Why are you afraid to bluff? Perhaps you didn’t go on enough dates in middle school.

Posted on October 6, 2010 by admin

I remember a time back in middle school when I dreamt of calling up a certain girl, Amy, and asking her on a “date” (in those days that meant my mom driving us to the mall or something – exciting stuff).  Before cell phones this involved calling her house, getting past the initial line of defense (the parents), a little small talk, and then the dreaded moment of the actual request.  I say “dreaded” because, for those of you that have been there, the worst case scenario is always foremost in your mind at that moment – she laughs at you, tells everyone at school, and you’re forced to move to Australia to escape from the shame. 

For months I dreamed about making this phone call, but never got the guts to do it, until one day my best friend, Adam, who was twice as big as me, got tired of hearing me talk about it and told me that I would pick up the phone and call her right then or he would kick my ass.  He was dead serious.  So I called her, my heart racing.  I made the ask; she agreed (although didn’t sound entirely enthusiastic about it).  The “date” was uneventful – as I recall we wandered around the mall for a couple hours that Saturday evening, and that was the end of it. 

From middle school drama to the poker table, making a big bluff feels a lot like asking a girl on a date.  The worst case scenarios swirl in your head.  I’ll get called.  They’ll laugh.  They’ll tell everybody else what a terrible player I am.  I’ll be the laughingstock of the entire poker community and Donk Illustrated will run the story.

Of course, rarely does that actually happen (occasionally it does — keep reading).  Nor do prospective girlfriends generally mock us when we ask them out on a date.  What usually happens is quite the opposite – even if the end result is not what we hoped her, we feel brave, powerful, able to conquer the world, just because we had the guts to do it. 

Unfortunately for most of us, we don’t have Adam threatening to kick our ass when we’re at the poker table.  We have to muster up the courage to make these big bluffs when they feel right, knowing that it’s the only way we’ll get more comfortable with the idea in the long run.

About ten years ago, I remember the biggest bluff of my life to that point.  The pot was big enough that it was going to require an all-in, $350, a lot of money at the time.  The actual cards held aren’t that important.  The point is that I missed my draw and had absolutely nothing on the river.  But several factors lead to me to believe that a bluff, a big bluff, would be successful in the situation.  I just had to get the nerve to make the play.  Surely, there was the possibility I would get called, and ridiculed by the other players.   

The amazing thing is, that’s exactly what happened.  He had made an incidental wheel on the river and I got called right away.  He slammed the cards down and basked in his glorious superiority as he raked in the pot.  The room erupted with a collective “WTF?” when they saw my cards; a few players ever stood up as they pondered $350 wasted on such trash.  $350 was a nice TV, six months of auto insurance, or 443 bean burritos at Taco Bell. 

The point is, oddly, I continue to relish this wonderful bluff, even if the end result was bad.  You know why?  Not for the “rightness” of the bluff, but because I had the balls to do it, when no one else would have.  I drove home that night penniless, yet I felt like a bigger champion than I had ever been before.  I was on top of the world for days afterwards, and my poker game has benefitted immensely for this reason:  I have never again questioned whether I have the guts to make a particular bluff. 

The lesson is this: only when you get outside of your comfort zone do you have a chance to improve yourself as a poker player (and, as it turns out, as a person as well).

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