You've seen the headlines. Top track and field athletes are thrown off the U.S. Olympic team for steroid abuse. Performance enhancing drugs taint records in baseball. There are allegations about drug use in football, wrestling, weightlifting, boxing and bicycle racing!
As troubling as these developments in the sports world are, I am compelled to reveal something in the poker world that is equally shocking. Though few talk about it openly, it needs to get out to the poker playing public at large.
There is an additive being used by a few successful poker players today that is at least as powerful as the performance enhancing drugs that threaten other sports. When used by a poker player it will almost surely increase his stamina, focus, and his overall ability to make money at the poker table
Maybe you've seen it. It is injected and taken orally, altering behavior and mood. It is legal; its cost is minimal but it is often hard to find in American poker rooms today. Some say it is addictive. There is currently no clinical test for it, but it's pretty obvious to spot someone who is using it.
It is simply this. It is humor.
OK, maybe I overdid the set up. But I have an important point to make. The player who can effectively use humor to lighten up an otherwise dour poker game has a decided advantage over his opponents. Few players appreciate this – to their disservice. Let me explain how it works.
How does a good poker player make money at poker? He finds good games. What makes a good game? Bad, loose, players who are playing to have fun, not to earn a living.
Think about it. Why would a happy-go-lucky, gambling player want to sit down with you? So you can take his money? So you can criticize his inexpert play? So you can make him feel worthless and degraded? Of course not. He'll play with you if he's having a good time – even if he's losing his money. And laughter – regular loud peals of it – goes a very long way in making a losing player enjoy himself as he drops his bankroll. Yet so many solid players who do play to win are the most humorless, serious, dour people in the room. Lighten up guys and make more money!
I'm not saying you need to be a stand up comic. But an engaging, lighthearted, pleasant and good humored disposition can get people's attention off of how much they are down and on to how much fun they're having. That's what you want.
How do you do this? It's really easy. Dumb jokes, stupid puns, ridiculous comments, manic antics and self-deprecating remarks are all fine. If you can't even muster those, then simple praise and pleasantness will suffice. Compliment your opponents on something they are wearing. Tell them they remind you of a famous actress or actor. Show an interest in anything they're talking about. But do it all with a smile on your face and a laugh in your voice.
There are concrete monetary benefits as well. Many players will deliberately play less aggressively and call more readily when playing against someone they like – allowing you to draw more cheaply, saving you bets when you're second best, and making you extra bets when you hold the winning hand. But the collateral benefits are also very useful. Even if you don't make a penny more of profit, wouldn't you rather play in a friendly game with happy good humored players? The advantage of feeling good while you play is priceless.
Ed Note: Feel good about yourself when you become a Poker Pro For a Year. Go to our Pacific Poker page for more details.