Poker and Social Psychology

In this blog post Barry Carter discusses how Tilt is a common issue to disciplines such as sports betting, trading and of course poker.  I felt compelled to answer this post as I have always found that comparing poker to other disciplines very useful to my understanding of the game.  One of the disciplines I used to be quite passionate about is pool.  Although poker and pool are 2 very dissimilar games, the psychological side of these 2 disciplines draw some interesting parallels.  More specifically, the Social Psychology aspects of poker and billiards are very similar:

-  In both games you act in front of other players and gradually give away your strategy;
-  It is very common for the players watching to form opinions about how you proceed;
- It is commonly perceived that winning players will often take the same strategic route when analyzing a situation

Pool players who are not accustomed to the added pressure of peer speculation often lose focus on their objective.  For instance, an 8-ball player who lacks confidence thinks about what his opponent will think if he does not choose the correct order of shots to take and fails to clear the table.  This player creates an extra layer to the problem.  Instead of focusing on the best course of action, the following thoughts set in:

  • If I lose, how can I do so without looking foolish
  • How can I win this game in the most impressive fashion
  • How can I play this to leave myself with excuses for losing if I don’t win

Poker players tend to fall into the same trap.  The pressure of being scrutinized by others sitting at the table can be overwhelming.  This especially holds true when facing a critical decision while playing a big pot.  Pressure opens the door to self-doubt.   Players find themselves trying to determine a play that will help them save face instead of focusing on playing optimally.  Losing their stack becomes acceptable with certain holdings. Profitable bluffs are not executed in fear of having to show an ugly losing hand. Players are focused on their post bust out story instead of focusing on making the correct play.

How to fix it

Barry and Jared probably have a more elaborate answer on how to counter this natural tendency.  Personally, I have found that gaining confidence by getting used to playing under stressful conditions helps.  The more you can handle the stress of a tough poker spot, the better are able to focus on the task at hand and not worry about what the rest of the table is thinking.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic and/or this post. I am looking forward to discussing it with you.

1 Comment

  1. I really love this post, thanks man.

    I spoke once with Steve Davis (world champion snooker player and excellent pool player too) and he said the biggest similarity between poker and pool is having to make a decision and go with it, ie. not let self doubt creep in.

    With regards to ‘our advice’ you have nailed it. We would probably advocate improving how you play under stressful conditions, bring your C-game closer to your A-game. We have a big old section around it and the adult learning model in fact.

    I love watching Snooker (we have the world championships on my home town) and the real appeal of it is not watching the best in the world pot for fun, its watching them make the least mistakes under pressure.

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