The first classification of poker players was tight, loose, passive and aggressive. It gave us four styles of player. It describes players by how they play: tight-passive, tight-aggressive, loose-passive and loose-aggressive.
Still useful, but for the most part, we’ve gotten beyond this simple categorization. From a psychologist’s point of view, I want to look at motivation.
With all of the advances in strategy, math and other analysis, it seems we’ve left behind an important aspect of poker: psychology. We know how people play, so the next step is why people play. This is a major shift in psychological thinking.
I’m looking at the why of poker types. If you understand motivation, you can understand yourself and the player. As the game progresses, so does our understanding of its psychology. People play for different motivating factors.
Most of us aren’t elite pros, nor do we aspire to that status. This player is fully committed to excellence and treats playing as a job by preparing and putting in the hours. This is their life, their profession. I’m not going to advise them today.
Some of us are regulars and grinders and want to make a living playing poker or supplement our off-the-felt earnings. These folks have the most difficult task. This is the hardest work: hours of grinding, maintaining concentration, a must-win attitude and grinding it out. They try to keep up, but other life commitments also must be addressed.
Many more of us are recreational players. Poker is part of our entertainment. But poker is a competition and money, self-worth, self-actualization and self-esteem are sometimes at stake. It’s active entertainment and these folks want to win as much as everyone. Poker is not a passive activity such as going to a movie, play or concert. One is fully engaged and once you take your seat, you are involved.
Motivational theory suggests a hierarchy of needs. It’s important to at least have a minimal grasp of these: Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a description of the needs that motivate human behavior. In 1943, he proposed five kinds of human needs. He called these needs physiological, safety, love and belonging (social), esteem and self-actualization.
To paraphrase Sun Tzu, understand your motivation or need fulfillment in playing poker and understand the rest of the table, then you’ll need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
And, as always, no matter why or how you play, keep your head in the game.
— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.