Intimidation. It seems almost like a dirty word these days. Everyone loves the nice guys at the table, but lets face it, there are times when you’re not there just to pal around with a bunch of strangers. You want to take home the big money. You’re hungry for the dough, and you don’t want to let anyone or anything get in the way of your goal. How do you do that without being labeled an arrogant asshole? How do you do that and maintain your friendship with your Thursday night poker buddies? That is what I plan on teaching you.
Lets talk for a minute about the game of poker. There are certain things that you cannot control about what goes on at the table. You can’t affect what cards you have, you can’t affect what cards your opponent has. You can’t affect the flop or the dealer, or the shuffle of the game. You can’t help it if someone with a huge stack suddenly gets seated right next to you. But there are things that you can control, and that is what intimidation is all about. You can control your own decision making, and to a certain extent, you can influence the decision making process of your opponent. The idea is to make them feel uncomfortable, unworthy of being you opponent. If you can do it successfully, you can force him into a corner, with his back against the wall, and then you’ll be able to read the emotions on your opponents face.
Most of the time, when I talk to people about intimidation tactics, they immediately jump to talking about a player like Mike “the Mouth” or Daniel Negreanu. Certainly, these players are among the best at intimidating the newbies at the table, and they do it in a very active manner. They table talk, they make seemingly spontaneous decisions and show an enormous amount of confidence at the table. I think that is the easy part, but it’s also the part that helps you make more enemies than friends. Nobody likes to lose to someone who’s boasting about how great they are when they make that lucky play.
The fact is that you can intimidate people without being arrogant, without losing friends, and without losing respect from your peers and other players. The way you do this is to employ what I call “passive intimidation.” This means that while you’re sitting at the table, you’re not changing very much of your play style, not table talking, and most of all, not being rude and annoying.
Comfort is what intimidation is all about. If you can make your opponents uncomfortable, they will be looking for an escape from the situation. If they can’t relax, they’ll rush their decisions, second guess themselves, and be entirely distracted from the game that they are playing. See the advantages yet?
It all starts before you even enter the poker room. You need to be comfortable in order to discomfort others. If you’ve never attended a venue or played in this particular poker room before, this can be difficult, but the basic method of getting over this hurdle is to get familiar with your venues, learn who is who, what is where, and start early. When participating in a major casino tournament, I always stop by the night before, find the poker room, the bathrooms, the restaurants, and talk with a pit boss or two about the event the next day. I make sure that I get some information on what is going to happen on the next day. While most tournaments are run like mirror images of each other, there are small specifications to each different venue which can throw you off completely. Sometimes, players are seated immediately, in the order they come in, other times they are seated randomly, and sometimes, players who arrive late get to choose where they are sitting. Doing this reconnaissance often means a stay in a hotel, but if your friends are staying with you, it can cost as little as $10 a night.
Once you’ve got an idea of your environment, you need to start to build an image. This is one of the most important steps in intimidating your opponents, because if you do it properly, many players will be intimidated from the moment you sit down against them. It all starts at the venue the night before the tournament. If you choose to sit down and play a game (which, by the way, I do not always suggest), I highly suggest playing rather conservatively, and building an image of a tight player. If you are known as a tight player, you’ll obviously get more folds the next day when it really matters. Many people will be playing their regular style for the next day, especially if they do really well, so try to get your bearings on who is going to play how, while building the impression that you’re going to be a tight player.
Get to know some of the players there, but most importantly, get to know the dealers, waitresses, and the casino personnel. Getting that smile of recognition and welcome from a dealer who knows your name is going to get you instant respect from a lot of regulars who may have never seen you before. Once you know some people, pick and choose carefully which players you’re going to be “friends” with. Make sure that they’re solid players who are likely to do well, or alternatively, that they’re really friendly with a lot of the people in the room. If you’re friends with the biggest schmo in the room, people will think less of you. Know their names, and make sure they know yours. You don’t need to be lifelong acquaintances, but if someone asks those people about you, they’ll be able to tell them your name, a tiny bit about you, and also that you’re not from around there. It adds a certain sense of awe and mystery to your profile, and makes you look a lot better than you may be. The fact that you’re traveling to a tournament or to a venue where you don’t normally play also tells people that you’re serious about winning. If people don’t know who you are, they can’t be impressed or intimidated.
Wear your glasses, or hearing aids, if you need them! There is nothing that ruins a good image more than having to ask an opponent if you can read their cards at the end of the hand. If you can’t see the suit of a card on the flop and need to stand up to read it, you look really goofy and unprofessional In a game changing moment, don’t hesitate to read the card if it’s going to cost you a hand, but the less you have to do this, the better off you’ll be.
Another underused part of building an image is that you’ll need to look good for your tournament. Be stylish, but not overdone. You want to avoid anything too casual and sloppy, but a pair of nice jeans, and a snazzy button down shirt, untucked, and with sleeves turned up, gives a professional look without it being too ridiculous (dark colors generally work best, but look around for something that appeals to you, as you need to be comfortable wearing it). A good guide is to dress like you’re going out to a dance club for the night. If it’s hot outside, opt for a short sleeve button down shirt, and bring a replacement, with extra deodorant. You can change in the bathrooms during the break if needs be, and smelly arm pit stains are not good for making an impression. Avoid shirts having to do with poker, or any other games for that matter. This makes you look like a nerd, and that never impressed anyone.
Now that you have an image and have a good grasp on what you do to intimidate players without doing anything, you should take a look at part two of “Intimidation” which gives you a good guide to the things you can actively do to intimidate people without being annoying. After all, creating an image is about controlling your own actions, and this is only part of the equation.