Get out of my head

September 21, 2008

As I do from time to time, I was catching some of the World Series of Poker on ESPN a couple days ago.  I think it was on while I was doing something else, serving more as background noise than actual entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy watching poker with my full attention when I’m in the mood.  I find it quite entertaining.  I usually won’t try to pick up on strategy or skill plays or things like that, I just like to see the hands and watch the players have it out.

Ironically, just the opposite caught my eye when watching this one particular segment.  In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the hands that were in play.  But what I remember observing was one competitor making the off-color comment that “I’m going against my rule here, going against my rule of never get involved with the younger, good-looking players.”

And in case there was any question, we’re talking about two dudes here.

The comment struck me as odd.  Not in the literal sense, I imagine there weren’t any serious sexual undertones  or intentions in the message.  It struck me as odd because it was a different tactic of what I believed to be he guy who said it trying to get into the head of the younger player.

And, it should be noted the “younger” player wasn’t that young to begin with.  We’re probably talking about a 45- to 50-year-old making the comment to a 25- to 30-year old. 

At first I was slightly amused by the comment, and then I got to thinking, would it really work?  It didn’t that hand, the younger guy won a modest pot.  But both players stayed in the game, and you wonder what would happen if they went one-on-one again later in the playing session.  Would the younger player be affected?  Would the comment swirl around in his brain, somehow forcing him into a defensive attitude, and thus altering his play?

Who knows?  Maybe it was just a comment to break some silence.  Maybe the older guy felt threatened and the younger guy was getting into his head without even saying anything.  It’s anybody’s guess.

But, since my guess is he was trying to play some mind games, I’ll stick with that theory for the time being.

And from that, I began to assess the many games I’ve played over just the past year, wondering how often I talk to mess around with someone’s head, and how often it’s been done to me.  A few vivid examples stuck out in my head about how I was affected (actually, still am) by the comments made by some opponents.  And not a surprise that both games were associated with me being down money by the end of the night.

I also would have to admit I regularly talk some trash here and there, disguised in “friendly” undertones, I suppose the purpose at the time is to get them thinking about what I’m saying, in effect distracting them from trying to read me.  Maybe by talking I’m playing right into their hands – there have definitely been times when I’ve gone down the tubes after talking my mouth tired.

I wonder, in general, how often this works.  Even the most disciplined player can’t always control what he thinks, what voices or situations pop up in his head.  It’s his choice what to listen to, but that doesn’t change the fact that he must filter through these thoughts.  And that takes time and takes away from building an advantage in other areas of the game.  We’re, of course, only talking about a split second here or there.

Sometimes, though, in the heat of making a million-dollar decision, that’s all it takes.