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Conforming to type: A typology of poker playing

I apologize in advance that today’s blog spills into ‘pop psychology’ but I thought I would share it with you anyway. A number of years ago, I helped a leading Internet poker company do some research on different types of poker player and developed a typology. With the help of US poker tournament director Jack McClelland, the typology was based on a survey of 2000 poker players and produced seven different types of player. These were subsequently called ‘The General’, ‘The Joker’, ‘The Wallflower’, ‘The Calculator’, ‘The Hunter’, ‘The Artisan’, and ‘The Politician’. The study found that 39% of players were Wallflowers or Calculators (40% male and 38% female), 17% were Jokers (16% male and 17% female), 15% were Generals (17% male and 13% female) and 4% were Hunters (5% male and 3% female). The ‘Politician’ and ‘Artisan’ sub-types constituted only a very small minority of players. So which type of player are you? Here is a quick psycho-portrait of each type.

The General: Instantly recognisable for their guts, Generals won’t shirk in the face of risk and are comfortable in their ability to fight back from a short stack. In everyday life, The General’s supreme self-belief can be overbearing, but Generals tend to reap the rewards and are often very successful in their careers. At the green baize, the high risk-high gain strategy employed tends to see them bust out first or win the lot.

The Joker: A natural born entertainer, a jester at the table who ensures everyone will have fun. Well liked, Jokers command other’s allegiances and will use this to their advantage. But beware, they are more than happy to talk you off a pot should they choose to.  Unfortunately, Jokers are as easily distracted, and can be distracting at the poker table. This can be dangerous. A lack of discipline and patience can make you question whether the Jokers are equipped with the will to win. What’s more, their need to be liked can often stand in their way of closing in on the kill.

The Wallflower: The Wallflower is happy to sit on the sidelines and wait for others to fight it out before they get involved. In everyday life the Wallflower will rarely throw in their lot with anyone and will take their time to make allegiances. Wallflowers are equipped with the most important of all poker virtues – patience. Their tendency to avoid the quagmire of the group dynamic gives them an extra edge – their relationships come with no baggage. While the others fight it out the Wallflower will sit back, observe and learn. According to journalist and female poker player Victoria Coren, while Wallflowers can survive quite a while in a game, they can’t necessarily change gear later and nail money finishes.

The Calculator: Cool, composed and naturally conservative, Calculators will only go into a hand with the best of it. In everyday life, Calculators were often the cleverest kids in their class – if not the ones with the biggest circle of friends. Instinctively risk-averse, their strengths as a poker player include a methodical approach and the ability to separate emotion from decisions. Skilful as they may be, there is no easier player to read than a Calculator. What’s more, Calculators can be quite passive and are unwilling to chase the action if it doesn’t come their way.

The Hunter: At first glance, the Hunter can easily be mistaken for a General. Both exude the same forcefulness and strength of character, but where The General is all about thought through risks, The Hunter is all about naked aggression. Off the poker table, Hunters aren’t always the best communicators, but are hugely loyal and very determined. On the poker table, a Hunter is a formidable opponent and loves the thrill of trying to beat the odds. A loose player, they’ll play a lot of hands and will feed off the weaker players by bullying them off pots.   

The Politician: An arch manipulator, you can spot Politicians because they’re your best friends. Trouble is, they’re also your next-door neighbour’s best friend and even your enemy’s best friend. Their good qualities are highly tuned instincts and a whole deck of charisma. Both will serve them well at the poker table, but both can also lead to trouble. A tendency to play the people rather than the cards can spell disaster, and the Politician is one of the most likely players to bluff.

The Artisan: At first glance, the Artisan may not appear to be a natural born poker player. Led by the creative left side of their brain rather than the more mathematical right hand side, Artisans are more usually found engaged in less competitive activities. However, Artisans have very finely honed intuitive skills and always love to rise to a challenge. An Artisan will take a very lateral approach to the game and won’t be scared to make a move if their instincts tell them to.

I’m not pretending that the work I did was particularly scientific but it was certainly interesting. Obviously the whole problem with formulating sub-types like this is that they are usually based on a particular way of looking at the activity. For instance, I have a typology based on the types of playing mistakes players make – but I’ll leave that for a future blog.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J., Wood, R.T.A. & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 82-89.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). What differentiates professional poker players from recreational poker players? A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 243-257.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Poker gambling virtual communities: The use of Computer-Mediated Communication to develop cognitive poker gambling skills. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(2), 31-44.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M., & Parke, J. (2005) Can playing poker be good for you? Poker as a transferable skill. Journal of Gambling Issues, 14.

Recher, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory qualitative study of online poker professional players. Social Psychological Review, 14(2), 13-25.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths. M.D. (2008). Why Swedish people play online poker and factors that can increase or decrease trust in poker websites: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Gambling Issues, 21, 80-97.