By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper

“Why are you asking?” and “What do you mean?”

These questions are powerful probes- and asking productive questions is a key element of my negotiating strategy in business, politics, and poker parlors. At the poker table your earning power is determined in large measure by your proficiency in the use of the PEP Principle.

Put the PEP Principle to Work

Probe, evaluate, and perform accordingly- PEP, combines the use of appropriate questions for specific situations, with analysis of answers from different vantage points. PEP calls for logic and common sense, both in the development of information, and the use of practical strategies to gauge the relevance and credibility of responses.

In the face of an inquisitive opponent at the poker table, one who asks you needling questions in the midst of the hand, it is well worth considering my childhood practice of lobbing back a query of your own rather than answering the question that was asked. This often allows you to glean more facts about his hand as well as his mind-set in engaging you. It also helps you to avoid acting precipitously.

But like most strategies at the poker table, you must be flexible and able to adjust to the particulars of the game at hand.

Long before I arrived at a poker table, I learned that the heart of a winning deal resides in your ability to get the other side to respond usefully to you as you proceed through a negotiation. As a kid, my parents had viewed my rapid fire challenges as cute and as indicators of “smarts.” However as a young adult, in a common law marriage with three children in tow, my kneejerk questions frequently led to the dreaded “silent treatment” in the family room. From time to time I tried to dislodge such dismissal by asking my husband, “Am I talking to myself?” The usual answer was “No, I hear you. I don’t want to talk about it.” Then, one night, after a heated debate that I was not anxious to let go, I asked this question and got a different answer: “No, you are not talking to yourself, but you should be!” That incident served as powerful instruction for the poker table: pause long enough to take the pulse of another person’s receptivity, before diving head first into a quiz during a poker hand.

Pause, Reflect, and Evaluate Receptivity

I ask myself: “How would I feel about coffee housing, “trash talk” or just some friendly banter if I were in the other player”s shoes?” I consider the personalities, the complexity of the decisions to be made in the hand, the emotional content of the questions I am inclined to ask, the sensitivity of the opponent to “in your face” tactics, and the pressure of the environment,be it a friendly low level cash game or a final table at the World Series of Poker.

These considerations are critical underpinnings of my PEP Principle in a card room. They can be adapted and/or be applied equally to personnel shuffles in the office, family budget cuts during a recession, and card room deals where worldly pros are more prone to stare in space than bare their soul.

PEP Reflections at the Poker Table

If you take the time to consider another person’s receptivity and ask yourself questions before plunging into a probe you subscribe to my “Slow-it-Down Gambit.” Nowhere is it more necessary to control the flow than in a fast-paced high stakes poker game. Here your adversary is invariably anxious to persuade you to respond without thinking things through carefully. “Slow-it-Down Gambit”. The Slow-it-Down Gambit is a well placed pause that buys time to consider your adversary’s actions and words, and/or to consider and analyze your judgments, reflectively.

At the poker table this component of PEP has turned tough calls into some of my most profitable decisions. Rarely, however, has my Slow-it- Down Gambit gotten as much applause as I got at the 1986 World Series of Poker (“WSOP”).

Ten months after I took down my first pot in a serious No Limit Hold ‘Em game, I jumped into the grand finale of the WSOP, which had a purse larger than the three golf majors combined. At my table everyone was acting relaxed and friendly,that is until I picked up a solid pair of jacks as my hole cards and made a substantial raise.

The good ole Texan across the table called quickly, saying, “Ya’ think ya” got somethin’ babe?” Since I had a very respectable pair, and my opponent just called, I was pretty sure I had the best hand. I smiled, weakly. I wasn’t about to help him out. Previously slack-jawed and slumped comfortably in his chair, the Texan cowboy pulled himself up short.

Suddenly he was eyeing me as if I was about to become chopped liver. The dealer flipped up 9-7-2 on the flop. My opponent leaned way back, again, as he considered his next move. I followed his lead, allowing myself plenty of time to ponder a bunch of relevant questions (in no particular order):

An Introspective PEP Talk before I Acted at the Poker Table

The questions I ask myself at the poker table are adaptable for negotiations at any other competitive table-including even the round table in my family room!

1. What relevant background information do I have about him?

2. Can I beat him at his own game of banter?

3. Do I have a good baseline reading of his credibility?

4. Does he have specific expectations as to how I will act in this situation?

5. How quickly should I react to his moves?

6. Am I clear minded in my decision making process?

7. Is my physical appearance and demeanor an asset here?

8. How important is it for me to be engaged in this matter?

9. If events take an unexpected turn, can I remain centered?

10. How do I think he thinks this exchange is going?

By giving myself a PEP talk while the good ole Texan pondered his next move, I was primed for his cocksure demand: “Honey, how much mo’ money you got?”

An earlier confrontation at the table between him and Betty Carey suddenly flashed before my eyes.

Betty was widely regarded as the most courageous female poker player of all time. The good ole Texan had leaned back right before he made his move against her, calling her a transparent liar as he “came over the top” with a big raise. Betty read him for nothing more than a hand full of perspiration. She made the call, exposing his stone cold bluff. She hauled in a nice chunk of change.

In my case the Texan’s aggression was more playful. I suspected that he had better holdings than he had with Betty. Still, I saw the obvious parallel.

I asked myself, “Is there any other reason he might be trying to intimidate me?”

Sorting through the alternative ways I might solidify my read, I settled on a strategy of understated confidence. If the Texan put his foot on the bully accelerator pedal, I’d give his bravura credit for a bad act.

“Can the dealer just count me down?” I asked the cowboy coyly. “Alrighty,” he replied, waving his hand in disgust. “Dealer, count her down.”

Then as I stacked my chips neatly in front of me, my swaggering opponent said, “Honey, I’m puttin’ it all-in,” as he shoved his stacks toward the center of the table. Smirking, he teased, “Trust me, it feels better in.”

I took a moment to ask myself, “Is he thinking that I am just some sugar daddy’s honey who has no business in this game?” Again I leaned back slowly in my chair, this time pretty confident that I had him pegged, but not ready to go for the kill just yet. I deadpanned, “Should I call?” Then, to test him one more time, I added deliberately, “You are all in, aren’t you?” “Yeah, baby, I already told you, it feels better in.”

That second little lasso of crude innuendo cemented my strategy. My two jacks had to be good. The cowboy definitely wanted me to fold. This was the perfect reason to make the call.

Forced to show me his hand before I had to show mine, he turned over pocket tens. My jacks won. I did better than the Great Betty Carey!

I quietly pulled in all of his chips to a grand round of applause from the ladies in the stands.

The next guy who came to the table to take the good ole Texan’s seat gave the dealer a big “hello there” and cast me a wink. Seeing that I had just taken over as the table leader, he glanced at his racks of chips and added, “Honey, do I have enough to bust you?”