False advertising

Master some simple methods of mind manipulation and your opponents will be putty in your hands

Be aware that suggestion is more effective at making opponents call

Last month we touched on the phenomenal power of suggestion, and how it can be used (no, should be used) to devastating effect at the poker table. For starters, it’s a skill you already have, even if you don’t know it. Every day you’re subjected to an absolute barrage of subliminal manipulation and you rarely notice – let alone care – as it persuades you to spend your hard-earned cash by trickery, halftruths and suggestion. But your subconscious notices and that’s why it works.

This was once known as ‘conning people’ and against the law. Nowadays it’s called ‘advertising’ and is a multi-billion pound industry. If Milton H. Erickson, the benign father of modern hypnotherapy, had had an evil twin brother this would have been his calling. Advertising used to be so quaint – it actually used to tell people what a product did (can you imagine?). Of course, nowadays the most successful campaigns are truly civilian psyops, coercing millions with nothing more than pure suggestion and image association. Cigarettes are sporty, diet colas are a feminist statement, coffee gets you laid. But the most fascinating part is this: it even works on advertising executives.

Yes, the foul wretches behind these devious marketing techniques still choke on the same brands of crisps and cola as everyone else. Like it or not, adverts work.

When it comes to poker, terms like ‘advertising’ and ‘table image’ are not new, but they’re not written about as often as the ‘top 10 tells’ or tips from the pros. Nor do most strategists like to dwell on what happens when all your opponents have read the same tips as you have, so we will. You get pro-active.

Body conscious

Creating your table image is one thing in poker you have complete control over. You are your own advertising campaign from the moment you sit down, and within 20 minutes your opponents will have formed an opinion of you. You want them to be dead wrong, preferably by thinking you’re a pleasant idiot. But if you want to be thought of as a psycho gambler, don’t just say you are – show it. Call every other hand looking for a miracle flop or play some low Aces to a showdown from an early position (only when it’s cheap, of course). Want to be so tight they think you’re sat on a spike? Play nothing but Aces and Kings for an hour – and don’t fight for the blinds.

However you play it, you want them to carry on thinking their first impression of you was correct because that’s what their ego will be saying. Nobody likes to be wrong and admitting it takes both effort and humility – even if they notice your style has changed, they’ll think your initial one is ‘the real you’. Once your opponents have pigeon-holed you, that’s when you can change gear. In fact, that’s when you must change gear.

Be the Homer…

Change from what to what? Well, whichever way you play will alternate as the game progresses. Tight, loose, tight, loose – you have to keep them guessing. But to start with, loose is the best policy. A tight image helps you bluff but it doesn’t maximise your wins, it just saves your lying ass from losing the occasional pot. But a loose image – once you’ve switched – makes for bad calls by your opponents and more McCain oven fries for you. It also works the other way, which is probably why you think your losses have usually been to ‘lucky idiots’. No, you were hustled.

This image can equally be built up in online play, through weird betting and playing crap hands to a showdown. As the chatbox is no substitute for verbals you have to advertise your image with your actions. Overbet a tiny pot early on. Call on a gutshot draw and get caught (assuming it’s not going to cost you much). Just make sure you get noticed for poor play, then go rock solid – but don’t be blatantly obvious. If you don’t hit cards you must still play some lesser holdings purely to maintain your image. Calling the first 10 hands then folding the next 30 won’t fool anyone.

The old pretend-to-be-playingcrap- then-mug-them routine is tried and tested but, just like advertising, it works on us all. Sometimes it pays to be that lucky idiot, because even hustlers get hustled. The problem with throwing a few frames of snooker to then play like Steve Davis is that you can’t fool ’em twice. But in poker, with all its glorious variables and plays, you can fool ’em for a long time. Most hands don’t go to the showdown and the cards can do incredible things.

Did you really just have a rush of blood to the head, or three monster hands in a row? Perhaps the best way of making the point is this: imagine James Bond and Homer Simpson sat playing at a cash game and both were equally skilled. Who do you think stands to win more on their big hands? Equally when your all-in trips finally take Mr Smug’s top-pair, top-kicker to the cleaners it’s, well, whaddya know? You got a lucky one there. Shame he didn’t realise that you stopped playing Ace-rag right after you flashed it an hour ago. And if he wants to think that you beating him is just pure luck (which he will) then you must help him think that.

Everyone convinces themselves that the best man lost. Don’t argue the point, never gloat and keep in mind that any other players will be watching you more carefully after a win. There’s nothing wrong with being the ‘happy-go-lucky’ idiot.

Amateur dramatics

Without grumbling, you can easily and cheerfully drop in phrases like, ‘This makes up for last night,’ or, ‘Well, I normally lose with Aces,’ that hint at true fishy status. ‘I always play any Ace,’ is ham-fisted and betrays the underlying suggestion. Subtlety is everything. Telling beginner’s stories (your early career should have plenty) and lying about starting hands can be very effective. Not for nothing does Phil Hellmuth loudly claim to ‘only play A-K and pairs’. His famous post-flop aggression then conjures up scary images of unbeatable kickers and trips in the minds of his opponents, but in reality he doesn’t hit any more sets than us mere mortals.

Sometimes you want to be called, but sometimes you’re on a pure bluff and you need them to fold. All things being equal be aware that suggestion is more effective at making opponents call than it is for making them fold. Every player has a natural desire to call, to know if they’re being had or not. You want that ego saying the same thing as you are, not fighting it.

An example of how not to do it was one of the key hands in this year’s WSOP. Jamie Gold was faced with an all-in bet after the turn. This was early on, from an equally big stack and Gold could not afford to lose. He had hit trip Fours, but feared a higher set with both a Jack and Queen on the board and the pre-flop betting indicating his opponent held a high pair. After several minutes thinking, Gold told the grumbling table (and his opponent) he wasn’t time-wasting for no reason, he had the set. All-in guy was furious – surely Gold wasn’t allowed to say that? Yes, said the floor man. Still Gold pondered, but then the eventual loser asked for a clock to be applied and with that, Gold called immediately. His trips faced A-Q, and rightfully held up.

You can consider that a well induced tell, or perhaps an abject lesson in when to keep your mouth shut. If an opponent is about to do what you want, distract them at your peril. In this case, Gold later admitted he really had been on the verge of folding and called not only because his opponent said anything at all (which he shouldn’t have), but because of the suggestion in the words. Gold realised that Mr All-in didn’t like waiting for his decision – and he acted on it. Asking for the clock implied nervousness and, unfortunately for his opponent, it was the truth. The WSOP may have panned out differently if Gold had heard, ‘Take all the time you need.’

He could have made a great call anyway, we’ll never know, but consider this: had his opponent really held Q-Q, asking for the clock would have ended Jamie Gold’s WSOP there and then. Advertising even works on advertising executives.

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