Friday, November 13, 2009

Introverts at the poker table

(Cartoon above found at

While looking for something else entirely, I stumbled across this article from The Atlantic, published several years ago: "Caring for your Introvert," by Jonathan Rauch. It really struck home with me. This guy understands me and my ilk. He's one of us.

More than once I have been at a lively poker table for a while when somebody says something like, "Everybody is having a good time except for that guy" (pointing at me). It apparently never dawns on them that it might be possible for somebody to be having a perfectly good time in a way that doesn't happen to match theirs, or have the same outward manifestations. My first impulse is to protest, "I am having a good time," but I don't, because I really don't care whether he thinks I am having fun or not, and it's not worth the time and effort to try to convince him. That sort of person would never understand anyway.

I especially liked Rauch making this point:

With their endless appetite for talk and attention, extroverts also dominate
social life, so they tend to set expectations. In our extrovertist society,
being outgoing is considered normal and therefore desirable, a mark of
happiness, confidence, leadership.

But why should that be? Why is being extroverted normal and introverted abnormal? This seems to be one of the last remaining acceptable knee-jerk prejudices: to consider there to be something wrong with a person because he is quiet, reserved, thoughtful, speaking only when he feels he has something meaningful to contribute. We give lip service to the concept of diversity--as long as it's about race, sex, age, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Diversity along the extrovert/introvert axis is not generally welcomed.

I can recall at times in the past finding myself not easily fitting in to some group, and, when discussing the situation with a friend, being told, basically, that I have to engage in more small talk, laugh at other people's jokes even when they aren't funny, feign interest in the stories they tell about their lives and ask questions to prompt the telling of more, and various other gimmicks. All of which are rather like asking me to put on a dress and a wig and pretend to be female: the idea is some mixture of frightening, insulting, and ridiculous. The obvious question is this: If the group doesn't like me for who and what I actually am, why should I pretend to be otherwise? Why is it my responsibility to either change or fake being somebody I'm not? Don't other people have some minimal duty to be tolerant and accepting of me as I am?

Put more defiantly, if I'm not going to be valued for the assets that I bring to a group, well, screw them. It's far more their loss than mine. If they aren't interested in discovering my intelligence, experience, wit, kindness, insight, skills, etc., all because I'm not highly talkative or animated in body language, then they're too narrow-minded for me to care what they think of me.

I've read a lot of Mike Caro's stuff. I value his insights. I've learned a lot from him--probably more than from any other single poker writer. He has written endlessly about how socializing at the poker table is profitable, for the simple reason that people will willingly lose more money to you if they like you. Of all of his advice, I find that by far the hardest to implement. Maybe I should. Maybe someday I will.

But right now, I'm still happiest and most comfortable sitting quietly, watching and listening intently to the action and conversation, but contributing to the social milieu only on those rare occasions when I have something that I think is especially clever or important or useful to contribute. If opponents think that I'm dangerous as a result, that's fine with me. If, conversely, they think I'm timid and easy to bully, great--let them try. If they think I'm aloof and arrogant, well, OK--I don't really care and can't do much about that impression.

Once in a while I find myself next to a fellow traveler, one who is as quiet and thoughtful as I am. I sometimes discern a ferocious intelligence behind the watchful eyes, like a Ferrari engine that is just idling, but ready to rev up to its full, immense power at the touch of the throttle when needed. Sometimes we recognize each other as kindred spirits and strike up a transient friendship for the duration of the poker session--the wallflowers forming a tiny bouquet. We exchange knowing glances at the idiots who run their mouths endlessly but their brains rarely. We trade rolling eyes at the inane arguments over which running back is better. We mutually note the idiotic call from Seat 4, and simultaneously make our private plans of how to exploit his weakness. I like that kind of experience, though it's not common.

Mostly I get ignored, made fun of, and/or misunderstood. Mostly I'm used to it, and don't care much. But once in a while, like right now, I feel like letting people know the real story of what's going on.


bastinptc said...

A little lesson here for everyone.

Cranky said...

Grump - thanks for the write-up. I think even extroverts (such as myself) can feel like fish out of water or that they don't fit in, so it's not just you and other introverts in that situation.

Also, I was interested to read that introverts are the last discriminated against group that it's okay to discriminate against. Funny, I always thought that prize was reserved for fat people such as myself. Good to know we all have feelings like that!

genomeboy said...

