. Happy customers spend more money and call me more often – and for higher prices when I hold quality hands. In poker, you’re in the business of selling your best hands at the highest prices. That’s another truth you can take to the bank. And you can only increase sales and command high prices if your customers enjoy shopping with you. Your image needs to be compelling, likeable, unpredictable, and fun – all rolled up into your performance whenever you take the poker stage.
Not everyone is comfortable using my method. I understand that. But to whatever degree you can bring yourself to be lively and cheerful, do it. If you don’t, your long-range profit will plummet proportionally to your failure to create that image. I’m not saying you can’t be dull as a doorknob and still make money. You can, if you play your cards astutely. But you’ll earn lots more if you portray yourself the way I do.
How it works
Okay. Here’s how it works. When I sit in a game, I want to be noticed. If you follow my writing, you know that I don’t play in many poker tournaments. But at the 2009 World Series of Poker at the Rio, I was there to do a series of six seminars with Doyle Brunson. Because of the lure and monumental history of the WSOP, I ended up playing 10 events, coming in the money at least twice. I say “at least,” because as I write this I’m still waiting for day two of the main event. Most of the tables I sat in during those events were friendly – giving me something to work with from the get-go.
But some were as quiet as a horror film before the crazed killer jumps out from the closet. Dead serious players. I hate that. So, immediately I went into action, engaging players in conversations and announcing, “This is the quietest table I’ve ever been at, which is a sign that some players here are taking a hundred million dollars way too seriously.” My mission – as it is in any poker game – is to take the stage right away and have attention focused on me. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, I’ll do almost anything to make this happen, including burning $100 bills, when necessary.
Once I’ve made friends and gotten attention, I’m going to advertise. And I’m going to do it in the most noticeable ways possible. I’m going to play complete garbage hands, never in-between ones that weak opponents might themselves play. And I’m going to find ways to play them as cheaply as possible, because the less I pay for advertising, the more profit I make. But since these plays register in opponents’ minds, I get a lot of value. Players tend to help me out, volunteering that I “play that way all the time” and sometimes reciting other weird hands they’ve seen me play in the past or ones they’ve merely heard about, which are often exaggerated or fictitious.
The impression is that I play a whole lot of strange hands, but in reality, I only play one or two per session, and usually at the beginning. The rest is illusion. I try to become the center of attention quickly. I want opponents immediately to wonder about what I’m going to do whenever they enter pots. When that happens, I can extract maximum profit, get extra calls, and face fewer raises from quality hands. Opponents call me more because they’re bewildered and because I make it less painful for them to lose. Opponents raise less with their big hands, saving me money, because they’re intimidated in a friendly way. Some people call my demeanor at the poker table the “wild image.” Call it whatever you want; it works.
But the downside is that you might succeed in getting attention, spend money advertising, and then see your cards run dry. Then what? You’ve advertised and now you have nothing to sell. If you just go with the flow of the cards and play tight, that’s what I call “going quiet.” I try never to go quiet. Sometimes I have to, but it breaks my heart when that happens.
When I’m in a lull, I’ll relight the stage by making an extra advertising play or by being especially animated and talking more. Why? It’s because this social presence serves as substitute for action in opponents’ heads. They’ve seen you involved and, even though you weren’t participating in poker pots, it’s all the same to them. You haven’t gone quiet in their minds and, unless they’re particularly observant, they probably don’t realize that you’re playing conservatively, waiting for opportunities.
As a last resort, when the cards don’t come, I’ll feign sleep. I’ll pretend to be napping between hands. Often players will place my antes in the pot for me and make giggly comments about me being asleep. Sometimes they’ll nudge me when it’s time for me to look at my cards. In truth, I’m just resting my head in my hands, watching everything between tiny gaps between my fingers. Why do I do this? Because when I finally get cards, I can pretend to wake up and return to lively play. Meanwhile I don’t suffer the full psychological penalty of going quiet, because I have an excuse – I was simply sleeping.
The point is that I want to be onstage. I want to be in control of my opponents. I want to be the one force at the table to be reckoned with. And I never like to go quiet. This image may not be comfortable for you, but it works for me. And I thought I’d share it. — MC
20 thoughts on “How to avoid the poker disaster of going quiet”
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; make it hot by striking.”
