We have all heard of personality traits, which we usually think of in terms such as dominant or shy, weak or bitter, happy or joyless. But personality trait theory is a bit more complex than that, and not surprisingly there are some strong correlations between personality traits and good poker playing. This brings us to what I like to call “poker traits.”
What makes a good well-rounded, even well-liked person is not necessarily what makes for a good poker player. And like so many other aspects of our lives, some things we can change and others we can’t. Let’s take a look at what psychology has developed over many years on what is called trait theory, and let’s see what that can tell us about benefiting from your good poker traits and managing your bad ones.
The most commonly accepted personality trait has two sides: extroversion and introversion. Very generally, we tend to be outgoing, expressive, and talkative or we are shy, reserved, and quiet. As you probably know, the majority of people fall very close to the mid-range on the introversion/extroversion scale. Sure, we may be more reserved in most situations but a “normal” introverted person will have swings to the extroverted side in some areas. While you may think that friend of yours who is never quiet and always on the go is the perfect extrovert, he probably has moments of peace and quiet as well. Generally speaking, people tend to be slightly one way or the other.
Now at the poker table, either trait can be good for your game or it can create problems. First of all, a poker face is much easier for an introvert. Normally reserved and quiet, the introvert has a much easier time not showing emotions at the table. The extrovert on the other hand is prone to talking and being demonstrative and telltale leaks are much more likely to happen. If you’re an extrovert, you might talk louder or faster when you have a good hand. You might develop a nervous edge to your voice when you are bluffing.
On the flip side, introverts do get excited and nothing excites them more than flopping that monster hand after hours of monotonous fold, fold, fold. But hiding that excitement underneath a calm, serene surface can be a lot more difficult for the introvert. He wants to jump for joy but he must maintain that calm, placid face. Hard to do.
The extrovert on the other hand is already loud and talkative, but when he has to think long and hard about a hand, everyone will notice the change. The key, of course, is mixing up your play or in this case mixing up your table image. Or you can go the other way and just master one of the two traits. Chris Ferguson is a good example of the perfect introvert at the table. He takes the same amount of time with each action; he stays unemotional behind that hat and those sunglasses. You never know what Chris is thinking.
Daniel Negreanu is an example of the near-perfect extrovert. He loves to talk. He talks when he is in a hand, he talks when he is out of a hand, and he loves to talk in-between hands. He talks about sports, Rocky movies, and sometimes he even talks about poker – but he always talks. Try, just try, to pick up a verbal tell on Daniel.
The key to this most common personality trait is to know thyself. Know what you naturally do in a stressful situation and work either to control those reactions, or decide to go with them by being all you can be, either as a poker extrovert or a poker introvert.