Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.
Today, we’ll learn one of the most important psychological secrets in poker. First, I’m going to tell you how, 30 years ago, I allowed this cherished information to be published.
It was 1977 and I wasn’t sharing poker secrets with anyone. I felt the same way some of the top pros do about discussing tools of the trade in public. Specifically, I believed you shouldn’t do it, because that made opponents wiser and stronger. It limited the potential for profit.
What changed my mind? It wasn’t a what; it was a who. And his name was Doyle Brunson – the legendary Hall of Fame player who has corralled 10 World Series of Poker bracelets.
When we first met in his home in Las Vegas, he had just won his second straight main-event world title. And he was going to write a book titled How I Won Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker. If you’re not familiar with that book, it’s because the title got changed after the first edition. You now know it as Doyle Brunson’s Super/System – A Course in Power Poker, often called the bible of modern poker.
Fine. Back then I was a professional player, period. Not a poker lecturer. Not a poker author. Not well known beyond Gardena, California, which billed itself as the “Poker Capital of the World” with its six legal card casinos. And I had done a lot of research, mostly on draw poker. Why draw? It was the most prominent form of poker where I played. Only traditional high-hand-wins and lowball versions of five-card draw poker were allowed.
Doyle chose “expert collaborators” for Super/System – the best in the world at each specific form of poker, in his judgment. He wanted me to do draw poker. Up until then, I had always wanted to keep my poker knowledge to myself.
But Doyle’s charm was compelling and I ended up doing not only the draw poker section, the only chapter other than Doyle’s actually written by the chosen expert, but also helping edit and contribute research to some of the other sections. Plus, I put together 50 tables of poker statistics, covering all the games, for an appendix.
Some say this was the first time truly accurate, comprehensive poker odds had appeared in print. That flattered me. In fact, it was the feeling of appreciation from poker readers who had never before encountered credible poker advice that motivated me to keep going.
Soon I realized that publishing poker secrets wasn’t really hurting the game. It was bringing more players into the arena, and most of them didn’t thoroughly study the books they bought. They were inspired by owning Super/System, for instance, but they still played poorly. Certainly, we developed a lot of professional players – the ones who took the advice seriously and applied it. But most didn’t.
The poker arena grew. And just as public discussion of chess and bridge strategy made those games more widely appealing, the same was happening to poker. The theory that sharing secrets would spoil the profit seemed reasonable, but it turned out not to be true.
Although my original explorations of poker were statistical, something else happened when I began to pen the draw poker section. A great deal of it turned out to be psychological. I even included my first discussion of tells – years before Caro’s Book of Tells – the Body Language of Poker was conceived.
And in that section, I talked about either/or situations in poker. (See, there’s where today’s word “either” comes from.) Either/or meant that you were using psychological manipulation to make an opponent think you either had an amazing, unbeatable hand or you had nothing at all.
Why do that? The reason for employing either/or psychology is that you can then bet hands for value that might not otherwise be profitable. You do this because you don’t fear being raised with hands better than yours. Sure, if your opponent has you beat, you’ll still lose, but you won’t lose as much if you never have to call a raise.
So, I put my opponents in either/or decision mode by saying stuff like: “This is incredible! It’s the first time I made a hand this big in months! Of course, you probably think I’m lying and bluffing. And maybe I am, but I don’t think so.”
You’ve simplified your opponents’ thinking. He’s more likely to call with a weak hand, because either you’ve made a miracle or you have nothing. And he’s less likely to punish you by raising, because even if he holds a relatively strong hand, it doesn’t beat the biggest hand you’ve held “in months.”
For years, I played around with the wording, always saying something original to make opponents think in either/or mode. But gradually, I realized all that creativity wasn’t necessary. I settled on a simple line that accomplishes the same thing.
Most times, these days, I say simply, “You’re not going to believe what I made!” Those words imply that you either hold a monster hand or you’re lying. With only seconds to decide, few opponents expect you to have a marginally strong, vulnerable hand that you might usual check for fear of a raise. That line works; it allows you to bet medium hands profitably. And it’s my gift to you today.
Of course, now that I’ve shared this, everyone will know how I play and I’ll have to seek some other way to force opponents into either/or thinking. Oh, well. Blame it on Doyle. — MC