Do You Have a Poker Personality?

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Over the next few posts, we will be looking at the Big Five Personality Traits and how they might influence your career, our relationships and even how you create relaxation and entertainment in your life.

We begin with playing poker.

 “Poker takes a day to learn but a lifetime to master.” You may have heard those same words used about board games like chess or video games. It’s also a common phrase often used to describe the art of acting or writing, even marketing and advertising.

I once took an oil painting class. One of the students commented that she didn’t feel she had the basic skills to become an artist. The instructor said that everyone starts with the same blank canvas, the same paints and brushes. After that, he said, comes study, practice, training and finally talent. But, he added, don’t expect to find your talent without a lot of hard work.

So it is with poker. Everyone plays with the same 52 cards. The odds for drawing to an inside straight or making a flush with two cards to come are the same for everyone. It might take you longer than a single day to learn those odds, but once you have mastered them they never change.

The cards don’t change and the rules of poker don’t either. Once you know them (“It takes a day . . .”) then you begin to learn how to play the game (“ . . . a lifetime to master.”)

Is mastering the game of poker the same journey for everyone?

Well, no.

You see we are not all the same. Different personalities have different skills. I learned after my painting class that I did not have much talent in that area. Sure I could have taken more classes and learned about perspective, light, color and shadow. But I was never going to be a competent painter and more importantly painting would never be more than a sometime hobby for me. I didn’t have natural artistic ability.

As individuals we come to any task with certain inherent talents and tools. Our personality, shaped by genetics passed to us by our parents and the experiences of our upbringing, together these prepare us for some aspects of life and limits us in other areas.

Your ‘poker personality’ goes a long ways towards determining just how good your game will be. The good news is, there is a lot you can do to up your poker skills, even if you lack the perfect poker personality.

But it would be wise to know just how your personality measures up to the ‘poker ideal.’

 

The Big Five Personality Traits

 For many years, one of the most common methods for describing different personalities has been the Big Five Personality Traits theory. While we all are a mixture of different possible personality traits, most of us have one sometimes two dominant traits.

I’m going to give you an opportunity to take the Big Five Personality test but first let’s try a little self assessment. Here are the Big Five Traits:

Extraversion

Conscientiousness

Agreeableness

Neuroticism

Openness

 If I asked you based solely on those five words to pick one, which you feel best represents your personality. Which would it be?

Go ahead. Pick one. I’ll give you more information on the Big Five traits in a moment, but with just those five words – which one best represents your personality?

Got it?

Now if you were unsure, tore between two of those traits, what was the other one?

You see we are all a mixture of many traits, facets, factors derived from our unique genetic birthright, which has been modified by our life experiences.

Which is to say, no one is just one trait. Not 100% Openness or 97% Conscientious and thank goodness not 90% Neurotic.

Jot down the one or two traits you feel best describe you.

Now let me give you a few of the characteristics that go with each of the Big Five traits.

Extraversionhigh energy, very sociable, enthusiastic, vocal, outgoing

Conscientiousnessreliable, in control, strong willed, thoughtful, organized

Agreeablenessfriendly, helpful, sympathetic, affectionate, trusting

Neuroticismnervous, negative, sad, anxious

Opennessimaginative, open to new ideas, wide range of interests, adventurous

Does your original selection for your personality still hold? If not, go ahead and change your assessment. Again, write down which one or two traits define your personality. If you have more than one, rank them for importance or dominance in your daily life.

One more thing before you take the Big Five Test. Look at those attributes again and ask yourself, which one of these describes a good poker player? Which of those traits do you think best serves someone who seeks to play poker well over a long period of time?

Got it?

Now, might I suggest you take five minutes to see what the Big Five Personality test says about you. Don’t worry, if you take the test later, after I’ve shown you the results of our experiment with professional poker players, it won’t change your results. Just be honest when you take the test and don’t think to hard about your answers. The first answer that comes to your mind is usually the best one.

A Revealing Survey

 A few years back, we gave the Big Five test to a number of professional poker players. We got a surprisingly consistent result. Successful players ranked high in Conscientiousness. All of the players ranked high in this one trait.

So what is conscientiousness and how does it translate to poker? Let’s look at the factors that makeup a conscientious personality see how they work at the poker table.

  1. well organized – watch any good poker player as they take their seat at the table; they have everything they need to focus solely on the game, no distractions allowed; they don’t forget their glasses or card cover; they have water and sometimes food; they come prepared to play;
  2. detail oriented – there’s a lot to observe at a poker table, reading players is a skill that requires attention to details; how does seat four bet with a big hand; what does seat eight take longer to bet sometimes;
  3. perseverance – “a lifetime to master” poker requires constant study and observation over a long period of time and thousands, even tens of thousands of hands;
  4. good impulse control – how often do we see a player walking away from a tournament table busted because they made a move without considering all the options; if you watch carefully, the good players take their time and fold more often; there is a visceral impulse to say the words “I’m All-In” but it takes control to just quietly fold and move on to the next hand;
  5. goal-directed behavior – what is your poker goal? To have fun? To get better? Having a goal is the first part then you have to pursue it with goal directed behaviors. Even if you just play for fun, why not maximize your enjoyment?
  6. thoughtfulness – If you’ve watched good poker players, you will see them think through a hand. Why did he do that? Why was her raise so much? They aren’t stalling, the good players are thinking through what they have witnessed. That process of being thoughtful and putting it all together is a trait of a good poker player.

You can improve your game by empathizing your own conscientious traits while at the poker table.

 

Becoming More Conscientious

 If you haven’t already take the Big Five test, do that before beginning to apply the conscientious aspects of your personality to your poker game. I speak from experience; my own conscientious trait score (23) is just average. But I learned how to apply and emphasize those important traits at the poker table.

Look carefully at each of the traits associated with conscientiousness. Which ones fit you already? Are there any you see as your weaknesses? It’s difficult to change our entire personality but much simpler to make temporary adjustments in specific situations, like at the poker table.

 

Taming Your Personality at the Table

As with most things in life, there is a middle path. The first step is to know yourself, understand how your personality comes across at a poker table. Secondly, you have to understand that your poker personality can be different than your real world day-to-day self. But it takes work and practice to cultivate a poker personality that works for you.

It starts by taking the Big Five test. Fifty questions, five to seven minutes and a lifetime of better play and more fun at the poker table.


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