Why do players do chip tricks? The easy answer, of course, is that they are bored and they have chips available. Being creatures with opposable thumbs we tend to twirl pencils, click pens and basically do anything with our hands and available objects to kill time. But there are other aspects to chip tricks or chip flourishes as they are called and those are intimidation and image.
One of the first signs that you have been spending a long time on the felt is the way you "cut" your chips when you make a bet. You don't count out a pile of five chips, you snap cut the stacks and maybe give a single stack the one finger spill. A clear indication to the other players at the table that you are not a poker rookie.
This is precisely the aspect of chip flourishes that lends itself to a psychological interpretation. What are the reasons, other than boredom, to show chip tricks at the table and are there any reasons not to do them?
1. Intimidation: Quite simply if you have been around poker long enough to be able to riffle a stack of twenty chips, then you probably have enough experience for any player who can be intimidated to actually be intimidated. Ask any pro why they first learned a chip flourish and they will admit it was for table cred.
2. Table Image: Like it or not, you have a table image and other players react to that image and consciously or unconsciously adjust their play towards you to that image. Just think of your own reaction to someone who fumbles their chips across the betting line and the seasoned player who snap cuts their soldiers into the pot.
3. Stress Relief: Studies have shown many times those repetitive movements done without conscious thought are distractions from stress. It's why we drum our fingers or twirl hair or even chew gum.
4. Covering Tells: Sure riffling you chips can relieve a bit of stress but by doing just one repetitive move a player can also suppress any unconscious physical tells. It's like focusing your mind on one thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts. In this case you focus your nervous energy on one task: a chip flourish and therefore you are much less likely to give off other physical tells to your opponents. Just be careful not to use a particularly chip move when you are bluffing and another when you hold the nuts.
5. Respect and Notice from Dealers and Floor Staff: Some of the best chip tricksters started their careers as dealers, where chip handling is a sign of strong table control. Dealers often unconsciously treat other dealers and ex-dealers with more respect. This might even give you an edge with the dealer and the floor in close table decisions.
6. Maintaining Focus: This one you will need to try for yourself. Some players find a good long three minute chip riffle will help their concentrate when making a big call or fold at a crucial point in a tournament. Others will notice that the chip handling is distracting to their concentration; you decide which group you fall into. Again, be careful, don't riffle on the bluff raises and stop riffling with the monster hand.
7. It looks cool! Yes, it does and the pros do it but again think about this for a moment-Is looking like a professional what you want? Sometimes a fumbling amateur gets attacked a lot more than the smooth calling pro. There are times when being mistaken for a rookie at the table is the best image to have. How you handle or mishandle your chips is a great way to distract your opponents from your actual skill level.
Poker is a game of psychology; your chips and how you handle them are part of that psychological game.