I Play Better Drunk!While sitting at a limit poker table, a local player in his mid-thirties struck up a conversation with me. Although he had been a Las Vegas resident for most of his life, he admitted that he was a relative novice at poker, with less than one year of playing experience. This quickly began to show, as many of us noticed that he called too many hands pre-flop, and that pushing a big bet at him on the turn would almost always lead him to fold reluctantly. When his chips dwindled down to less than a half rack, he waved the cocktail waitress to the table and testily asked for a scotch and a beer. After promptly downing these, he demanded another round of the same. Turning to the table, he announced that now he was ready to play: ‘I play better drunk,’ he shrugged.
A few players at the table couldn’t resist a chuckle at this skewed train of thought. I was sitting in chair number one, which allowed the dealer to lean toward me and quip: “He means that losing is easier to handle when drunk.” Like a pack of hungry wolves, the rest of the players around the table licked their lips and prepared to pounce on the weakened opponent.
The next hour, however, did not go as we had anticipated. The man was keeping himself almost as busy as the cocktail waitress, as he stacked up a series of his winning pots. His shortened stack was soon booming to fill nearly two racks. It seemed that he was indeed playing better drunk!
I am certainly not an advocate for using alcohol at the table (or away from the table) as a way to self-medicate for shortcomings or to mask insecurities. Still, when I broke down the intoxicated guy’s run to profitability, I realized that he had used several key tactics to increase his chip stack. Most noticeably, the alcohol had helped him to change his own persona. No longer meek and easily chased away by a big bet or two, his beer bottle-induced confidence seemed to be the boost that he needed not only to call, but also to throw out timely re-raises. Along with this, it should be noted that psychologists often talk about ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’. In simpler terms, if you truly believe that you can and will do something, it is much more likely to occur. If he has convinced himself that he plays better when drinking, he probably will do so. Studies have shown that people who are unknowingly given non-alcoholic beer in social situations will still mirror the behaviour of those who have consumed real alcoholic beverages. In other words, expecting the outcome leads the mind to produce the outcome. If he believed in himself and his ability, he could expect a positive outcome without the booze. Until that time, he uses drink as an aide.
Another key to his success while drinking was the effect it had on the play of others around the table. His growing intoxication ensured people saw him as a loose maniac. Players stayed in pots against him after his raises. These callers would have avoided his raises before his first drink, as he was previously seen as a tight and meek player. They hastily assumed that his drunkenness and outward confidence would inevitably give way to recklessness.
Drinking is one of the many crutches that individuals use in life and in poker. If you find yourself leaning on any external beacons as a source of confidence or motivation, it’s time to re-evaluate your thinking. The young man at the table who chose to drink to improve his play had all of the tools needed to be a consistent winner, except an ability to keep his inner strength and confidence. Relying on alcohol to provide this is a dangerous proposition. Also, it is important that we correctly gauge our reactions to those who are drunk at the tables. Instantly concluding that the player will be an easy mark with wild play and foolish raises can be dangerous and costly. Remember that the drinker may be intentionally trying to exude a maniac table-image to reap the profits of more callers. Playing with intelligence and confidence without the crutch of alcohol is sure to be the best route for all players in the long run. Now go make it happen.
By: John Carlisle, MA, NCC