Winning Poker with NLP Techniques
By Rintu Basu
NLP Case Studies, NLP Techniques, NLP Training
17th July 2012
Since the Derren Brown’s Trick or Treat poker episode I have been asked several times about the application of NLP and Poker.
Derren Brown – Poker Episode
In the episode Derren took a woman who has never played poker before and in the space of a week got her to a level where she played off against professionals in a tournament. She was unlucky in the last hand and almost beat the lot of them.
It appeared from the episode outside of the basic rules all the woman was taught to do was ‘reading’ the other players and deciding whether they were bluffing or not. She then bet based on this information.
The questions I am asked generally revolve round, is this possible and could I train someone to do this. The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is there is a lot more going on than just this and that there is a lot more that NLP has to offer in playing poker.
NLP and Poker
If you have studied NLP to any level I would highly recommend taking up poker as a way of sharpening up your NLP skills. Trust me, I do a considerable amount of personal development and would say I have learnt more about NLP in my first three months of playing poker than I have in the last couple of years.
Most of my playing is online rather than face to face at the moment, so I will talk about how much NLP development can happen just through learning to play the game on a computer.
The obvious point is that poker has rules; there are odds and statistics that are worth learning, betting strategies and styles to look at.
As with most things there are also no definitive rights or wrongs in how you play the game and an important element is not to fall too far into a predictable playing style. As such you can imagine how much there is to learn and how much is written about the ‘correct’ way to play. Poker is a game based on imperfect information, changing situations and combat stress.
NLP has a lot of key tools related to accelerated learning and picking the foundation skills as well as sorting out how you want to play the game can be rapidly accelerated through the use of foundation level practitioner skills all the way through to advanced modelling techniques where you get into the mindset of professional players.
Beliefs, Self Esteem and Image
NLP has a lot of tools that you can use to change beliefs, and self image, but how does this link to poker? Well, you might want to consider the difference in playing with the belief and intention of winning against just being social. Remember either could be the best mindset to be in depending on the context, but just think about the way you make decisions and how much this changes dependant on your how you are thinking about yourself.
Here is a simple example of three mindsets and how you could get three different decisions from it. Let’s say the person across the table has just put in an over the top bet.
If you are running a pattern of low self esteem you might be intimidated and give in at this point assuming that he has a strong hand.
Another low self esteem decision might be “How dare he try to intimidate me” attitude and you raise him throwing all your chips in creating a stand off situation.
Now another option might be keeping a cool rational head: you consider his previous betting patterns (stage of tournament, chip stack, bet size, player position, previous plays, playing competence, board rationality and the thousand and one considerations), if you are playing in the real rather than the virtual world you might consider all the non verbal signals he has given off, you look at your hand and work out the probabilities of him having a better hand. And based on all this information you decide on your line of play.
Even in my brief amount of time playing poker I have come to the conclusion that poker players bring their beliefs about themselves and their world right to the table and then operate from them. How well would you be making decisions if you had a deep rooted fear of failure? Imagine you had the tools and technology to be able to tweak they way you think before sitting down at the table? All good NLP practitioners have this ability.
Real Time Emotional Control under Pressure
Poker is about forcing the other players into positions where they have difficult decisions to make. If you like, giving them the opportunity to make poor decisions. Whilst you are doing that, all the other players are trying to do this to you as well. In practice what this means is that you have to maintain a positive state sometimes under some very difficult circumstances.
Consider this set of circumstances. You are leading the way with far more chips than anyone else left on the table, the cards come down and you know you have an exceptionally strong hand. You play well fooling the other players in to betting huge amounts and then the last card comes down and through blind chance…a one in a million freak circumstance you lose the hand. All of a sudden you are now sitting in last place with hardly enough chips to carry on and the guy sitting opposite is smiling smugly at you despite the fact that you played well.
This could happen to you several times in one game and you would have to pick yourself up and play on despite the set back.
Let me give you another circumstance where maintaining tight emotion control is critical. Imagine yourself on a roll. You have several good hands and you look like you are dominating the table and Lady Luck is sitting on your shoulder smiling every time the cards are dealt. It is possible that your playing style could get looser, more extravagant and less thoughtful.
Either way being able to separate from you emotions and play in a controlled, centred way is critical to the game. NLP gives you all the tools to do this. It is rare to find such a good opportunity to test and refine these skills in a real environment.
