by Diane McHaffie
Sympathy and empathy impact poker. If you hope to elicit an empathetic response from your opponent by sharing your sad story, save your breath. The player to whom you’re whining probably knows a better one.
Sometimes, you’ll evoke an insincere sympathetic utterance, because sympathy is easy to express. If you’re just responding politely to make someone else (or yourself) feel better, that’s everyday sympathy. If you really feel another person’s agony, that’s empathy. While some poker opponents feign sympathy, they almost never feel empathy.
Pity Party. You’ll probably be the only one in attendance at your bad beat pity party. Other players might feel inspired to profit from your misery, attacking your chips. Mike merely nods at bad beat stories, eyes glazed over, while thinking about something only his mind grasps. He’ll mumble suitably sympathetic words, though.
Tell me, do you feel sorry for an opponent when he whines about his wretched cards? Truly? Yes, that’s what I thought. So, you wouldn’t relinquish a pot out of pity? Didn’t think so! Roller Coasters. If you like roller coasters, you’ll love poker. There are extreme highs and plunging lows. But, if you’re a capable player, the ride can be exhilarating and profitable.
Expect many discouraging dips in your poker ride, but if you’re tough you adapt. You trudge on, waiting for the super hand which enables you to conquer your foes for that one significant pot that can put you back on top.
Of course, having suffered significant losses and encountered repeated bad beats yourself, you are familiar with your whining opponent’s pain, so you can empathize with him – but you probably don’t.
But, sympathizing is different. Try telling a bad beat story to a friend or relative who is aware that you’re a poker player, but has never joined in the game. Do you think they are going to have a clear understanding of what you’re experiencing? Not a chance! Sympathy, yes, empathy, no. Professional poker players could empathize with your bad beat, as they have been in your shoes. But, they are more likely to use your suffering to their advantage. Some stories are better left untold.
Psychology. Many poker players take psychology to a level in which they’re able to respond to their opponents’ faces and actions. They may understand an opponent’s plight, but they are targeting that pot, anyway, no matter how the whiner pleads his case. It reminds me of my daughter and I played poker in Kansas City. We were both engaged in the same pot, neither of us budging! I didn’t care how much of her money was in that pot, I was still going after it! And I could see the glitter of challenge in her eyes, too. I didn’t go to the table to sympathize or empathize with my daughter or anyone else. When we sit down at the poker table it’s with one purpose in mind, to win! We’re competitors!
Suffering. We often use opponents’ suffering as motivation. Heartless? No, the truth! Watch your favorite players and see how they handle a whiner.
Since you have experienced bad beats, you know what the whiner is feeling, but you don’t bother to weigh his pain. You’re only interested in observing which tells he’s absently revealing, enabling you to attack. Yes, use his pain to profit or someone else will! That’s why you shouldn’t whine about your bad beats. Your opponents will be motivated! They are sharks, smelling blood, circling in for the attack. You will be at their mercy!
Image. This applies in life, just as in poker. If you portray a whining personality, (1) you alienate people, (2) you don’t appear in control of your life and (3) you fail to reflect the confidence needed to impress others.
Your image is important, at poker and in everyday life. Your image always should suggest a winner, never a whiner.
Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at firstname.lastname@example.org.