– William Butler #Yeats”
there are players that when I lose to them – it does not bother me.
and the reverse is true, BUT then there are those that I can not enjoy playing with
1 player who calls floor on me for showing my cards – after I already folded heades up
2 player who goes all in with 8 3 – and then glories in showing it
3 player raises with 6 4off UTG – and claims he is playing it well
I dont know how you tolerate WAIT yes I do , you dont play tournaments.
In today’s poker world, particularly at the WSOP, the rules make it harder and harder to be entertaining or boisterous. Comments are curtailed and restricted and being overly “participatory,” can get you some rail time. I have a good friend that I play with often and we banter at each other incessantly. We both retired from the same Fire Department and we have known each other for years. Other players in the games have commented that they hate to miss a game because the floor show is so good. We often get play that we wouldn’t see just because of our “show.” So, next time I’m in Vegas, I’ll sit down with Mike if I see him and get some banter going. That should be fun.
mad genius firstly – what a legend! you’ve already become my Hero in a short space of weeks! I hope you keep up the good work its truely inspiring!.
I’m only in my first year of ‘playing poker’competively however I have always felt I have that sense that enables you to look at a person and read them extremely accurately, some are predictable, some you realise are unpredictable, and others… are just fascinating, also to get a feel for their personality that at times can help judge what kind of plays they seldom use against someone like myself (quiet image)
the bottom line is I adapted timing and judgement from day 1 who to mix it with in a pot and at what times to do so (unless I have premium hands).
I’m a serious player, laid back, but friendly. I dont know if I will make it long term but cash games, I have had a great success rate, usually deliberately coming across as tight and weak,
then shift into another gear, whilest people are thinking it must be AK/KK/ etc turn over 8,4 off or something ridiculous, it often leaves a shock factor resulting in alot of players blurting out ‘Wow’. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
then ofcourse I wont do it for a while (as you say if the cards dont dry up this is great)
I’m actually this week attempting a make a break circumstance I’ve got a bankroll I’ve built, and I will invest my target is 10,000 by december,
I’m gonna take everything on board , and who knows I’l maybe even try falling asleep at the table, and playing sharads :-)
many thanks Ashley
Hi, Ashley —
Thanks for leaving your first comment and joining our Poker1 family. Also, thanks for the generous words.
Good luck on your first major poker adventure. Just remember to let up on the accelerator when prudent. And don’t overplay your newly built bankroll.
I would like to share an interested story to you and readers of this column regarding image, plus a question I would love to get some advice for.
I just wanna start by saying I love your website. There is so much good information in here beyond the standard “how to play this hand in this situation” tips.
I moved to Manila Philippines a couple years ago to play pro, and what I’ve come to realize is that there is so much more to being a successful poker players than just playing your cards correctly.
However, over these 2 years playing here I’ve developed a very serious image to the locals here. I’ve had a lot of success playing a very professional style and nearly everyone here knows that I’m a great player and respects my game.
Although I have been successful playing this way, I’m starting to realize the benefits of the friendly, loose, “wild’ image you suggest, and I very much want to adopt that but it seems so far against my nature that I’m not sure I can do it.
I was once banned from a cardroom here for winning too much. Can you beleive that!? Things are a little different here than in America. I was playing a $5/$10 NL regularly, which is considered a very big game in Manila and I was winning a lot. But the owner of the place also played in the game regularly, and i guess he lost a lot of money to me, and he didnt like my attitude, so he banned me. This is what made me realize that if I want to continue playing these juicy games, I absolutely MUST work on my image. I wasnt really banned for just winning too much like I first thought. Its because they didn’t like losing to me. I just took the game too seriously, and they knew that I was only in the game to hustle them and take all their money.
Mike, what advice could you give me to start to change my image? What kind of tactics can I use? Keeping in mind that in the games here, I play with mostly the same people almost every day, and they ALL know me as this super serious professional.
You want to appear fun, but you are serious? Sounds like you need to get serious about being fun! Homework is serious. Give yourself some. Tomorrow, make 1 stranger smile. Beauties don’t count. People who you don’t know, and don’t want to. After a week of that, move up to 2 a day.
