I want you to imagine you are me.
You are six feet tall and are a white male, clearly American. You have played poker professionally your entire adult life. The vast majority of your training has come from the online world.
You are about to go play an Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) event in Black Hawk, Colorado. The vast majority of the field are working class people.
You go to your closet. What are you going to wear to this tournament?
Are you going to wear a slick designer sweater with your newest sneakers?
Are you going to wear a hoodie for the cold casino?
How about a metal band T-shirt?
Are you going to wear a beanie and a graphic T-shirt?
What would you do in my situation?
Deciding what to wear
I’ll tell you what I did. I wore jeans from the Gap. I put on a flannel shirt I bought at Target, and I gelled my hair.
Is this what I wear playing poker in Vegas? Absolutely not. If I wear a mask in Vegas many times people won’t recognize me. However, they are smart enough to know that they are dealing with a pro. In Vegas, I’ll wear a sweater that I can roll up if the air conditioning is weaker in a particular casino.
In Colorado? I’m not dressing to hide my face. No one here is going to know who the hell I am. You have to be a pretty hardcore poker fan to know who I am. These folks play for fun.
If I dress like a countryside kid who is happy to be playing, then I might actually pass for one. I thought going overboard with my hair and being clean shaven was a nice touch. It makes me look like I am excited to play my first MSPT.
Sure enough, while I was playing that day at one point a gentleman was asking everybody where they were from. He correctly guessed that a few men lived in Denver proper. He even guessed their neighborhood correctly. Needless to say, once he knew their profession, he knew that they were more likely to take poker seriously. Many tech professionals think in the form of systems which is a fine way to play poker.
He never asked me what part of Denver I lived in because I honestly think he thought I was from the countryside.
When people talk poker strategy, they want to discuss the sexy parts. They love discussing the thin triple barrel bluffs. They love the dramatic all-ins.
Making money at this game is 90% table selection. But how you maintain that table selection is important too. For example, you could have the softest table in the world, but if you have not slept in over 70 hours and you are drinking heavily it is unlikely you’ll be able to make money.
That of course is a severe example of how a soft table is not soft anymore based on how you approach it. But most people know to sleep at night and not show up to a poker game completely drunk. You will not have an edge if you apply those fundamentals because everybody is applying those fundamentals.
You will gain on your opponents based on how you handle the fundamentals and the intangibles.
An example hand…
I had a hand at this table that I am convinced would have played differently had I shown up to the table clearly dressed as a city slicker pro.
I raised pocket eights. The big blind called me. The board came Q♥ – J♣ – 7♦. He checked to me and I checked back. The turn was the 7♣. He bet into me. I called. The river was the 4♥. The bearded man in a gentle voice said check. I checked back. He smiled and said ace high. I didn’t make him show because I figured a country boy wouldn’t do that. I tabled my hand. My opponent smiled, rapped the table, and said nice hand.
To many of you that hand seems bland. But many poker professionals know that hands don’t always play this way. Sometimes your opponent fires again on the river just for the hell of it, and that puts you in an awkward spot. You don’t get the free showdown every time.
But in this case, our opponent was relaxed. He felt he was playing against someone in his home game. He let the river go.
Don’t get your opponents tensed up
If you show up to the table dressed like you’re going to rob a liquor store then people are going to be more tense when they play against you. They might fire more river bluff bets because they are not relaxed playing against another local. If you look like a pro, they will sometimes want to outplay you. No one wants to feel like someone is better than them. People will imagine you’re rubbing their face in it when you are just going about your day. Many men struggle with ego issues.
Don’t let them get up in their head. Don’t let them start playing beyond their normal game. That’s going to be harder for you to predict in the moment. If they play against you the way they play against everyone else then you can collect data from other hands you’re not playing. If they play extraordinarily different against you then it’s going to be hard to use anything that you learned prior to the hand.
Escape their notice. Do what you can to fit in.
Or try to look like a gambler. Try to look like someone who is excited to play slots right after the tournament is through.
Do not look like you’re there to take everybody’s money. That puts people on guard. In a live setting, that makes people play differently. That can be more difficult to predict.
Put them at ease. Then rob them.
Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He is a WPT and EPT final tablist, and has WCOOP and SCOOP wins online. He also won the $250,000 Guaranteed on America’s Cardroom last year, and currently enjoys blasting bums away in Ignition tournaments while he listens to death metal. Alex can be reached for private coaching.