Should we be self-conscious when playing poker?

Is it more vital to avoid being perceived as a fish or an idiot than simply doing our own thing at times? Living in a superficial, image-conscious world often leads us to prioritize appearances and others’ perceptions, sometimes even allowing these things to define us. This has infiltrated poker, preventing many players from making certain plays because it’s not the accepted behavior; it’s criticized as if we lack the right to use our own paid chips as we wish.

Considering limping as an example, it’s almost a poker sin to ‘just’ call, as if we’re disserviceing the rest of the table by not adhering to some pre-written script. The contemporary game often shames us out of certain actions for fear of appearing foolish, allowing potential embarrassment to infiltrate our decision-making process. This is regrettable, especially in online poker, where people can become so self-conscious, not daring to limp into a hand against prevailing theory and convention, fearing ridicule in the chatbox!

Online poker, where anonymity should be leveraged, silly aliases used, and gameplay occurs unseen (sometimes even in our underwear!), should be a haven from such pressures. Yet, when this scenario is translated to live play, where players are physically present with their opponents and scrutinized, the pressure to conform amplifies. Inexperienced players, during their first visit to an actual poker room, often won’t dare wager a chip without a premium hand as defensive evidence. Those playing both in physical locations and online should notice how speculative plays attempted online wouldn’t be dreamed of in live situations.

Nonetheless, fear should not deter us from doing our own thing. What others think of our attempts at various plays should not matter. If reraising in the cut-off pre-flop with 72o, then having to show our hand gives opponents the wrong impression that we’re clueless or will play any hand—fantastic! Such deception can be advantageous later on.

Learning from golden rules, guidelines, odds, studies, adopting strategies, getting familiar with Game Theory Optimal (GTO) poker, and other advanced meta game theories are essential. But these should serve as general play reminders, not constrict our poker capabilities. Sometimes, going against the grain, doing something unusual can be beneficial, serving to destabilize opponents and throw a metaphorical wrench into their strategies.

Being willing to think for ourselves rather than strictly adhering to “correct” hands, timings, or positions is intrinsically valuable. Guidelines should guide, not dictate our actions. Poker, in its complexity, cannot be boiled down to merely the cards held by players and their relative positions. If it were so, mastering it would merely involve understanding odds and positional concepts. These fundamentals should be respected and understood, but not to the point of stifling creativity or exceptions when deemed justifiable. While some confine themselves with conventional constraints, and others consciously venture outside them, perhaps the best approach asks: ‘what box?’…

Author: AngusD
last updated 09.10.2023