Persuasion and Decision-Making in Poker
Influence and persuasion is important, not only in daily life with friends and family, but also in business, in competition, and just about everywhere else.
Having the ability to persuade separates a good salesman from a bad one, a successful business from an unsuccessful one, or a good commercial from a poor one.
The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Richard Petty and John Cacioppo explains the different routes of persuasion. In the model, there are two routes, the central
The main difference to note between the two is elaboration
. Elaboration is “the extent to which a person carefully thinks about issue-relevant arguments contained in a persuasive communication” (Griffin, 217).
The central route uses a high level of elaboration, and thus is a more effective method of persuading others, as well as understanding the persuasion tactics of others. The peripheral route involves looking at a message with much less scrutiny by taking shortcuts to make a decision.
Instead of relying on the message, one looks at peripheral cues, such as the appearance of the speaker, and is influenced not by the message, but by outside factors.
Understanding this model is important as a backbone to any career where persuasion is used. In my career as a poker player, there are very few things that are more important than understanding how and why people try to influence others at the poker table. Not only is understanding others players’ messages important, but understanding my own methods of persuasion is as equally important.
Before discussing the application of the Elaboration Likelihood Model to poker, I first think its important to discuss why understanding persuasion is so important in this line of work.
In the casino, every game generates revenue for the casino. For every game but poker, this money is generated by a “house-edge.” In these games, you are putting up money to win against the casino. Most these games are chance games, although some skill helps in a few of them (but doesn’t guarantee success). Those who have found a way to beat them are quickly banned from casinos worldwide, such as the blackjack crew from MIT.
Poker, however, is different. The players play against each other, not against the casino. The casino makes money from the cash games by “raking” each pot (taking a small percentage of the money from each pot won). In the big tournaments, the have a fee added on to the buy-in that they collect before the game begins.
This is important because this makes the game not only about the numbers, but also about the people
In poker, like roulette or blackjack, your chances of getting lucky are always the same, and they are the same for everyone. To have an advantage at poker, one must have better skills at the game than other players.
This is called an edge
. Without an edge, people would win and lose and about the same rate, and the only time a person would win is if they got lucky on that night.
But the game is more than that. It involves knowing how to “read” players, knowing when to fold based on what signs a player gives that he or she has the best hand, and likewise knowing when to call when he or she has the worst hand. So the better I am at understanding people’s persuasive messages, the more successful and more money I will make.
People are constantly sending out messages at the table. With every move they make, they want to convince you to call, fold, or raise. They want to convince you their hand is weak or strong. I want to do the same, by sometimes acting like I have a weak hand when I’m strong, or vice versa.
This will lead to a “table image
,” how each player is perceived by the other players at the table. Table image is important to persuasion.
Like most of the ideas on persuasion in poker, the idea of table image is two-fold.
First, I must be aware of how other players perceive me
at the table.
This can often lead players to think peripherally.
As a student of the Elaboration Likelihood Model, I know that “most messages are processed on the less effortful peripheral path” (Griffen 221).
Since this is the case, I want to project an image so I can exploit it later.
For example, if I play really tight, fold a lot of hands, and rarely call raises, my table image will be “tight.” I can exploit this later by bluffing at a big pot, since my image is tight and the other players know (or think they know) that I only get in with a really good hand.
have made tons of money by doing this in a different way. Since they know that the tables are predominately men, they can project a table image of a clueless woman. Men, in their arrogant and dominant personas, think they can take advantage of this and take the woman’s money. The woman will let the men try to bully them around and wait for their mistakes. They often will make this mistake of letting a peripheral message get in the way, and are less successful because of it.
Now and then, some players will also look at me and decide they can exploit me because I’m younger than them, not as nicely dressed, or some other reason. I have found that I can also take advantage of this as well by being patent and waiting for a good hand, letting them bet and use aggression, and in turn win a big hand.
The second part of table image I must be aware of is the way I perceive others
Because I don’t want to take the peripheral route, I have to look at players as objectively
as possible. I can’t assume anything.
Because my opponent is a woman has nothing to do with her ability as a poker player. Appearance of a player is irrelevant. The way they play a hand is all that matters. I should still develop an opinion about the player, but only in regard to their play.
And although I should be aware of the other player’s table image (and it can be very useful), I can’t use past performance alone for a decision in the present. For example, if I’m playing a player that is really aggressive, then I have to be aware that he may not have a strong hand and may be bullying me.
At the same time, I must evaluate his messages objectively and take a more central route to decide what his intentions are. Sometimes I myself will play aggressively so later people will make the mistake of assuming I have a weak hand, and then I will be able to collect a lot of chips from their disbelief of my aggression.
Knowing that the peripheral route is detrimental to my perception of others, how do I stick to a central route of thinking?
First, I must be motivated to process
. This may at first glance seem obvious; of course you’re motivated, you have money in the pot! But when you’re seeing 30-40 hands per hour (and maybe 100-300 an hour if you play online), then this becomes more tedious. If I am not motivated, I may look for peripheral cues and make a mistake. If I am motivated, then I must have the ability to process he information.
I must have sufficient knowledge
of the situation. This means knowing my opponent’s table image, watching their betting patterns, and knowing the percentage of my hand winning against a variety of possible hands he or she may have. If all the information I gather adds up and I realize I have the best hand, then I should call or raise. If their message convinces me, then I will realize that I probably should fold.
According to A First Look at Communication Theory, “Petty and Cacioppo assume that people are motivated to hold correct attitudes. The authors admit that we aren’t always logical, but they think we make a good effort not to kid ourselves in our search for the truth. We want to maintain reasonable positions.”
It goes on to say “we are exposed to so many persuasive messages that we would experience a tremendous information overload if we tried to interact with every variant idea we heard or read about” (Griffin 218).
This is very true at the table. An unsuccessful player is distracted
with the outside world: the game that’s on the TV, his or her cell phone that’s constantly ringing, or any number of other things. By being able to detect and separate different sounds (and messages) in the room or at the table, I will better be able to focus on the game and on the other players. Filtering out irrelevant sounds is extremely important in a noisy casino. The successful player focuses on the task at hand, ignoring the outside world and taking in only relevant information.
At a table, nine other guys are trying to persuade you to lose your money to them; outside distractions are only helping their cause and hindering yours. Griffin states that “…issue-relevant thinking (elaboration) takes more than intelligence. It also requires concentration. Distraction disrupts elaboration” (219-220).
I no doubt want to be intelligent at the table. Knowing the numbers is a valuable part of poker. Pot odds
and winning percentage is all very important, but part of that edge is found in concentration
, limiting distractions, and being able to elaborate on a persuasive message.
An edge over others is also having a clear understanding the peripheral route. This means avoiding decisions based another’s appearance, gender, age, or apparent image. It also means taking advantage other player’s perception and evaluation of your own persuasive messages. Doing these things enables a player to see beyond just the cards. It gives us insight into other player’s intentions, and hopefully in turn allows us to reach the end-goal: success and lots of money.
Griffin, Em. (2006). Elaboration Likelihood Model. In E. Barrosse (Ed.), A First Look at Communication Theory. (pp. 216-226) Boston:McGraw-Hill.