Being a Grinch at the Poker Table

1 year ago

It’s the time of year when some of us use poker as an escape from our hectic family lives – seeking respite from shrieking children, inquisitive relatives, and endless turkey leftovers. Unsurprisingly, this can cause a certain level of negativity or “grinchy-ness” from certain players at the table. But what you may not know is that your attitude can affect your poker game, and it can affect how you’re perceived by others, which affects your results. We’ll look at the differences between being a Grinch and being an “Elf” (think Will Ferrell Elf here, not Belsnickel) at the table and why it’s more important than you think.

Being a Grinch at the Poker Table

While it’s tempting to let out your Christmas-themed frustrations on your fellow players rather than your loved ones, being negative at the table comes with certain drawbacks that you may not be aware of.

The Disadvantage of Negative Thinking in Poker

Poker is a game that’s all in the mind. If you’ve ever tried to make a bluff when you think it’s not going to work, you’ll know how much more likely you are to get snapped off than when you’re confident it will work. You’ll find that the most confident players are the ones that play the best, as they have faith that their decisions are correct and will yield the results they want.

If you’re already in a negative mindset, you’re not going to have the confidence you need to play at your best. You’ll be thinking that “of course, they’re going to get there on the river,” or “there’s no way this fish will fold to my bluff,” and plenty of other negative streams of thought that poker players often have. This is not going to help you play your best poker; you need to be thinking positively if you want to be making the best decisions at the table.

Your Table Image

One thing that’s often underrated at the poker table is how much being nice at the table can help you, particularly when playing against recreational players. How many times have you seen a recreational player pay someone off or check back a strong hand because they like the person they’re playing against? While it doesn’t happen all the time, it happens often enough that it’s in your best interests to be nice to the players around you at the table.

On the flip side, if you’re sitting at the table looking miserable, not having a nice word to say about anyone, you know who won’t get paid off light? You! No one’s going to do you any favours if you’re stony-faced all evening, complaining about what’s happened over Christmas. What’s more, you’re far less likely to get action from the fun players; if you’re that depressing to play with, people will just move tables to play in games they find more enjoyable.

If you’ve come to the poker table to work out your family issues, don’t be surprised if people don’t like playing with you!

Being an “Elf” at the Poker Table

While it may be hard to keep up a happy-go-lucky spirit the entire time you’re at the table, being nice to be around will not only make you a much more pleasant human being to be around, but it can also help you rinse those suckers for everything they’re worth! In a perfect world, the reasoning of “it’s nice to be nice” would be all the convincing you need to not be a Grinch at the table, but we know that some of you are more profit-orientated than people-orientated, so here’s why being an “Elf” at the table can help your bottom line.

The Power of Positive Thought

Just as negative thoughts can negatively impact your poker performance, positive thoughts can positively impact how you play. Have you ever had a session where you felt you were dialled into how everyone was playing? Do you remember how indestructible you felt? When you’re in this zone, every decision you make feels like it’s the right one; every bluff you make gets through, and every value bet you make gets paid off.

While these sessions may not actually play out as perfectly as this, the important thing is that they feel like they do. You’re not as bothered by losing hands, and the confidence you have allows you to make the right decisions, even when they’re tough. In poker, you have to bluff at spots that may seem scary or fold hands you really want to call, and the best way to execute those actions is to have a positive mindset. Instead of thinking, “there’s no point to bluffing,” or “I might as well pay it off even though I know I’m beat,” positive thinking gives you the discipline to make the tough decisions.

The Benefit of Making Friends

Being nice to everyone at the table is an easy way to make friends in poker. There are a fair few unsavoury characters floating around, so just being polite and friendly is all it takes for someone to start taking a liking to you. While most of the time, being nice only helps to create a better atmosphere to play in, there are times when it has a tangible benefit to your bottom line.

You’ll find that recreational players are more likely to act “nicer” to people who have been nice to them. Whether that’s checking back a hand that should be bet for value or deciding not to bluff their new “friend,” they’ll often adjust their game based on how much they like you. This makes them easy to play against, allowing you to adjust your game and make the maximum from them. It may sound a little Machiavellian to be nice to someone just to increase your profits, but it’s nothing personal; it’s strictly business.


Whether you’re happy being a Grinch at the table or want to be everyone’s friend, it’s important to be mindful of how that changes people’s perception of you. Recreational players may be more likely to bluff Grinchy players and will be less likely to pay them off, whereas the opposite is true for people they like. You should also be aware of how your mindset changes your own performance, with positive-thinking, confident players often play better than negative-minded ones.

While we hope you’ve had a good holiday season, if you’re feeling a bit Grinchy, maybe rethink bringing that attitude to the poker table.

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