"Put more defiantly, if I'm not going to be valued for the assets that I bring to a group, well, screw them. It's far more their loss than mine. If they aren't interested in discovering my intelligence, experience, wit, kindness, insight, skills, etc., all because I'm not highly talkative or animated in body language, then they're too narrow-minded for me to care what they think of me"

Well, it does sometimes make it difficult to understand if you are interested in friendship because of your being so quiet. While that trait is good at the poker table when you want to be difficult to read, it can be hard to know if you're interested in developing a friendship when there is little reciprocity.

In western society, "small talk" is a way to determine if there is potential interest in a friendship or other relationship. The non-verbal cues given during the initial stages of friendship or relationship building make it possible for those involved to determine if further work at developing a relationship is reciprocal.

I admit to thinking that you didn't like me very much (it may be the case still) given our interactions the first few times. It might have been more to do with your nature (i.e. introverted) than your thoughts, but if it is difficult to interpret non-verbal cues (as it is with you, imo), brains tend to fill in the gaps. Of course that can be done incorrectly, but it is the way we're wired.

bellatrix78 said...

Making people feel good as Mike Caro says, doesn't necessarily mean to act like the class clown or the douchebag entertainer of the table. Often it can be a sympathetic look (even if you don't mean it), a listen to the person story (yeah, even the bad beat or the relationship S**T you don't care about) or some random small talk. Somebody at the table will have a good time if you treat them with respect and courtesy, anybody telling you different is lying. Think of yourself as a therapist or an entertainer, the people are paying you to talk about their stuff or for you to tell a joke or something. Since you don't want to talk that much, do the therapist thing :)

gowhitesox99 said...

did you just compare yourself to a Ferrari? That's taking some creative liberties :-)

Wolynski said...

Poker has evolved and changed in the casinos. At the moment you can still make a profit, but how many times will a fish come back, if some quiet, sullen guy keeps taking his money? How much fun is that?

The casinos sell gambling as entertainment. If I am to make money at poker for an extended period, it's my job to keep the fish entertained. If I see a weak player losing interest, I will chat and compliment and make him feel good.

If I feel quiet today, I will not play poker. Serious-faced pro's at the 1/2 level suck the fun out of the game and hasten its demise.

I have very high regard for you and played with you once. Please, an occasional smile and a few kind words won't hurt.

People get together for home poker games to whoop it up and have fun, not to sit there like sour pusses. Why would a casino be any different?

Keiser said...

I used to be very, *very*, introvertive, but working in service and pretty much being a smalltalk hooker has definitely changed that. It helps to have interests that are so widespread. Following sports (football mostly for me) is a huge boon since poker rooms usually have ESPN on. I can instantly kick up a conversation about the Pats-Colts game or the Pacquiao fight.

I also pride myself on a quick and clever mind per humor, my comedic timing is pretty good so I can joke around and get people to enjoy themselves.

Only thing I haven't mastered is continuing this whilst involved in a hand. If I go past the flop I quiet down and go stonefaced until the river. I do this on purpose but I don't know if it's good or not.

Erik said...

Amen! I remember that Atlantic article. It's good to be reminded occassionally that there are other people out there like me.

Regarding small talk: It's often justified as a gentle way to strike up a friendship. But I've never found it works that way with introverts. We prefer to make bold, sarcastic remarks. We can find the interesting people by observing the crowd's reaction. Those who try to change the subject are likely to tread in boring conversation as a rule. Those who add a witty comment of their own are worth more attention (though possibly faking it to be amicable). Those who disagree forcefully and toss out a sarcastic comment of their own are the really interesting ones. They've demonstrated their brain is engaged and they'd prefer to be amused and perhaps a little rude, rather than bored and perfectly polite.

iganatz said...

I'm an unabashed extrovert, but on the felt I will be an introvert, an extrovert, or anywhere in between, depending on the table image I think will yield the most profits for that session. Switching gears is not just about varying the way you play your cards.

While being an introvert in no way makes you abnormal or less valuable as a person away from poker, presenting the same personality at the tables at all times will be less profitable in the long term than being a chameleon.

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

I'm a bit late to the part here, but thought I should point out that there was a follow-up to Rauch's article in case you hadn't read it: