Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Learn to Act Like a Loser

Psychology of Poker (Part Two)

Do you remember my last psychology post? The one where I talked about getting into the mind of a fish?

At the beginning of that post, I ticked off some key elements that I incorporate into my game which helps me to stay in control at the poker table. The first one is that I always downplay my skill.

(This is more geared towards cash play, because it often behooves us to appear as professionals during tournaments but that post is a different subject, for a different time.)

I guess I should say "almost" always, because there is a time and place to get into the act of the braggart in order to control the table and put other players on tilt. But for the most part, I like to stay very incognito.

I don't believe that anyone should be "required" to put on a big song and dance at the poker table. Sometimes, if the "acting" doesn't come naturally, one can put so much work into the routine, that he has lost his ability to play poker correctly. This is usually a mistake. If playing good poker doesn't seem "easy," then probably something is wrong. There just aren't that many decisions to be made. So if having an elaborate act in the poker room is stressful, and causing one not to play good poker, I think one should reevaluate his act and tone it down somewhat.

Something that I tend to do almost always is to downplay any skill that I have. I don't let this become such a charade that it takes over my life, but I do try to remain inconspicuous at most tables.

Being a woman, I can go about my image in the poker room one of three ways:

1) Dress up, flirt, get attention, have male players make mistakes against me
2) Dress down, be so "invisible" that most men think I'm also a man
3) Play straight up, neither dressing up nor down, but appearing as "plain" as I can be

I usually choose option #3. I am still thought of as a man by some players, but probably most know that I'm a woman. I try to remain quiet and small. I like it when I come across a table where the men try to crowd me out of my space, so that I am more and more shrunken. I don't talk, I don't try to gain any attention. I usually just put my bets and raises out with one, silent motion. I'm the tiny, little mouse who crept up and stole their cheese.

Sometimes being the church mouse isn't the proper strategy at a particular table. My cover can be blown by players who know me, by cardroom staff, or it can just be a circumstance where I need to be more conspicuous. When that happens, I tend to change my act as follows:

I get a couple of seat cushions. I sit on my knees to appear larger. I take up more space to the sides than normal (but don't cross boundaries). I tend to lean over the table, making my presence and domination of the table evident. I talk in a clear, booming voice, making myself heard and firm during every action. I rarely check or call, but tend to bet and raise most often.

In the past, I have tried #1 a couple of times, but that act is not for me. I don't want male attention or softplay. I don't want to be flirted with. It bothers my concentration too much and my game suffers. It's just not my shtick.

In a game where schooling can be devastating in the short term, I tend to try #2. I would rather be thought of as a man, and get a few folds when I need them. I don't usually speak.

In fact, I don't speak much while playing poker, ever. Sometimes if I'm playing with friends I gab endlessly. If someone engages me in conversation and it is in my best interest to talk to him, I will, but compared to the type of person I am in everyday life, and the way my fingers blaze a trail across the Internet, I am relatively silent.

Okay, moving on to an overall, winning act. Losers usually talk about how much they win, or how great they play. Winners usually say nothing, or downplay their ability.

Sure, there is a time and a place when good or great players should actually brag about their ability, but for the most part, they don't, and they shouldn't.

Why would you want anyone to know you are good? Why would you want your opponents to play better against you? Only those with frail, low self esteem and egos would want that acknowledgment at the tables. Don't let opponents know that you have any poker knowledge above theirs. Commiserate with them, be a peer to them, don't try to run them off with your "superior poker prowess."

If this doesn't come naturally to you, just sit quietly. Don't let them get a bead on you one way or another. You shouldn't feel the need to let everyone know that you were a 4:1 favorite during the last hand, and that you KNOW you were a 4:1 favorite. Who do you think you are going to impress? The best thing that can happen is that they will all roll their eyes at each other and ignore you. The worst is that they'll play better against you. Why risk it?

When I buy-in, I usually only buy enough chips to cover the minimum buy-in, maybe even less. The rest of my buy-in is under my chips. The typical poker psychological ploy is to come in looking like you are a winner, that you have a big stack, that you can't be bullied, but you just might be bullying everyone else around. You dominate this table, you own it.

Some men need this ploy. It has become more comfortable to them than an old pair of underwear. They only feel on top of their game if they have a lot of chips. They arrange them in all different ways, from soaring towers, to the standard 20-chip stacks, neatly lined up.

This security blanket is needed more for men than for women. If a player KNOWS that it's a psychological trick, and doesn't buy into it, then it is unnecessary. Furthermore, if other players don't buy into it, it is worthless and can cost a good player some money, because their weapons aren't effective. They are shooting blanks.

Since I am a woman, I don't need a lot of chips. First off, even if I thought it might work in my favor against my opponents, I would have to reevaluate that stance, being a woman, because it doesn't. I get all the action I need. I get excessive action. I could have 95% of all of the chips on the entire table, and men would still be fighting amongst themselves to bust me. That is just the way it is with women, in most cardrooms. Having some faux facade of big stacks to bully with just doesn't work for us.

Instead, I have very few chips, and can move easily. I move all the time, to gain better position, or to get into a better game. I don't have to miss hands by moving my three racks, lol.

This also makes men think they can put me off of hands. It is amazing the number of men who forget that cash plays in most cardrooms. So it can be to my advantage during a big hand, if they try to put me off of it with nothing, a pure bluff, and I casually whip out a stack of hundreds. The bluff backfired.

When it is important for these types of men to know that I am deep, it is easy to make it well known. This isn't rocket science. If it is to my advantage to keep the pot shorthanded, making my depth known to the table is no big task.

Most of the time, however, it is to my advantage to appear short stacked.

Moving on to the next point, I never tell anyone that I'm winning for the day. When asked, I hang my head, point at my chips and mumble, "I'm just trying to get even." Even if I amass a lot of chips, I'll reply with a story about having lost my whole buy-in earlier at another table, or some other kind of nonsense to downplay that I'm running well.

As often as I can, I try to inconspicuously color up. I'll buy bills off of players, I'll color up to a higher denomination of chips, I'll casually rack up ones for fives, fives for quarters, quarters for blacks. I try to keep as little clutter in front of me as possible, downplaying my wins.

I will come up with any believable, feasible story I can when pressed about winning. I always say that I just got lucky, I never admit to playing well. I can tell huge lies at the table, if it means that I keep the fish happy, smiling and throwing their chips around. I never want the game to go silent, or get tight. I don't want to see a fish rack up. This can take a lot of maneuvering on my part in Omaha! The one game that is known for a bunch of grumpy nits. Mostly I just sit quiet, but if things are going really well, I can put on a big song and dance.

There is a time and place to let other players know that you actually know what you're doing. There is a time when being outed as a 2+2er, or someone who has been in Card Player is a positive thing for you. These times, however, are few and far between. Most of the time, you want to appear like a recreational, losing player.

Don't sit and shuffle your chips, showing off your chip tricks at the table. This will NOT get you respect, this will only make the game tougher. Do not wing your cards elaborately at the dealer. Do not reel off statistic after statistic. Do not tell your opponents how you play.

You want them to think of you as one of THEM, not as a pro. If you can't get into an easy act, then the best thing to do is sit quietly. You can fiddle with your chips or cards, but don't build the Roman coliseum or impress your neighbors with the two-handed twenty chip simutaneous cross shuffle.

Learn to act like a loser. Your pocket book will thank you later.

Felicia :)