Poker is a multi-faceted game that requires tons of skill to master. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a game of chance. While testing Lady Luck is certainly a big part of the experience, so is strategy. Seasoned players spend years fine-tuning their technique to become the best of the best.
It’s not just mastering complex hands and probability, either. A huge part of poker is psychological manipulation!
You can be the most rational player in the world. But if you lack social intelligence, poker can be one of the most challenging experiences at the casino! This multi-faceted game is all about subtlety and non-verbal communication. Many of the actions at the table work to obfuscate your hand. However, understanding your opponent can make or break your game, too.
Whether you play in-person or online, dynamic social skills are a must if you want to succeed. But which skills do you need?
Poker isn’t a collaborative game by any means. However, it does require some cooperation to function efficiently. The game is all about social interaction. If you don’t reciprocate with other players, how do you expect anyone to benefit?
That doesn’t mean you have to be the most talkative at the table. But, it pays to cooperate with others. Sitting down at the table is like a mutual agreement for cordiality. No one wants to deal with someone who is mean-spirited, silent, or uncooperative.
Not only does it make the experience less fun, but it throws the entire game off. Social interaction is often the backbone of poker-playing decisions. You can’t make good judgment calls when you have nothing usable. Players must do their part to keep the interactions going.
This skill piggybacks on the previous one a bit. Active listening is a social technique that involves careful observation. Cooperation and active listening go hand-in-hand. However, active listening is all about reading those subtle social cues.
Anyone can listen to mindless chatter. Listening doesn’t mean that you understand what people say. Someone’s voice can go in one ear and out the other! But what if someone’s conversation has a subtle tell? If you’re not actively listening, you will miss out on it completely!
Many poker players use that back-and-forth banter to identify changes in speech and behavior. It could be a change in tone or a sudden shift in topic. Whatever the case may be, you can only spot those changes when you’re truly listening.
Effective Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
Learning to communicate efficiently by both verbal and non-verbal means is paramount.
Verbal communication is pretty self-explanatory. It’s using your voice to convey an idea. Most poker players know not to show excitement in their voices when they get good cards. But verbal communication can also include things like a change in tone.
Non-verbal communication is all about body language. This form of communication is a lot harder to control. Many of the cues are involuntary! You might express emotions through your eyes, a facial tick, or a change in body position. The possibilities are endless when it comes to non-verbal cues.
That’s why you see so many poker players wearing glasses or loose-fitting clothing. It hides any accidental tells!
Poker relies on obfuscation and bluffing. To be successful, you must learn how to use verbal and non-verbal communication to your advantage. For example, you can fake a cue to throw other players off.
Knowing how to read those cues is crucial, too. When you familiarize yourself with how people act, you can spot tells and call people out!
Believe it or not, empathy is an essential social skill to have. For both in-person and online poker, it pays to put yourself in your opponent’s shoes.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to feel bad for them. As long as you’re winning, why care about someone else losing money, right? From a poker perspective, empathy is all about understanding motivations.
We all know what it’s like to lose. It’s not fun at all and can be incredibly frustrating depending on the hand. While you might not realize it, most players change tactics once they start losing. They may get a bit fearful and play more conservatively. Alternatively, they can become aggressive to try to win their losses back.
Either way, it’s good to empathize with them.
Putting yourself in your opponent’s place helps you analyze and understand their moves. You can figure out motivations and follow their train of thought. Master poker players can even predict actions by simply empathizing.
Poker is like a crash course in real-time problem-solving. Things can change in an instant! Your job is to adapt without breaking a sweat.
Problem-solving in poker is a little different than what you’d experience in other situations. Everyone has to overcome obstacles daily. However, poker is all about managing uncontrollable factors.
You must calculate odds based on the limited information that’s available to you. Everything else is just assumptions and gut feeling. When you consider the potential of psychological warfare from other players, decision-making can be a real challenge.
The key is to remain calm and focus on the end goal. Players typically work to preserve their bankroll. In the heat of the moment, you must decide what actions will mitigate losses the most. Learning how to do that as the game chances will benefit you greatly.
Are you someone who wears their heart on their sleeve? If so, you’ll need to get rid of that behavior before you step up to a poker table!
The best poker players are like brick walls when it comes to emotion. Remember: Both verbal and non-verbal cues are essential in this psychological game. Other players are observing you just as much as you’re watching them.
All it takes is one moment of weakness to give up your position in the game. Giving a tell can provide opponents with the in they need to win!
You can’t let your emotions get the best of you when there’s real money on the line. No matter how unsavory your hand is, fake it until you make it!
At the end of the day, poker is a game. While you might lose money, you can’t take things personally.
The worst thing you can do is let your emotions get the best of you. Like we discussed in the previous point, a lack of control will break your game. However, that invulnerability needs to extend to every other aspect of the game, too.
We get it: Losing hurts! But letting those losses ruin your day isn’t the answer. You have to develop a thick skin to play poker. Become invulnerable to the pain of losing and the actions of others! It’s easy to take taunts and bluffs personally. Ultimately, it’s the name of the game!
Last but not least, you have to be confident!
Every time you step up to an in-person or digital table, own the experience. Self-confidence naturally builds as you improve your skills. But even the most seasoned players can struggle with self-doubt.
When you lack confidence, nothing you do has an ounce of conviction. Sure, you could try to bluff your way through a crappy hand. However, a lack of confidence will make your opponents see right through it.
Own the table and have some fun! Believe in your skills, and you’ll be the player that intimidates others!
What If You Play Online Poker?
It’s a common misconception that you can’t use social skills in online poker. You lose the face-to-face interaction, so how can you use psychology to your advantage?
Contrary to popular belief, all of the required social skills apply online, too. You just have to use them differently!
Many online poker rooms have chat features built-in. Pay attention to the chatbox! You’d be surprised by how often you can identify tells from complete strangers.
It all comes down to how they use it.
Novice players tend to use chat features more frequently. They may even complain about bad luck! Meanwhile, seasoned players are a little more passive and quiet. They’re trying to read the digital room and figure out everyone’s technique!
The frequency of the communication can be telling, too. Did a talkative player suddenly get super quiet? Did they take a long time to respond or make a move? There’s a good chance that they got a good hand and are trying to decide what to do next.
Even betting actions can give you a lot of information. Experienced players tend to be more aggressive. They might make several bets before the flop because it’s more generous to their bottom line. You might notice them remaining active after the flop as well.
All those subtle details can help you understand your opponents without a single moment of face-to-face interaction. Online poker might not have the same social interactivity as physical table games. But you still need impressive skills to read the room and dominate the game.