His name is Azar. He does this thing.
When he has a weak hand, and is facing particular opponents, he checks in a very rapid motion. He has a resigned tone to his voice, and a look that is buried deep into his opponent’s eyes.
He wants to get to showdown without putting another cent into the pot. And guess what happens? He gets there.
His opponent mirrors his actions. Why?
Azar’s game has taken place every Tuesday night for the past five years. It runs 50 weeks a year. There are four to six people who regularly play in this game.
Over the years, Azar’s relationships with the people in this game have grown in unequal measures. Some trust him more than others. He uses this ploy on the ones that trust him the most.
One of the reasons that these players react in the way they do to Azar is because they owe him. Azar likes to bring food to the games. He is extremely generous. He will always arrange loans when people run out of money.
What we have here is the classic Christmas card scenario.
If you buy me one, then I feel like I have to reciprocate, and buy you one in return. This ploy is a powerful technique. It grows in stature when Azar introduces a second element into the equation.
Commitment and Consistency
Robert B. Cialdini, the author of the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion explains:
“The drive to be (and look) consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests.”
The influential 18th Century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds said it best:
“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”
Azar’s opponents not only owe him. They are also caught in this automatic response to repeat past acts. They have a commitment to him. And they act consistently with that commitment.
And, So What?
This tactic is pretty powerful stuff.
I see Azar get away with this week in week out against the same opponents. It’s as if he has them caught in some Derren Brown hypnotic web, or something.
What’s even more incredible is that I have seen him do this same thing when we have been on tour. The people he chooses are essentially strangers, but they actually display the same types of tendencies as his opponent’s back home.
Azar instinctively knows who to pick. I know he has created this skill over many years. I also know this is learned behaviour.
When you look at poker, face-up, you see a game where a great understanding of mathematical probability and odds will benefit you hugely. We all know how to learn to improve our maths. We were taught it in school.
Dig deeper underneath those playing cards and there is a world of intrigue and mystery that runs deeper than the Mariana Trench.
Poker takes a few minutes to learn, but it takes a lifetime to master.
It’s such a shame that you were never taught about the power of communication when you were in school. So let’s begin, right now.
I want to talk about Door Openers.
It’s one thing to understand the theory behind Azar’s ability to get his opponents to ‘do him a favour,’ but what if you aren’t a great communicator? Azar has the gift of the gab, and this is why he is able to wrap them around his little finger.
What if you don’t possess that skill? A great way to start is to practice what I like to call Door Openers.
I am the type of person who wears my heart on my sleeve. If you sit next to me at a poker table, and start engaging me in dialogue, I won’t shut up. The door is always open. I will tell you everything and anything you want to know. Much to the detriment of my poker game, I am sure.
Not everyone is like this. A lot of people have their doors firmly closed.
A door opener is a non-coercive invitation to engage in dialogue.
I took my son to football training the other night. I could tell something was bothering him.
“Care to talk about it?” I asked, gently.
I knew there was something wrong because of his mannerisms and mood. I was paying attention to both his body language and the tone of his voice. That line is a door opener. It’s not intrusive. It’s gentle. It affords him the opportunity to control the next move.
I use door openers when I play poker, but I'm careful when I use them. Some doors were never made to open. It’s less of a skill to identify those.
I find this skill particularly useful in the early rounds of a tournament. Players are chatting more freely. Some are nervous. The opportunity to talk somewhat calms those nerves.
By using door openers, you can engage the right people in conversation. Give them space. Listen. Ensure your body language is warm. Offer them a mint, sweet or whatever snack you have in front of you.
Be nice. Be respectful. You want them to trust you.
When the opportunity comes, allow them a glimpse of your vulnerability. Follow their line of conversation, and let take a peek into your life. By being vulnerable, you increase the likelihood that they will also show vulnerability. By opening up to you, they are showing they trust you - just like those opponents trust Azar.
Sometimes, you are doing well. Your opponent is opening up and then they get involved in a hand. The talk ceases. It’s important from this point on to choose the right moment to re-engage. Your approach is different depending on whether they win the hand or not. Both outcomes afford different ways of giving them something, either an ‘unlucky’ pat on the shoulder, or a ‘well played’ grin.
If they have lost the hand, allow time to pass. When the temperature feels right, open that door again.
“I’m interested to hear more about it what we were talking about earlier.”
Robert Bolton talks about door openers in his book People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others and Resolve Conflicts. Bolton explains that door openers have four elements:
- You can describe the person's body language. “You look like you are in a good mood.”
- An invitation to talk. “Care to talk about it?”
- Silence. Afford the other person space to take their time before speaking.
- Attending. Making sure your body language and eye contact shows a genuine interest and concern for that person.
Be careful not to slam the door shut by demonstrating classic door closers.
Examples are judgemental statements, highly opinionated responses, giving advice without being asked for it, and even the wrong type of reassurance.
The effect of door openers and door closers relies on who you are talking to. Your judgement is important here. Choose the right person for the right approach.
Display high levels of empathy. Always respect people’s privacy and be careful not to be too intrusive.
It’s all about the trust. You need to build that trust.
Learning people skills is as important, if not more so, than mathematical knowledge in poker.
Remember the act of reciprocation - one good turn deserves another.
Human beings like to demonstrate commitment and consistency. If we can act without thinking, then that’s good enough for most of us. If you can spot a tendency within your opponent to act a certain way, create the same scenario to encourage consistency.
You cannot use skills such as reciprocity and demanding commitment and consistency if you do not have strong communicative skills.
- Learn the power of door openers.
- Be vulnerable.
- Acknowledge their body language.
- Create invitations to talk.
- Be comfortable with silence. Don’t fill it. Give them time.
- Show good body posture. Be warm. Be welcoming.
- Be mindful of door closers. Don’t be judgemental, offer advice or the wrong type of reassurance.
- Choose the right people to deploy these tactics.
- Build trust.
Occasionally you'll pick up pocket aces, get all excited and then have to toss them in the muck. It’s the same with door openers. Not everyone will allow you in.
Walk on by and knock on another door.