Carry around a clown nose in your pocket. If you know you’re getting into seriousness, put it on and refuse to acknowledge it. Say, you’re coffee’s not the right temperature. A serious person might complain to the manager. Complaining to the manager wearing a clown nose might not get you your cup of coffee free, but it will probably amuse the employee who’s listening.
I sometimes ask a stranger the famous/stupid Barbara Walters question, “if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” “I’d be the mighty oak!” (or whatever.) I twist my face up as sad as I can, and say, “ooooh. Sorry, no. The answer we were looking for was ‘Aspen.’ Aspen was the answer.”
You might read that and think I’ve watched a bunch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The point of absurdism is the release we feel when cognitive dissonance is resolved. You’ve put them into a surreal environment that makes them uncomfortable. So you’re making them uncomfortable, and they’ll resent you, right? Well, no. You’ve provided them the opportunity to help themselves out of an uncomfortable situation. Once they’ve climbed out of that hole, once they’ve solved the puzzle, they’ll feel happy and associate that feeling with you, the person who caused it. “Oh! I get it – this situation isn’t that strange. This guy’s just a weird-o! Thank you, weird stranger.”
That Aspen joke reminds me of an old Jack Handy:
“If you saw two guys named Hambone and Flippy, which one would you think liked dolphins most? I’d say Flippy, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong though. It’s Hambone.”
And well, now you’ve got me started on Jack Handy :-)
“The difference between a man and a boy is, a boy wants to grow up to be a fireman, but a man wants to grow up to be a giant monster fireman.”
I am, like yourself, am an expat living and playing abroad. In my case, Argentina. The game has gone from idle to full speed in the past three years. I arrived just as it was starting here. Initially, when I played I took on a more serious demenor, often cloaking myself with a ball cap, glasses, and earbuds. Partly, I didn’t want to interact with people for the more obvious reasons (obvious from my green disposition) but also because I couldn’t speak the language well. Generally, the players held alot of animosity toward this “gringo” who kept showing up and taking their money. I suppose I wouldn’t have really cared much, but, poker doesn’t just happen in public forums, it happens in private rooms as well. Over time, as I learned to speak the language here, I began opening up more, becoming more interactive and engaging players verbally when I could. The result has been overwhelmingly positive, not just financially, but personally. I’m frequently invited to private games, where I usually win, and most players are happy and eager to get into hands with me. They pay off my bets, and bet small when they have me crushed… can’t hate that.
Doing this is relatively easy, when I enter a room, I personally greet all of the players, putting particular emphasis on greeting and making small talk with the casual players who are lifeblood of the game. I like to ask them about their sessions, and often offer some trivial advice to bolster their confidence and keep them interested in the game. By making other players feel welcome, they have returned the sentiment in spades.
All of this is much easier than you think. You have the greatest starting point you can imagine. You are a foreigner, the players know nothing about you, who you are, what you’re worth, or what your intentions are. As far as the players in my game are concerned, I’m an ex real-estate investor, and despite my being under 40, I did well, sold out before the bubble, and now live a peaceful life in south america. I dress well before games, and give off a casual, friendly vibe. I pretend not to care much when my big hands get cracked. And, attempt to console players when they get their big hands cracked, (usually with an anecdote about a similar hand I lost “big” in).
As i play often and am a regular winner, some players have begun to suspect that I’m a pro… when they ask… even off the table and in confidence…. under no circumstances do I reveal my true identity or break character… nope, I’m just a guy, who likes to gamble…
I’ve only recently (within the last day) come across this site, but, Mike is accurate in his observations.
All the best,
ps. what is it like in Manilla… poker in Argentina has gone from just one casino table to hundreds of clubs, 5 tours, and about a dozen casino games… all in the past three years… new players and new games every day.
One evening, I tried to play as “Mr Nerd”, sunglasses and big hoodie included. Part 3, beeing silent nearly all the time, didn’t work. I’m not able to shut up. I like it to make comments, to cheer with the other players, live poker as a fun game, combined with the attitude to win and to look for things making my game better. So, I understand your line of play very well – let’s have fun together, but not only for one reason.
