Autism and Its Impact on My Poker ExperienceBefore I go on and write a potential saga on my brief, two-year ongoing poker experience, poker is not something everyone with any form of autism should take on. Let alone, anyone, regardless of any type of challenge, mental, physical, or emotional. This is about a part of my life experience with Asperger’s, and how it has influenced my perspective and playing style on poker. Hopefully, now that you all have heeded the cautionary suggestion, I may proceed with my story.
I was diagnosed with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder before I turned 3 years old, and eventually re-diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, all of which are on the autism spectrum disorder. People considered autistic usually lack social and cognitive skills, or pick them up more slowly than most. However, they see patterns that most people considered “normal” would not see. For me, this pattern-oriented thinking is applicable to the poker table. Now some of you will say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know about position, playing the player, and waiting for good cards to come. Tell us something that we don’t know.”
While some of what I will be saying may not be necessarily new, I will share some advice given to me over the years that seem mythical to me:
“It’s all about getting the cards. Either you get them or you don’t.”
“How the hell do you play the player?”
“You’ll never be good at bluffing. You don’t know how to execute it, and you give away too much.”
“Play tight. Always go in with at least a King-high. Don’t mess around with low hands.”
“In a huge multi-table tournament with hundreds of people, just be realistic and believe that it will take mostly luck to win. In other words, just run well and you’ll be fine.”
“Fold low pocket pairs during tournaments. You’ll almost never win with them anyway.”
Even though these sayings may seem true on the surface, they seem self-limiting, and have no factual proof. If it is true that there isn’t much you can do in a big tournament, then how come pros often win consistently? How come one player’s tournament strategy often yields so many positive results? How come certain players are often well above average chipstack, even when they’re not getting the cards? Even after looking at Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Hellmuth over the years, I can’t refute what they and other pros have to say. However, combined with the autistic influence, poker for me has become a game of detecting social cues, and being aware of how other people perceive me, largely unrelated to cards.
Yes, even the pros do run bad with cards, so there is an element of luck where cards determine the outcome of your wins and losses. After all, without cards and luck, there wouldn’t be poker. The thing is, playing the player helps not only with putting a certain person on a range of hands, but perceiving how a player interprets you helps you learn whether bluffing on anything will scare a player away, and whether a 3-bet on pocket kings, for example, will get that specific player to call, check-raise, or shove all-in. Even details as minute as clothing can help me learn a player’s style and hand range before the start of a tournament. For example, someone wearing a dressy outfit, like a dress shirt and khaki’s, may not feel as comfortable playing as someone in a hoodie. Therefore, I’ll put that person in khakis on a big overpair, AK, AQ, or KQ if that person makes a 3-bet in late position against my UTG raise with pocket tens. The person in the hoodie and Ray-Bans, on the other hand, is near impossible for me to read. Before I move on to other things, I like flatting pocket pairs just to see if I hit a set on the flop.
Yes, in tournaments, cards are important, but it takes a lot more than cards to become a consistent winner in any tournament. For me, I pay attention to distinct social cues opponents give about certain hands, such as hands reaching over chips, or players almost folding their cards out of turn. This is on top of calculating opponents’ aggression factor post-flop, and how much to bet on premium hands and overpairs on the button or the cutoff, depending on how much action there is at your table. This, for me, is proof that any betting strategy purely based off cards is almost always purely bogus, since ignoring other people’s styles will be detrimental to your tournament life.
Another thing I pay attention to is my conversations with opponents before the tournament. If a certain player find me a little strange, and starts to respond defensively, I know that he or she will play tighter around me, making it easier to pull off a bluff, whereas a more straightforward, fearless communicator, like Mike Matusow, will never be afraid to be in a hand with me. Overtime, playing poker in this way has helped me become a better communicator with others, and has helped make friends from all walks of life.
As always its a pleasure posting Julian’s articles, his insight from a players perspective is welcoming. Especially a player as passionate about the game as he is. With many things the more experience you have with poker the more you can discount the “generalized” advice people give you. There are intricacies of poker that most amateurs will never know about because they don’t have the passion or patience to learn the game that well. It’s interesting for me to hear about how Julian’s disabilities can hinder some aspect of his game and help. Even though they are disabilities Asperger’s hinders social interaction but some people will view people with this a different way and expose flaws in their own games. People with Asperger syndrome display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects. So becoming so intent on learning poker as fast and as well as possible has probably helped Julian become a better player faster. It’s also nice to hear that because of the social limitations poker has helped him learn how to interact better with people in general as poker is a social game.