What’s your motivation to play poker?

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I recently talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simply, what that psychological theory says is that we have some big needs that must be met and that once one set of needs is satisfied, we can move to the next set of needs. It states that satisfaction of needs is what motivates us.

In life and in poker, we’re motivated to satisfy needs; once we satisfy lower level needs we move up the pyramid. Most poker players come to the game having some needs satisfied. They are not playing for food and drink. Some are even playing with “lunch” money and this is a big mistake, and certainly like with any job, early career folks have to make enough to take of these needs and “step” two. But most players are set with these lower level needs.

Some people play for social reasons. They are not nits, donks or fish, but they are playing because they like the atmosphere, like single serving friends and don’t mind losing. Often they play low buy-in tournaments or low stakes cash games. For many, being part of the group of poker players satisfies this need.

The next step up is esteem. These players study, play a lot, want to win and want to be recognized as good players.

The final level is self-actualization. This is how people think about themselves and it is often measured by how well they play, how they handle the challenge and their extent of success.

If poker doesn’t meet these needs people will not play.

You can see this as a progression. First you satisfy the lower level needs and then move up to higher level needs. You can think about different players and how to play them. This might provide another level of “reading” for you, regarding other players or some insight into your play.

Knowing what motivates you and how to manage your motivation will let you keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. His column will give insight on how to achieve peak performance using poker psychology. Email questions for him at editor@anteupmagazine.com.