My main problem at the table is that my wish to succeed is too big sometimes. Terrible, if it comes together with the idea to have a skill level exceeding the other players. You’re flying high, thinking everybody is a little fish compared to yourself. And then, you call bets which are far too high for your hand, and you begin to look for excuses to play a hand. Mike, how do I handle this attitude? What do I have to to to keep myself “grounded”?
Thanks for your help!
Cheers from Germany, Nico
It’s all an illusion. That’s the most important thing you said in this column. Coincidentally, the title of one of the screenplays I’ve been working on ;) One of the key tenets of magic, or legerdemain is, the big move hides the small move. I’ve said that before either here or elsewhere.
I’m an “old fart” in comparison to most of the hold em players out there, and definitely in comparison to online players. I find it hard to be quite as animated as the Mad Doctor, but I do make sure that I remind people how out of date my poker skills are “That’s a situation I’d always raise in 7card when I used to play with my uncles at family gatherings. Darn it, I guess hold em is different, huh?” Talking about grandkids helps, too — 20somethings seem to think that anyone over 50 is senile (well, I thought that when I was 20, also, but times were different then — everyone over 50 WAS senile).
I’m playing online in very low cash games (finally started a couple accounts a month or so ago), and I still can’t believe the “experts” playing in a $.10/$.25 game who are either abusive of fellow players or know exactly how everyone else should have played their hands — and tell them in detail. I find it hard to believe that someone who is so “expert” isn’t playing in the games with a bit more money involved.
Hi, Jim —
Interesting and funny observations. I can see how “… hold ’em is just different, huh?” would work to your advantage.
Thanks for posting your first comment and joining our Poker1 family.
This advise can be used online also. Always say good hand, well played, good bluff and nice things to other players. Throw a joke out there every once in a while. Don’t call players donky, idiots and bad things. (Unless thats your tactic)
Wondeful post, I couldnt agree more. Thank you for this info. Being a woman 24yrs young, My natural appearance/demeanor at the table (and life) is extremely un-intimidating and approachable. I always feel bad when I read some poker articles explaining how a good poker player is stoic, does not emmit any emotion and consistent in action. At my best Im only consistent (ie “I raise” “I fold”) but I could never disguise a smile or hold my tongue for too long. I relish in the comradery in poker and like being friendly. I struggled trying to be that hard-faced intimidating poker play but later gave up because its just not natural to me, I wasnt myself. My personality has worked for me since, but I never really understood why. After reading this, I feel more comfortable with myself as a poker player and confident I can make it to the top without changing who I am. From the bottom of my heart, thank you
Hi, Leah —
It sounds like your disposition is right for a long-term poker career.
Just remember, there WILL be frustration, and losing streaks — even for the best players, sometimes long ones — are inevitable. It’s how you handle these that matters.
In the long run, the more correct decisions you make and the more hours you play in favorable games, the more money you’ll earn. Keep your focus, whether things are going good or bad. Your job is to make good decisions. Someone else’s job is to decide who gets which cards.
Thanks for the positive comments!
Question, o Mad Genius: what do I do when being lively angers the person on my immediate left? This is something you have said is a Bad Thing To Do. Last night I was being lively (even playing music from my iPhone to make comments) and my left-neighbor began to get testy, even after I killed the songs. Moving seats was not an option.
Thanks for contributing to the new Poker1.
You need to walk a fine line between being lively and being obnoxious. Even when you think your behavior is fun, some players might see it differently.
You should always monitor reactions and present yourself on the safe side of the entertaining-annoying divide. It helps to establish a friendly relationship with an opponent before shocking him or her with strange tactics or behavior.
I wish I had a better answer, but being lively and still not aggravating opponents is sometimes more of an art form than a science. Work on it, and you’ll develop the skills needed. It takes time.
I am more inclined to be like you at the table, but when watching Phil Ivey we see the complete opposite…any comments?
Good manners cost nothing & simple effort to pay kudos on a good play builds mutual respect & player friends. It is a simple way to stand above the general herd & get attention of dedicated players for later matches.
Humour is a great ally but some are a bit serious to get the down-under sardonic flavour I present so I play quiet unless I’m in a ring.
Play is entertainment with profit & I have no problem sparking up a table if there’s a bit of to & fro. It improves the game & there’s always something to learn.
Thanks Mike. I owe a lot to you & Doyle Brunson.