The Power Of Suggestion: The Luckiest Tourist In Vegas


September 9, 2008

One of the advantages I have when playing in Vegas is that almost nobody knows who I am.  I don’t play there enough to be a “regular” and I don’t volunteer my name at the table so it’s unlikely anyone would connect me with CardSharp.

At first look, this might actually seem to be a disadvantage.  While my opponents generally know little to nothing about me, the reverse is also true.  I know little to nothing about them.  If we assume I’m a better player than the majority of my opponents, then it stands to reason that I would make more effective use of information about how they play than they would of information about how I play.  So the mutual lack of information would in theory puts me at a disadvantage.  I believe that effect is real, and does hurt me slightly.

However, there’s a more dramatic effect at work that I believe gives me a huge edge.  There is a basic principle of psychology that it’s easier to deceive people on a subject they’re trying to gather information than it is to deceive them on a subject they’ve already made up their minds about.That could simple be restated as “first impressions count for a lot”.  So what does this have to do with the poker table?  Well, when you sit down at a table where no one knows you, you have an opportunity to make a huge first impression.  And your opponents are particularly vulnerable to being deceived because they’re actively trying to learn about you and your play.  Of late I’ve taken to trying to deceive them in a very particular way: I try to convince them I’m the luckiest tourist in Vegas.

This all started one time more or less by accident.  I was playing $8/16 limit at the Bellagio while waiting for a seat at a bigger game to open up.  I was having fun because of the smaller stakes and a generally happy table atmosphere, but otherwise playing my standard game.  Then this hand happened: I was in the big blind with random rags.  One guy limps in late position, it folds to me, and I check.  Board comes down low, unsuited, and pairs one of my rags.  I check, villain bets, and I call.  Turn pairs my sidecard for a fluke 2 pair.  I check, he bets, I call.  River I can’t remember, but it was high and probably paired him.  I check-raise and he calls.  I show my two pair and take the pot.  There are other ways I could have played it, but given my read that he was either bluffing or otherwise weak up to the river I believe I got the max out of him.  Anyways, that’s not the point.  The point is that afterward, just joking, I said “Wow, I’m the luckiest tourist in Vegas!”.  Then something funny happened- an orbit later UTG I folded garbage, and the guy to my right (a fairly competent player) made some comment about what could I possibly have folded given the crap I played last time.

Now, stop for a second and think:  I was in the blind on the hand he was talking about.  I didn’t play crap – I had paired and was likely good before I voluntarily put a cent in the pot.  But because I said I got lucky, one of my opponents actually re-wrote events in his own mind and put me UTG instead of in the blind to make my comment about being lucky be correct.  After his comment I unfortunately did the dumbest possible thing and convinced him I was actually in the blind the last time.  That was dumb because I let my ego get ahead of my wallet. The smartest thing to do would be to have been to leave him to his misconception, or even say something absurd to reinforce it like “I had pot odds the last time”.

Anyways, as I sat at that table, I started to think about what had happened, and I realized the incredible power my suggestion had on that guy.  I’m not a natural at psychology, so I’m always surprised when some psychological manipulation like that actually works, let alone produces over the top results.  But I realized that the reason it worked was that my opponent was highly suggestible because he was trying to figure me out as a player – he was prone to forming a new opinion of me based on scant evidence.

This gets back to the best idea the anonymous author of Play Poker Like a Pigeon had: if you pretend to be an idiot, and no one knows better from previous experience, it’s easy to dupe your opponents.  It’s a really profound idea, and I was astonished at how well it had worked by accident.  So for the rest of the trip, I adopted a new identity – The Luckiest Tourist – and set out to intentionally deceive my opponents.  Every time the cards fell right, I’d point out how lucky I was.  If there was a game on the TV and one side was a near lock against the spread, I had a peanut on that side.  Everything was about me getting lucky one way or another.  I didn’t actually change my play at all – just my table talk.  The results from this deception were absolutely incredible.  First off, nearly everyone bought it hook line and sinker.  The only guy who I think got suspicious was Sklansky when I was playing stud with him.  It’s easier to get into your opponent’s head in stud, and I think he figured out I was acting.  But everyone else fell for it.  Seccond, the effect it had on my opponents was just devestating.  I think deep down there’s nothing most poker players fear more across the felt than a lucky opponent.  Once I got the idea out there that I was exceptionally lucky, people just started playing like idiots every time I was in the hand.  It didn’t seem to have any polarity – sometimes they’d call with nothing because they percieved me as loose, and othertimes they’d fold solid made hands because they were sure I had “gotten lucky”.  Basically their judgment went out the window.  It’s astonishing how much easier it is to win when your opponents mental efforts are working against them rather than for them.

So for as long as I can, I’m going to play as The Luckiest Tourist when I play live. It’s ridiculous fun, and screws with my opponents something fierce.  I should mention that some of the credit for this idea goes to Mike Caro.  Somewhere along the way I read a column of his where he talked about adopting different poker personas as an experiment, and I see this as being in the same vein.  I hope I’m eventually successful enough that I can’t keep it up, but for now I’m the luckies guy who ever drew to a flush.  I’ll let everyone know how it works out.

Like this article? Subscribe to the CardSharp RSS Feed

Leave a Reply