StarCraft vs. Poker - The Mental Game

Anger Management

When you play a StarCraft match, you might encounter frustrating situations. Your opponent can harass you with Reapers, ruin your economy with air-based drops while avoiding open battle and generally act like a bit of a dick.

If you are a pro, this is probably a very minor nuisance for you. You simply deal with the situation by drawing from the experience you have gained over thousands of matches. Chances are, however, that you are not a pro and that your opponent’s approach is genuinely starting to piss you off. These are usually the crucial moments in a game. Can you respond like you should or will you start making mistakes?

Things are similar with Poker. Whether you are playing in a cash game or a tournament, there might be one very active player at your table. Perhaps you feel like you're being taunted whenever he raises your bets or bets when you're one of the blinds. Now you are faced with the same situation as described above. Can you relax and make the correct play or will you let your emotions get in the way?

Don’t get me wrong - you certainly have to adjust to aggressive players, but fighting fire with fire is usually not the only way to deal with the situation. Many players feel they need to "punish" their adversaries when they feel that they are getting run over, but it’s a mistake to do that without exercising caution.

Poker is a game of patience, especially if you are new to the game. Stumbling into a pot without an idea of what to do just because you don’t want to fold to the "bully" again is usually a sure-fire way to lose money. Similarly, you shouldn’t ride an all-in attack on an enemy base in StarCraft if you have no idea if you can win the battle or not. When in doubt, fold and wait for a better spot.

Slaughter the lambs

Of course, you can use these tactics against your opponents as well. In StarCraft, being aggressive is a game two players can play - just make sure that you can handle defending your own base and managing your attack at the same time. It ain’t easy, but seeing your Hellions tear apart a Drone line has been known to bring joy to Terrans worldwide.
It’s also fun to be the aggressor in a game of poker, but you typically shouldn’t try to do that before you have observed your table for a while. Just like in StarCraft, there are different types of players. Some like to wait for a big hand to get all of their money in, and others follow the school of thought that any two cards can make Quads or a Straight Flush and play accordingly.

In order to succeed with your aggression, the weak-passive players that would rather wait than raise should be your target. Once you have figured out who they are, raise them when they are in the blinds or when they limp into the pot pre-flop, but be extra cautious when they fire back. Just fold and be done with the encounter if you have to risk too much. In the long run, winning lots of small pots easily offsets the cost of having to fold to a re-raise once in a while.

Wake the dragon

The profit from “needling” passive players doesn't just come from the immediate gains from the small pots that you win uncontested. The real payoff will be a player’s “tilt,” as it’s known within the poker world.

Being “on tilt” or “tilting” usually means that a player will make unreasonable plays because of anger or frustration. Or, to use the words from a somewhat famous movie series that had lightsabers: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” As the quote applies to poker, your opponents are the ones who are "suffering" as they give you their money. So in this case it's actually a good thing. For you, anyway.

Playing against somebody who is “on tilt” is a profitable thing to do, but it can still be costly - especially if you decide you want to run a bluff. Your play might be perfect in theory and it might work handsomely against a thinking opponent, but a player on tilt might still find a "hero call" with thin air (but thicker air than yours) and take your money. Play a little tighter against people who are on tilt, but don’t be afraid to go all the way even with a mere top pair if you are certain that your opponent has lost his self-control.

Sweet, sweet victory

As you can see, Poker and StarCraft are both games in which both avoiding mistakes and forcing others to make them plays a big role. A beautiful way of doing the latter is getting into your opponents' heads, sparking their anger and assisting them in their self-defeat. It's not even just monetary gain that you take away from winning against somebody on heavy tilt. Let’s be honest with ourselves - victory tastes even sweeter when your opponent is truly and thoroughly pissed off after the fight.