World Series of Poker Europe

Poker Shrink Vol. 62: Agreeableness

Poker Shrink

There is good advice and there is bad advice. There is warm and fuzzy advice: “Be kind, be happy.” And there is hard practical advice: “Everybody for himself!” Sometimes our natural tendencies can lead us away from our goals; sometimes you have to keep your eye on the prize. And that can mean acting in ways that are counter to your usual way of being. The fact is that in most social situations, we tend to act and speak in ways that go along with the way things are. We tend to be agreeable.

Agreeableness is a personality trait that can be categorized as simply being pleasant and accommodating in a social situation. It is the way most people act most of the time. As with the other personality traits we have discussed, there are ranges of this type of behavior. Those who are normally agreeable tend to be friendly, helpful, considerate, honest, decent, and trustworthy.

Those who would score low on an agreeableness measure are not necessarily anti-social. However they do tend to place personal self-interest ahead of social acceptance. They consider themselves first and the group last.

Now I know what you are thinking. First, you thought that agreeable people were the nice guys and represented the majority of all of us and the less agreeable were just the nasty, mean, unhappy few. But when you saw that a low agreeableness measure meant you were just self-interested; well then it got a bit more complicated. And that is exactly the fact of life in most social interactions.

There are situations where we do have to think about ourselves. The measure of success is often just how self-interested we are. The downside, of course, are those people so obsessed with money, fame, possessions, and winning that the majority of us only want to see them on the greed-based reality shows. The emotional division is obvious: who is your hero, Mother Teresa or Donald Trump?

Again, let’s not forget that agreeableness is measure on a sliding scale and we can and perhaps should be able to modify our behavior based on circumstance. I mean, at some time if a manager is not going to step up and manage then he may score high on the agreeableness scale and he can take that high ranking right to the unemployment line. This is not an all-good or all-bad measurement.

So, have you seen the correlation to poker? The basic fact of poker life is that you are trying to take chips from other players. The down and dirty baseline of poker is that you win when they lose. Everybody got that? Because, I know, you have played in those low-limit cash games where that is not the case, people are checking it down and soft-playing other locals. Quite frankly, I don’t know what game that is, but it is not poker.

So the question for you is: Can you be friendly and considerate and generous and helpful, loyal, courteous, kind, brave, clean, and reverent...and not lose your edge? Can you have the killer instinct at the poker table and still be a fun player?

I would seriously suggest that you consider this as a question you might need to address in your game. Let me give you two observations that I have noticed over the years. First, if you are serious about your game, you have probably stopped playing in your “friendly” home game. Now you may have a new home game with other serious players, but you can’t keep your edge if you play just for fun. Second, the best cash game players I know can be personable at the table but it never affects their play and in fact, their agreeableness is actually part of their game. You like them so you might not play as hard against them or – and this is the one I see more often – you like them because they are so personable and you overlook the killer instinct they openly display when in a hand.

Don’t be the player who smiles as the other guy rakes in the pot. Be the raker and don’t forget to smile.

What do you think?

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