The needs of the one are many



Is it possible to play poker to just have fun? Poker literature suggests one has to put in “work” to be an adequate poker player. Learn the math, patterns, tells and psychology. Learn how to read people and the game.

Watch videos, take lessons, read books, have a study group.
What about the person who likes poker, likes the competition, likes to win but doesn’t want to put in the work? The literature tells us that player is the fish.

Guess what. Everyone is not trying to grind out a living. Many people like to read poker magazines, play poker and have fun. So, who am I in the poker world? Psychologists say we all do things to satisfy needs.

Abraham Maslow is the well-known and popular “needs” hierarchy person. I’d bet Maslow would say the need hierarchy, the reason people play, is upside down. He suggests there are five need states that they’re in a hierarchy. A person has to satisfy lower-level needs before moving to higher-level needs.

Need satisfaction is what motivates and Maslow’s needs theory states:
• Biological and physiological needs (air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.)
• Safety needs (protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability and finances)
• Social needs (work group, family, affection, relationships, friends, single-serving poker players)
• Esteem needs (self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.)
• Self-Actualization needs (realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking growth and peak experiences)

You can look at these as steps you can climb to self-actualization. Biological and physiological needs are met before you get to the poker felt. Safety needs include making money, grinding out a living. If you’re doing this in poker, you need to put in all the other work I’ve mentioned.

But if this set of needs is met outside the poker room, like at a day job, you’re working on social, esteem and self-actualization.

So this turns everything upside down. Though all the literature is about money and winning, the needs-motivation theory says that is the lowest-level need and fellowship, esteem and self-actualization are the higher-level needs.

The catch for the poker player or gambler may be that everything may be tied up in making more money. We use money as the measure of self-esteem and whether we’re self-actualizing.

Nonetheless, playing poker for fun is fine. Playing poker for fun and profit is fine. Playing poker only for profit is probably not the best way for most people to spend their time. Keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine