The Psychology Of Fear And The Science Of Poker

Posted by nick_niesen on October 26th, 2010

In the world of poker, appearances can often mean the difference between a winning hand and a losing hand. When bluffing, some people attempt to appear supremely confident to offset the fact that their hands are ?junk.? This has the effect of discouraging other players from challenging you for ownership of the pot. However, there are others that prefer to use fear and anxiety as their weapons, coldly intimidating their fellow players into abandoning their positions of strength. There is a deep element of psychology whenever someone bluffs at the poker table. There can sometimes be an even deeper element of fear and anxiety behind the bluff, both for the one doing the bluffing and for those being targeted.

Some people claim they can practically smell the anxiety coming off someone who has gotten suckered into a good bluff. For some players, fear and anxiety are ideal tools in bluffing, as it plays upon some of the oldest instincts in the human psyche. When gripped by anxiety, people tend to lose their ability to objectively and clearly evaluate a situation and make good decisions. As any poker professional will tell you, the inability to analyze the situation before you is a bad situation for a poker player. Combine this with the stress of a high-risk pot and an imposing opponent and most less-experienced players will likely crack under pressure. As with all poker strategies, there are several ways to accomplish instilling fear and anxiety into your opponents during a game.

The most common method used to inspire fear and anxiety is by establishing a ?reputation? or an ?image.? This technique can either be long-term or short-term, though most players try to make use of both approaches. The short-term technique is to present yourself as being a dangerous player at the table you're currently playing at. This can involve consistently raising and calling, even when the odds might appear to be against you. Presenting yourself as an aggressive player can make your opponents unwilling to risk going against your calls, particularly if you've been winning most of the hands played. Other ways this can be done is through presenting an imposing physical presence, as appearances can often play a large part in how a poker player ?reads? someone.

For the long-term, fear and anxiety can be instilled through the use of one's reputation or record. This method is significantly more subtle, as this relies on simply making the most of what the other players think of your poker game. For example, a player with a reputation for having a tight game can suddenly play with extreme and almost reckless aggression. This has the effect of catching other players off-guard and, while they're adjusting their strategies to cope, you can choose to keep up the aggression or drop into a defensive stance once you've managed to get a sizable number of chips.

Psychology can also play a role in deciding which strategies to employ at a poker table. According to some theorists, poker mechanics tend to favor people who are analytical and self-analytical, mainly because knowing one's strengths and weaknesses is crucial to successful poker play. Thus, a person who is able to understand his own psychological tendencies can typically be better equipped to deal with the high levels of stress involved in analyzing and re-analyzing people over the course of a game.

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