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The Art of Storytelling in Poker

A hand of poker is a lot like a story; each bet, check, and raise is just another chapter, a small part of the story. Where poker differs from a typical tale is that the reader (your opponents) is in the dark as to whether they are reading fiction or nonfiction, and the best storytellers are able to make the biggest tall-tale seem believable and nonfiction to seem unbelievable.

The trick to being a great storyteller at the poker tables is the ability to tell a coherent story; one that makes sense to your opponent without being too easy to see through. Like a great mystery writer, poker players are able to lead their opponents down one path right up until the very end when there is a big reveal, and much like Bruce Willis at the end of the Sixth Sense it’s simply too late for the audience; by the time the reveal takes place in poker all the chips are typically in the pot.

Poker players tell a lot of stories. ABC poker players tend to tell simple tales; when their story appears to be truthful it usually is, and when their story doesn’t add up it’s usually false. A terrible player just tells bad stories; there is no rhyme or reason to it, and comes off as disjointed and confusing. Good players tend to be able to blur these two lines; sometimes the story is true and sometimes it’s false, but the storytelling remains the same. Good players can be confusing when they need to be, and can be intentionally vague when they need to be.

So the questions are; how does one tell a good story? How do I get an opponent to call when I want him to call and fold when I want him to fold? The answers to these questions are found in just a single poker concept: Range.

By keeping your range balanced you give your opponents two possibilities:

  • #1 – You’re story is truthful
  • #2 – You’re story is fiction

As long as your story matches up with your possible range (assuming your opponent is even trying to read your hand) the story will work. From there you need to examine your opponent’s story and determine what he is trying to tell you he has, as well as what he actually has.

If your opponent is repping strength (and you believe his story) it really doesn’t matter if he believes your story or not, but when your opponent is repping strength and you don’t believe his story your storytelling skills come into play.

When a story simply doesn’t add-up it’s easy for your opponents to make the right decision, but when a story could be true or false they will often be left guessing and making huge mistakes.

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