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What’s Your EQ?: Part Two

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Oct 09, 2019


Part one of this series defined EQ as your emotional intelligence score and listed five components for poker players:

1. Understanding how emotions affect your own play
2. Controlling your own emotions
3. Understanding how other people emotionally react to you
4. Understanding how other people’s emotions affect their play
5. Manipulating other people’s emotions

It asked five questions to help you to understand how well you understand and control your own emotions. That understanding and control are, by far, the most important parts of your Poker EQ.

Unfortunately, most players don’t want to analyze either how they feel or how their emotions affect their play. They may be extremely perceptive about their opponents’ feelings and their effects, but not even try to understand how their own feelings cause mistakes. Instead, they pretend these mistakes are rationally-chosen strategic decisions.

Daniel Negreanu’s Valuable Lesson

One reason for Daniel Negreanu’s extreme success is his honesty about his feelings. For example, he publicly admitted in the past that he does something that may seem silly. Negreanu enters small no-limit hold’em tournaments, goes all in again and again, and rebuys again and again to satisfy his love for action. Then, when the money is important, he has much less need to gamble.

His example illustrates the critical importance of understanding why you’re taking actions. Because he recognizes that his gambling urges can cause mistakes when the stakes are high, he can control those urges. If he denied his motives or rationalized that he overplays hands for this or that strategic reason, his love for action would be much more destructive.

If you don’t understand how your emotions affect your decisions, you can’t control them well. And, if you can’t control your emotions, you will make expensive, emotionally-driven mistakes. Let’s discuss two ways to gain insight into your emotions.

Analyze Your Style

You may think you’ve carefully chosen your style to maximize your profits, but your emotions usually affected your choice. The more extreme your style is, the more it’s based on emotions.

Loose-aggressive players are driven by their love of action. Extremely loose-aggressive ones are called, “Maniacs.” They may claim that they chose this style because it makes them harder to read and they can win much larger pots, but they’re just rationalizing. Virtually all Maniacs are heavy losers.

Tight-passive players are driven by their fear of losing. Extremely tight-passive ones are called, “Rocks,” because they usually just sit there, doing nothing. If they play only in the right games, they can be small winners, but they can’t beat most games.
Loose-passive players are driven by their desire to get along with people. The most extreme ones are known as, “Calling Stations,” because they just call, call, call. They can’t beat any games, and they don’t really mind. They play for fun and socialization.

To protect their egos, many players lie to themselves about their style. They pretend that it’s more rational and less extreme than it really is. For example, nobody admits that he’s a Maniac, and Rocks generally see themselves as sensible and disciplined.
To learn more about your own style and how others see you, ask three or four friends who read players well to rate you on the two most important stylistic dimensions, loose-tight and passive-aggressive. Ask your friends to write down their ratings without discussing them with each other or you.

Because numbers can be compared much more accurately than words like, “very loose-aggressive,” use a nine point scale. 1 is the most extreme tight or passive score, and 9 is the most extreme loose or aggressive score.

Rate yourself the same way. Then take an extremely unusual step.

Regard Your Opponents As Rohrshach Tests

You’ve probably heard of the Rorschach test. People look at inkblots and tell a psychotherapist what they see. Since everyone looks at the same ambiguous inkblots, different reactions tell the therapist what kinds of people they are.

Aggressive people see aggressive images. Happy people see happy pictures. Fearful people see frightening ones. It’s called a “projective test” because people project their feelings into an ambiguous situation.

The same general principle applies to the way you see your opponents. Your own emotions will cause distorted perceptions of various opponents. For example, very conservative players may regard moderately loose-aggressive ones as “Maniacs,” while aggressive players see them as “courageous” or “decisive.” Very aggressive players may regard fairly conservative players as timid “Rocks,” but conservative players believe they are “prudent” and “sensible.”

In other words, you don’t see your opponents objectively. Your own emotions greatly affect your perceptions. You probably disagree because you want to believe you can read people accurately.

Here’s a simple test that will suggest how much you project your feelings. Ask those same friends to write descriptions of players you all know well. Then compare your answers. You’ll probably find differences between your descriptions. Since you all have similar information, these differences must be caused — at least partly — by your own and their emotions. The greater the differences between your own and your friends’ ratings, the more they are caused by your own and their emotions.

Your emotions react much more quickly than your logical brain. You sometimes have a nearly immediate emotional reaction to a stranger. Then you select information that supports that emotional reaction and reject information that conflicts with it. Then you rationalize that you are objectively analyzing people, not projecting your feelings. The stronger your emotional reaction is, the more your feelings will distort your perceptions.

Most players would disagree. Instead of accepting that they are projecting their feelings, they would insist that their perceptions are accurate. If I asked, “Then why do you see Joe so differently from the way your friends see him?” They would say their friends are mistaken.

Because you don’t want to believe that you project your feelings, make these comparisons with players who you believe read players well. Then, when you disagree with them, ask yourself, “Why do I see these players so differently?”

Compare The Rohrshach Test Data And Style Ratings

Do the Rohrschach Test data agree with your friends’ ratings? If they do, you can be more confident that your own and their ratings are accurate.

Then compare your self-ratings to all the other data. The more consistent the data are, the more accurately you see yourself. If you see yourself accurately, you get a high score on the most important EQ dimension.

Then increase your self-understanding by trying to explain inconsistencies between your self-ratings and the other data.

• Why do you see this opponent as much more aggressive, conservative, skilled, stupid, etc. than your friends see him?
• How do these differences affect your play against this player and other opponents?
• What should you do differently?

If you try hard to answer those questions, you will greatly increase your understanding of how your feelings distort your perceptions.

That understanding will help you to read your opponents more accurately, make better decisions, and win more money. ♠

Thanks to Roy Cooke and Jan Siroky for their help with this column.

Alan SchoonmakerDr. Al ( coaches only on psychology issues. For information about seminars and webinars, go to He is David Sklansky’s co-author of DUCY? and the sole author of four poker psychology books. You can check out many articles, blogs, videos, and books. Please visit my website, and get a free book.