The first article in this two part series gave you everything you need to build up a nice image as a player before the tournament ever even begins. Once you have that good image built up, it’s time for you to show your stuff on the table. After all, image only takes you so far, and a single boneheaded play early in the game can completely ruin everything you hoped to gain.
For this reason, I highly suggest starting out the tournament playing very conservatively. If someone makes a comment about it, anyone who played with you the night before will say something also, and once someone validates the opinion, give it a few more hands, and then you’re golden to start playing as aggressively as you want for a while.
When it comes to that traditional table talking story time that happens at least once in every tournament be prepared to lay a good one down now and again. If you personally know any pros, make sure to name drop without being too obvious. Don’t confuse your stories, tell them in a smooth and careful manner, and make sure that you practice getting your details down. Sit in your room and talk to yourself if you need to. If you can give a daring account of how you outplayed and outperformed someone, players will be more respectful of your skills. Never, I repeat, never chalk something up to your opponent’s poor play. That takes all the oomph out of your story, since everyone has outplayed someone terrible at one point or another.
Once you get into a game, you need to move precisely. Make it look like you’ve been playing forever, which means you want to move fluidly, like you’re not even thinking about what you’re doing. Add extra steps to your motions, as these are sure to get you noticed. For instance, if you look at your hole cards one at a time, that’s doubling the amount of time that the attention of other players is being focused on you. This is very important, because if you’ve followed my instructions on building an image, you want to milk it for all it’s worth.
The secondary effect that this can have, especially on newbies or people who are unfamiliar with the venue, is that doing small things like this can put your opponent on edge. Most of the time, the quiet players or the newbies will try to sink into the background and act just like everyone else, and certainly at the beginning. They may choose to mimic your behavior so that you won’t be suspicious of them, allowing them to further disappear into the crowd. Then they think more about the process of their turn, and less about their actions in the game.
Bring extra basic stuff with you. If your opponent needs a drink and the waitress is taking forever, you can simply reach in your bag and produce one. I typically carry around extra water, extra candy, advil, and at least one spare fork (you’d be amazed at the number of times that someone will need a fork). By preparing yourself in this way, and by being generous enough to give handouts, you are doing using one of the most tricky tactics available to you as a player. You are forcing them into an uncomfortable situation because they came unprepared and needed help. They’ll see two things from this: you’re a well prepared and very serious player, or that you’re genuinely nice fellow, and either way, they’ll be impressed. Also, because common decency requires a gift for a gift, this can make you not only another friend, but also almost forces some people into giving you a favor. I once had someone call my bet with a royal flush instead of raising me when he knew I would call. When I asked him why he didn’t put me all in, he reminded me of that water bottle I gave him the day before. That one water bottle earned me $900 in real money.
If you’re playing a game like draw poker, or any game where you need to hold your cards in your hand, one of the most nifty tricks I can give you comes from my days as a Magic player. While waiting for your opponent to make a decision, shuffle your cards around in your hand, making a motion commonly called the “Jedi Mind Trick.” This involves taking the cards in one hand, and moving them from one hand to the other, the top card of one hand moving to the top position in the opposite hand. The net effect will be that your cards will all switch from one hand to the other, and their order will be exactly reversed (if you’ve seen people do this before, you’ll immediately know what I mean, but it’s hard to explain in words). There are an infinite number of variations to this trick, and all will work equally well. The ticking noise you can create jars your opponents thinking, and often makes them self-conscious, as if they’re moving too slowly. This move has the potential to offend some people, so don’t do it too often, but well placed, the effect makes you look really smart and practiced.
Try to engage your opponent in conversations, and use common ground (look for indications of their interests on their shirts, patches on backpacks and bags, or refer to previous conversations that you may have had. If all else fails, you’re both there playing poker aren’t you?).If you visited the venue and saw them the night before, ask about how their games went, or if you see that they have some non-poker interest, ask them about that. Very often, you’ll find those social misfit type of players who just love to show off how much useless information they’ve collected, so even if it’s uninteresting to you, keep asking them about stuff, and let them rack their brains about specifics of something entirely unrelated to the game that you’re playing. If their mind strays for too long, they’ll miss important steps in their turn, possibilities for action, and sometimes even forget the cards they have in their hand. Before each hand starts, while shuffling, you can ask them how the tournament has gone so far. They’ll likely narrow down some specifics of how they like to play, so listen up. This lets you glean information about whether your starting hands will be adequate or not.
If your opponent is deep in thought, this is an excellent time to start talking to someone else, especially if your friends are watching your match (though be careful with this, many casinos do not allow you to talk to people while you are playing a hand). My friends and I used to have a policy that once someone was out of the tournament, they were to go and watch the game of the player with the most chips. It gives you someone in your corner for moral support, someone to hold distracting conversations with during long periods of opponent’s thought, and often will intimidate opponents just by being there. Another option is to ask for the locations of a bathroom, or a good restaurant, and throw in a comment about how much you can’t wait to get done with the hand so you can sleep/eat/pee/whatever. This makes your opponent hurry, and they can rush through important situations, though you’ll need to speed up your own play to make your acting convincing. Basically, the goal of any in-game conversation should be to distract your opponent as much as possible. Be sure not to come off as annoying, because this puts people on edge, negating the opportunity for further advantage.
Eventually, the build up of all of this discomfort could force your opponent into a mistake. If this happens, and if the dealer or the casino staff doesn’t notice it, you have an abundance of choices available to you. You can let it pass, making them more uncomfortable, or if it’s a game changing play, call a judge, and you’ll always win the argument. If your opponent is younger or inexperienced, this will work exceptionally well.
Calling for a judge is something which needs to be handled with care. This is why it’s suggested that you learn all of the rules really well, and potentially even take a course on becoming a judge. If you call a judge and you’re wrong, you’ll lose a lot of credibility, and opponents will question all your moves. You can eventually be assessed penalties for simple things if you accrue too many warnings. The best option is to ask the players next to you, or if you have watchers, to ask them. If you win a dispute, that is basically the death sentence for your opponent. Expect them to be one of the next people out the door.
Occasionally, you can be mean to people, though I don’t often suggest it. It can work wonders on a person’s mind, but moderation is key. They need to be steaming, but if they blow their lid, you could find yourself in a fist fight, or potentially kicked out of the venue and disqualified. Throwing in a few loudmouth remarks to your friends is the best way, while openly insulting them is probably too much. As for when this works, try to use this tactic only on people who are not very popular, or people with few friends at the tournament, because they have no one to turn to, and are likely a bit uncomfortable to begin with. People with too many friends should not be targeted, because they’ll have enough support in the crowd. There’s a fine line to walk here but if you can manage it, this will get you a lot of respect with certain people if you can do it and win the hand or table. If you lose however, then you’re not only a loser, but also a jackass.
All these tips that I’ve given you here are commonly employed by everyone at one point or another, whether they know it or not. Masters of the game will employ different ones each round, and can wind amateurs around their fingers with ease. Now that you know about these different techniques, use them to your advantage, but even more importantly, understand how and why they work, and take precautions to avoid them.