Psychological Profiles of Poker Players
I recently picked up and read a copy of Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells, whose title is pretty self-explanatory as to its content. On a side note, I found the book to be an excellent guide to common cardroom poker tells as well as some lesser-known gems.
Anyway, in the chapter instructing on how to avoid giving off tells at the table yourself, the author goes into a brief discussion on different player types and personalities at the table. I found the commentary to be quite accurate and I thought that I would share my thoughts with this article.
Categorizing player types
Wild and unpredictable
One personality, albeit rare, that a player can employ at the table to keep their opponents guessing is one filled with wild, crazy, and unpredictable mannerisms. At least for a few hands, player types playing this style will reinforce their sloppy appearance by bluffing and gambling. Usually, however, they reserve these plays for when they know they’re being observed in order to represent that wild table image.
The result is a highly effective way to guarantee action when they have the best of it. Also, since these players are constantly yapping away, moving around, and distorting their faces, their opponents haven’t a clue as to what their tells (if any) are.
Examples of these player types displaying wild table psychology include Mike Caro (known as “Crazy Mike” before being the “Mad Genius of Poker”), Amarillo Slim Preston, Mike Matusow, and Phil Hellmuth (in terms of yapping and needling opponents).
While you can use this method to avoid being predictable, it is very difficult to appear natural. As Dan Harrington says in Harrington on Hold’em Vol. 1, “you might have trouble with this style of play unless you’ve spent some time in a mental institution.”
Dealing with these player types can be quite tricky. Because of their unpredictable image, it will be hard to know if they actually have a hand and are trying to misguide you into believing they are on tilt or if they are actually tilting. Most of these players are not completely immune to tilt which often causes them to make bad plays but also complicates things for their opponents who always have to keep trying to distinguish between reality and pretense.
Calm and relaxed
While most of us would be pretty tense about playing in major events under bright lights and documented by television cameras, some players are simply at ease and don’t mind a friendly chat with their opponents. Because this style displays calm confidence, it is difficult for their opponents to put them on a bluff, which bundled nerves often signify. Examples of this cool, collective, and talkative player type include players like Greg Raymer, Gus Hansen, or Daniel Negreanu.
If you’ve ever seen Negreanu play, you’ll know exactly what these player types are all about. Not only they are relaxed while playing but they also want their opponents to feel relaxed and at ease at the tables. They get them involved in casual conversations during and in between hands, trying to gather as much information as possible. While this strategy may not be very effective against hardcore professionals, it works very well on amateurs and casual players.
Most of us (including myself) fall into the final category of poker player types: the robotic tell-stifling machine. We’ve gotten to the point in our poker career where we realize that anything we voluntarily reveal to our opponents through speech or mannerisms can only expose information. What better way to suppress our possible tells is there than freezing up, zoning out, and keeping our mouths shut?
It requires the least energy and, for most of us, is the easiest to successfully pull off. Advanced players in this category have also reached the point where they’re able to subtly give a reverse tell, believably and intentionally exposing what looks to be a tell for weakness or strength but is actually the opposite of their holdings.
Examples of this style include Doyle Brunson, late Chip Reese, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Chris Moneymaker, Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, Barry Greenstein, Dan Harrington, and too many other players to name.
These players are clearly there to play some poker without any unnecessary distractions. Their game is usually deeply founded on maths and observing behavior of other players. They don’t feel the need to get involved directly as they are very competent in picking up the information from other players’ behavior, table chatter, bet sizing, etc.
Recognizing player types at a table
While you’ll find many different psychological approaches to the game and player types at your local cardroom and on television, the lesson should be that you need to develop some sort of method of reducing (and hopefully eliminating) the amount of physical tells that you expose to your opponents.
Are you comfortable being a wild maniacal force at the table or are you better suited for the classic “poker face”? Perhaps this article doesn’t apply to you if you play poker exclusively online, but you do need to prepare yourself if you ever wish to ascend into the level of live professionals or even just win a satellite into The Big One.
Regardless, it’s interesting to notice the various methods used by the major professionals at the table. Next time you watch a televised poker event, see if you can classify players at the table and challenge yourself to detect any physical signs of weakness or strength.