I’d like to start off by thanking you guys for your feedback and thanking Eat24 for the love. This gives me the motivation to continue writing knowing that people are identifying with what I’m writing about. Today we are going to explore something a little different. I have always been interested in psychology. It was my minor in college (dad wanted me to pursue a major more "practical") and they were always the classes I looked forward to.
What I have noticed in poker is that there are two types of successful poker players. You have the number-crunching, game-theory geniuses that make the decision-making process seem effortless. With these types of players, whenever you have strategy discussions with them, they always know exactly what to say. They always have an answer, and their answers are usually close to optimal. Then you have your master-manipulator types. They don’t have the refined thought processes. Their fundamentals normally lack. They are not afraid of confrontation or making aggressive moves, but they normally categorize themselves as "feel" players. They are loud and constantly try to initiate conversation at the table. For this second type of player, conversation is their great edge because once they begin conversation they know exactly how to guide it to their benefit to get the players at the table to do what they want them to do in game.
A player that can do both of these things effectively is extremely rare in poker. Generally, the players that can do this are the ones that eventually make it to the top. Today, I’m going to explore how to create the perfect hybrid.
Becoming strong at math/game theory and understanding what to do in "spots" can be simple. It takes a lot of work, but the work is right in front of you. Join training sites, watch videos, post on forums, have discussions with poker friends, and, finally, play online. That’s right, you dinosaurs that want to know how these young wizards so easily come to conclusions, I’m talking to you. We got this way by playing millions of hands online. Many of us have played more hands than any live players will in their lifetime in just a few years.
Think of online poker as an apprenticeship. Ever since Black Friday, my view of these players has completely changed. I used to view them as competition because they were the guys I was competing with online on a daily basis. Now I look at them as comrades. They are the few left that have been through the similar struggle and put in the effort and hours to become a master of their craft. Sadly, most of these players have capped potential either because they are set in their ways strategically or because their personality does not allow them to adapt to the master manipulator’s tactics.
The master manipulator comes in many forms. I have met male, female, young, old, intelligent, slow, abrasive, and polite manipulators. My favorite definition of a "manipulator" is: "to influence, manage, use, or control to one's advantage by artful or indirect means." This is something I have been working hard at since Black Friday forced me to become a predominantly live player. Outside of my obsession with the show The Mentalist, which has taught me a lot about manipulation, most of what I’ve done has been trial and error.
The first thing to note is that most people love to talk about themselves (even the guy with the headphones on that pretends like he doesn’t want to talk to anyone). Sometimes it may involve a disarming comment in order to get them going, but once you do they’re like an open book. They will spill all things they are interested in if you feel around a little bit. You can generally throw some educated guesses at them based on gender, age, clothing, accessories, body language, or diction. Since poker is a male-dominated industry and most males are at least somewhat interested in sports, I would suggest gaining knowledge about sports if you don’t already have it as this is a great disarming tactic. The more details you know, the more impressive and interesting you come off as. I have found myself getting into long discussions about other cities' sports. Then the conversation moves to what they like about their city, what their interests are and how that pertains to the city, what poker is like in their city, and how often they play poker in their city. Boom! Now you’ve just gained a ton of information about their outlook effortlessly while giving up zero information about yourself.
To be a master manipulator, you have to be mysterious and secretive, almost like you’re hiding something all the while being engaging at the table. I find myself talking to people that look like they don’t want to be bothered (opening them up exposes their weakness). Then you have your attention seekers that so desperately want to be a part of the conversation and always have something to add. I will engage them for maybe 15 minutes, be over the top in giving them attention and making them feel special, then give them the cold shoulder. This leaves them confused and exposes their weakness of needing to feel like people accept them.
Poker is definitely an industry that attracts more narcissistic personalities than not. The key to understanding how to manipulate a narcissist is to understand their relationship with narcissistic supply (NS). This is fancy jargon for understanding what makes them feel special. When you understand how to be a source of this for people, you can control for the cheese for the mice (metaphorically speaking, of course). By making the guy with headphones talk to you, it makes him feel like, "Wow, this kid went out of his way to talk to me. He must think I’m really interesting." Now you’ve got him. Often when this dynamic is created, the guy will even softplay you because he does not want to see you go. His need for NS will surpass his competitive edge (this is most effective against recreational players, but can often work against regulars, too).
With your attention seekers, they value being heard over anything else. If you make them feel like you’re really engaging with whatever they’re saying, then they become dependent on your attention. If you then go cold, now they will feel like they need to be super nice to you in order to get your attention back. That's when you’ve got them. I’ve played hands where the guy has checked back the nuts on the river just to "be nice." Nope, wrong. He’s not being nice, he’s fishing to get back his NS source.
Most of you will read this and say, "Man, I always thought you were this real nice kid and it was all just a front!" Not true. I am simply laying out some of the tools you can use to take your game to the next level and become the hybrid player that can both manipulate people while playing, but also remain strategically sound. The reality is that poker is the purest form of capitalism. It is a dog-eat-dog environment. A stage for competition. It is the only place where you can ruthlessly lie and not be condemned by society. People often will have bad intentions because of this, so you have to be ready to combat them and take advantage of those not equipped to maximize your units. That is the objective of playing, right?
I hope this post was successful in getting you to consider things that you haven’t previously. Oftentimes, the topic for these posts just come to me while playing or having discussion with my "comrades." So until next time, I’ll just be on the grind around Vegas and instantly having my favorite meal delivered to my door by Eat24.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments box below. Good luck at the tables!
David Randall is a professional poker player residing in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has nearly $700,000 in live tournament earnings, including one World Series of Poker final table and one World Poker Tour final table. The largest score on Randall's live record is from a $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event at the 2010 WSOP when he took third for $270,299.
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