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Poker is a microcosm of all we admire and disdain about capitalism and democracy.  It can be rough-hewn or polished, warm or cold, charitable and caring, or hard and impersonal, fickle and elusive, but ultimately it is fair, and right, and just.
Lou Krieger

Poker is game that exemplifies a large range of ideas in western culture, and it’s great fun to play too. I’m not a huge player of poker, but I’ve read a book or two and played “just one hand” maybe once too many times. I’m certainly not too good at the game though, and I hope to explain a little about why that may be.

Poker as a Game

Just to clarify the rules here, I’m in particular talking about the very popular poker variation “Texas Hold’em” for this article. From the game design perspective at least, it seems to be the most fulfilling as a game.

What makes it so compelling is the mixture of player skill (which almost solely involves knowing probabilities) and psychological warfare. Now, when most people think of the psychology of poker, they envision a stare down as one player pushes their chips all in for the final showdown. You think to yourself “are they bluffing?” and the audience sweats nervously as they await the result. While this is a vivid and great moment of poker, it’s not what the whole game is about. For that, we have the player’s psychological profiles and their accompanying strategies of play.

See, in poker, if you’re playing very skillfully, you’ll bet knowing the ratio of your chance to win, and bet according to what gives you the best value. For example, If you have Ace/King of spades before the flop, you’ll want to be aggressive in order to get the most chips out of everyone else, considering your high probability of winning. I don’t want to get too far into it, but essentially, if you have a hand that is most likely to win, you want to bet as much as you can. If you have a hand that has a smaller but still viable chance to win, you bet as low as you can to see the next card as cheaply as possible (such as having a 10 and J in hand and a Q and K on the table, giving you an approx. 1/6 chance of getting the A or 9 needed to win on last card).

Now, that’s just figuring out the probabilities of winning each hand. There is also a strategy to the psychology of poker, and people who play have given categories to the different types of strategies, which usually reflect the player’s attitudes.

Poker’s Psychological Profiles

Poker divides its player base into 4 specific styles of play: Aggressive/Defensive players, and Loose/Tight players, each combination making up four total profiles. After playing a huge variety of other competitive games, I can tell you that these profiles work well for most of them, and for life in general.

Defensive Loose: Tend to play cooperatively and diplomatically, where their priority is to keep themselves from losing too many chips. They tend to be more cautious in most situations, and don’t tend to exploit opportunities. It’s unfortunate, but these players tend to lose the most at poker due to their caring natures.

Defensive Tight: This is my category in poker, and life in general. Defensive Tight players like to play cautiously and fairly, and would rather not lose their chips. However, they also look out for safe opportunities to attack, and try to gain what they can during those moments. However, because it’s rare of them to get these optimal opportunities, they tend to bleed out clips and make mediocre poker players.

Aggressive Loose: These players and people in life are the crazies. Reckless and abusive, these players try to win every hand, no matter what. They tend to get explosive wins often, but also explosive losses. Their chips tend to fly around the most out of everybody. They can do fairly well in poker, sometimes just wreaking havoc on a table, sometimes falling apart in a few hands.

Aggressive Tight: These players want your money and know how to get it. They play very skillfully, and try to crack open every opening and opportunity. They don’t mind if they lose a big chunk here and there, as long as they hit back with twice the power. These are generally considered the best players at poker.

Now, what does this all have to do with life? Well, It seems if you want to be successful in life, you should be an Aggressive Tight person. Grabbing every opprotunity in life and using it to its fullest. I think it’s a great way to live actually… but not the only.

Actually, when I found out I was a Defensive Tight player, I was happy about it, and knowing that sometimes I can win by earning the co-operation of my fellows, rather than abusing them, uplifted my spirits. Poker is a tough game to gain co-operation in though, so I’m rarely successful. However, in other games, where it is more viable, I’ve found that I can not only succeed, but excel. What’s more, I’m able to co-operate with others in life. Yes, I probably won’t ever make the fortune 500 or become a rock star, but what I can do is support those around me, and do it well. And you know what? I’m really happy with that role.

So, for yourself, which personality type fits you the most? Are you Defensive Loose, wishing to help others, even at your own expense? Or possibly Aggressive Loose, looking to enjoy everything that comes your way, even if you crash and burn?

Whichever it is, you can gain your own form of success out of it, and isn’t that more important that just the monetary success some players might enjoy?


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