WSOP 2015: Telling the story of a good bluff



Jan Heitmann_WSOP_d1b.jpgJan Heitman in action today


At times of great political crisis the media often turn to the language of poker to colour up their stories. Take "Grexit" for example, the portmanteau that has come to signify the political front line in Europe. Will they, won't they? Have they, can they? Sooner or later someone starts getting clever and talks about bluffing.

This happens all over the world of course, but when it happens in Germany the news people call Jan Heitmann, and if he's not playing cards as a poker player (as he is today in the Main Event), or making them disappear as a magician, he's happy to respond.

The Team Pro is by his own confession no political analyst, but he does know a thing or two about bluffing, and how that works in real life situations. Whether or not Greece was bluffing, would in Heitmann's view, depend on various things.

"I always say that a good bluff is a story that your opponent understands," said Heitmann, who broke it down into two elements.

"First of all your story has to make sense. A classic example is a flush draw on board. The other guy bets, you call. The turn is a blank. The other guy bets again, you call. The river brings a flush. The other guy bets, you go all-in or you raise. So you're telling the story that you've caught your flush.

"But the second element is equally important. You have to have an opponent who understands the story."

This might mean bluffing against a player who is not thinking about the game at a high level, who hasn't spotted that he has blocking cards or that you try this move more often than you should. So it's better against a one-dimensional player with aces, who will call no matter what.

"It's the old adage: don't bluff the idiot. They're not there to understand the intricate bluff stories that you're telling."

So whether it's on the world stage or in the World Series, make sure the story of your bluff makes sense.

Does this relate to what's taking place in Athens right now? Well, that'll be up to the politicians to decide. But Heitmann was clear on one thing. When news outlets borrow from the poker lexicon, they do it badly.

"It's always with a negative connotation," he said. "I always have it in Germany in the sports news, when someone is negotiating a new contract. It's always some poker analogy, and I'm always very upset because they don't know anything about poker and there's so much explaining we have to do as far as poker is concerned.

"Poker is a really great microcosm for strategic thinking; there are so many elements that are universal. There is so much rational decision making going on that you can take away from the poker table and apply to much more complex situations in real life. They're not seeing that."

So the situation in Greece takes another turn and the language of poker takes another mangling on the airwaves. Heitmann is working on changing that (and we'll tell you how later this week), but for now it's back to the studio.

Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.