The Sexy Stuff
A lot is said in NLP about being able to read people, build rapport with them and understand on a moment by moment basis what they thinking. There is a lot of good information on Rapport and Sensory Acuity all over the internet as well as on my website so I will not go into detail here, just give you a few ideas as to how you can apply these skills directly to poker.
When you go on a practitioner course you will learn a variety of rapport techniques, so if this doesn’t make sense go and ask a good NLP practitioner or call my office.
NLP practitioners are taught to build rapport with individuals and groups. If you build rapport with the whole table you will have an inside track as to the general ebb and flow of the game as well as picking up lots of sensory information about whole group.
Betting on your hand is a form of communication and being connected to the general murmur of conversation has direct impact on how you are looking at each individual. Are they putting in bets that are consistent with the rest of the table, is this an automatic response or a cover for a strong hand? Are they betting strong against the flow because they have a strong hand or just to give the appearance of a strong hand? Is what they are saying verbally congruent to the what they are saying with their body language or how they are playing?
Now when looking at a specific player in a specific situation it is impossible to not give out non verbal signals. The trouble is knowing what they mean. So there are two aspects to reading people at a poker table.
The first is a thing I will call calibration. Basically watching for verifiable events and noting what signals someone gives off with them. For example many people lean forwards when they have a hand to play and will lean away from their cards when they are bluffing. An online version is people that take a lot of time before calling a bet are usually bluffing and those that take a long time and raise a bet generally have a strong hand. Whilst lots of people have these patterns it does not follow that the person sitting opposite you is a conformist. The only way you can tell is by observations over a period of time looking at clusters of behaviour.
The key to watching people is to notice what they do at the point of decision or action. Ideal times to watch someone are when they first see their cards, when they make any action like a bet or a raise and when someone else makes an action that they will have to respond to. And all of this is within the context of the general ebb and flow of the table dynamics.
NLP will give you processes that allow you to watch multiple people and make some broad assessments of what their non verbal cues actually mean. By taking some time, applying this to a poker table, you will soon get the idea of how better to read a table and the individuals on it.
How easy would poker be if people always did what you wanted them to? It might get boring but you could certainly make a lot of money. NLP has a lot of strategies and process that can help to gain an advantage and influence betting styles. Here are a couple of examples:
Anchoring is an NLP process that is about associating certain states or feelings with an external response. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon. How do you react when you hear a favourite song on the radio? How do you feel when the alarm clock goes off every morning? I am guessing that for most people they react in a fairly consistent way to some external stimulus. Suppose, for a moment, that it was possible to make someone feel bad about their hand whether it is strong or not: there is a lot of use for this in playing poker. Imagine you are bluffing and you want the other player to feel bad about their hand…in fact so bad that they fold and leave you the pot. Here is how to do it:
Throughout the game, just notice when the other player has a strong negative emotion, situations like they suddenly lose the hand, they get dealt a bad hand, they get to a showdown and the other player turns over a much stronger hand and so on. You will see people go through these sorts of emotions all the time on a poker table. Whenever you see this negative emotion I want you to do something specific and unique. It might be tapping the table in a particular way, or tilt your head and look at them in a specific way, or perhaps say a particular word or phrase…it doesn’t matter what, just so long as it is the same each time and it is obviously subtle enough to not provoke comment.
Very soon the negative state and your actions will get associated in their mind on an unconscious level. From that moment on you can fire this anchor by making the action and the player will feel bad without knowing why. Now when you want them to fold you just fire the anchor at the appropriate decision point.
This is just one NLP technique and how it is applied to poker. We haven’t even started talking about embedded commands, inducing trance states, covertly installing a losing mentality in your opponents, setting an intimidating table image and the host of other NLP applications that you can use on a poker table
Being able to remain calm, focused and being able to read what is really going on is the foundation of how to get an NLP edge to playing poker. If you want to see how effective you can be with just this I highly recommend watch the Derren Brown episode we started the article with.
Any good NLP practitioner will be able to guide you through how to use these processes even if they don’t play poker themselves. Alternatively contact me or any of my graduates for further ideas.
If you are already well versed in NLP I highly recommend playing poker as a way to develop your seriously grow your skills in a high pressure but fun environment.
If you have any thoughts on this article or any real life stories of using NLP and Poker please feel free to leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
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Tags: Accelerated Learning, Poker