Where Do You Wear Your Favorite Disguise?

This Friday I played poker with some friends and I noticed myself evaluating the other players based on small gestures, clothing, and many other factors that determine how someone will play.

Who we are plays a major role in how we do many things in life and poker is one of those emotional and logical challenges that brings our character to the forefront. Alan Schoonmaker has a great book called The Psychology of Poker that explains how the makeup of our character determines to a large extent how we play poker.

Indulge me for a moment and let’s talk poker and personality.

Consider these people coming to your table and what they might have in common. A thin man in his forties sits down quietly in his seat. A woman in her eighties sits next to him. And a young guy sits down and immediately starts lining up the dots on his chips.

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These three people are likely to be cautious and have a deep respect for money. The thin man certainly has impulse control and he doesn’t seem outgoing. The older woman comes from a generation that learned to be very careful with money. And the guy lining up his chips is whispering that he’s a little OCD. They have given you a hint about who they are and it is HARD to act contrary to your personality. Really hard.

On the other side of the table a guy with an expensive watch sits down. The woman next to him is wearing a scandalously low cut shirt. Next to her a man sits down and slaps the maximum buy-in on the table with a thud.

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Betting in poker is communication and these three are much more outgoing and communicative than the others. They want to take risks and they will be more likely to raise, re-raise, or even check-raise.

I will play the same hand very differently depending upon which group of players my opponent is from.

If you read enough poker books you’ll discover that a blend of these two personalities is the ideal style for playing poker. You’ll also learn that some of these things can be faked to give others a false impression of your playing style that will give you a short term advantage against observant players. That is what got me thinking about disguises.

When I play poker I dial my aggression knob all the way up. I make a conscious decision to act (on my cards) differently than my personality dictates. I do this because I read and studied the game. When I first started I played my personality (and lost).

Last Friday was a good example of the adjustments I’ve made over the years. The player to my left raised me three times when it came down to me against him. The fourth time I pushed all-in with a really lousy hand. When he folded I told him I had nothing and was just tired of his raises. He didn’t raise me again that night because he was afraid I’d raise him back and if I did he had no way of knowing if I was bluffing or if I was sitting on aces.

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Everyday CJ would never risk all his money on something so risky. But to play winning poker, Gambler CJ realizes that boldness is required and can shape the long term outcome of the game regardless of the result of any particular hand.

I’ve heard numerous writers say that they adopt another persona at writing conferences and author events. By nature many writers are shy(myself included), but that doesn’t work when you need to meet and speak to a lot of people. We need to become more outgoing and bolder on stage or when meeting readers. I’m really surprised when I hear this from friends who I consider to be well spoken in front of an audience.

That makes me wonder…

When do you put on a disguise?

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12 Comments on “Where Do You Wear Your Favorite Disguise?”

  1. cindysamuel says:

    I am in sales, have been most of my life, in one form or another, and I think I very much wear a disguise every time I step onto the sales floor. I am always UP and ON, being witty and bubbly and positive. At the end of a day, I am very often mentally exhausted from playing a part. I am not saying I am not all of those things, regularly, but I am those things MAGNIFIED, when I am working.

  2. First off, CJ, I really love your postings. Thank you for always mixing it up and having fresh topics.

    Second, I happen to LOVE poker so really enjoyed this particular posting today.

    As for my “mask,” I too wear mine when I’m presenting at writing conferences. Also, when I’m with anyone other than my immediate family. Any time I venture out into the social world, I have to boost myself to be a social being. Otherwise, I would just rush through the outside world, getting done whatever I needed in order to get back home.

    About three weeks ago my husband said to me, “You’re becoming a recluse.” I guess if the shoe fits but much of my work is out speaking and teaching in front of people and so wanting to remain at home doesn’t seem like reclusiveness to me but more like a place to get back to center.

    Thanks again for another great posting. -Susan.

  3. When I practiced law, I used to lower my voice and really project it in the courtroom to sound more confident and perhaps less feminine, because excessive feminity denotes weakness. Or so I thought when I was younger. Great post–really got me thinking.

  4. Gary Ponzo says:

    I’m sure you’ve already read Andy Bellin’s “Poker Nation,” but if you haven’t, it’s a great read. One line stuck out, “If you look around the table and can’t find the sucker–it’s you.”

    People will always wear their public face during poker as in any public event. That’s why the only reality TV is sports. Really enjoyed this post.

  5. cjwestkills says:

    I can totally relate.

  6. Fantastic post, CJ! Thought provoking for sure. I’d say my disguise comes out at work. While I bring in parts of my quirky sense of humor, I’m well aware of what files in the corporate world and what doesn’t. It is also a place where shooting straight with honest assessments isn’t always appreciated.

    Now I need to scamper off and read that book since I’ve wanted to learn how to play.

    • cjwestkills says:

      Thanks Barbara. Too bad shooting straight isn’t always appreciated.

      That’s a great book. If you like it, I’ll recommend a bunch more. I’ve got some great ones in my poker library.

      • That would be great, CJ! Now that casinos are coming to my state and city, I plan to wander down and find some in-person lessons. It will be great to know some tips to “alter” my persona as needed.


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