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Poker Shrink Vol. 61: Conscientiousness

Poker Shrink

The personality trait that covers organization, discipline, deliberation, and carefulness is called conscientiousness. Often the simple comparison is made between someone who keeps a neat, well-ordered home and someone who is messy and scattered. There is nothing wrong with that example, but conscientiousness is a trait that begs us to look at the extremes.

What do you see when you see a messy house with clothes on the floor and dishes in the sink? If you think and see lazy, disorganized, or even less intelligent then you probably see a neat home as signs of industriousness, organization, and intelligence.

OK, what about a house where all the furniture has plastic covers? The books on the shelf are all in a perfect row (and probably color coordinated). The floors are washed, waxed, and polished every day and the bed sheets are starched and pressed. A bit much for you? That is the problem with extremes.

There is one more example to consider before we get to poker. How many of us know or have heard about accountants who do amazing work with the books at work but never balance their own checkbook at home? Consistency is not something we should assume when it comes to conscientiousness. Often — in fact very often — people show widely different levels of these traits between work and home. Or between work and hobby, or family and business. Balance is very important when talking about conscientiousness.

Balance is equally important when talking about the various traits of conscientiousness and poker.

We tend to think of self-discipline, thoroughness, and deliberation as positive qualities. Most of the time they are, but nearly anything taken to the extreme becomes a potential liability. Let’s take the deliberate, math-based poker player. He knows the odds. He has taken the time to meticulously learn all of the math and is able to calculate pot odds in an instant. But he has gone too far and become a math perfectionist at the table. So a good poker player will know that he is going to lay his hand down to an all-in bet, but if you give this player 2-to-1 odds he will make the call every time. He can’t help it; he is controlled by his math discipline. I had this exact player in my home game for years. I always lost more pots to him than I won, but I also always won more chips than I lost.

Let’s look at an example of the other extreme of conscientiousness. A player who is less motivated and less goal-oriented. He isn’t lazy, just a bit too laid back. He misses reads; he is having a good time at the table. But when the big hand comes up, he is lacking information he could have collected and he has also given out information he should have kept to himself. An easy read, who doesn’t know where he is in the hand.

Now, as with all of these poker traits we have reviewed, most of us do not come in at the extremes. We mostly are near the center of the scale and we have tried as we built our game to accumulate more good traits and eliminate the bad ones. Let me suggest that knowing your tendencies can be very important, particularly in long tournaments. Put simply, if you are prone to being too tight, too meticulous, or too loose and too casual, that is where your game will tend to creep when you are tired after playing long hours.

We are creatures of habit and although we are capable of modifying our behavior, we do carry with us the tendencies that we were born with. So, that old caveat to know thyself will often assist you in staying on course in the middle of the long poker road, instead of crashing and burning off the steep cliffs at the edge.

What do you think?

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