What Would Machiavelli Do? Powerful Ploys Of Poker Players

June 8, 2016

Recent research into Machiavellian behaviour has indicated that Poker bluffing can produce some unexpected results.

A recent study has shown that some Poker players are following classic Machiavellian behaviours of deception and control, many without even knowing. Jointly conducted by the University of Helsinki and Lancaster University, the report comes with the catchy title 'Machiavelli as a Poker mate - a naturalistic behavioural study on strategic deception'.

Machiavelli was an Italian historian who is best remembered for writing The Prince in 1513. In this, he described how deceit, subterfuge, dishonesty and immoral behaviour could be used in politics to win arguments and gain power. His name is now synonymous with underhand politics and people who naturally have these traits, with the new paper linking particular Poker strategies to Machiavellian behaviours.

The Study

490 people took part in the study, playing Texas Hold'em Poker in an online setting. The research team was led by Dr Jeff Yan from Lancaster University and Jussi Palomaki from the University of Helsinki and they studied how people with different personalities approached the game, which has led to some interesting conclusions. Before the Poker games commenced, participants were asked to complete a personality test which looked at their levels of distrust in others, how much they like to be in control, what their moral values were and so on.

Reactions to The Game

Machiavellians are generally seen as cold hearted and calculating in their actions, but their reactions to Poker playing shows that they can also become quite emotional when they are up against others with certain styles of play. Being dealt a strong hand tends to make those with Machiavellian personalities make bigger bets, but if their opponent has an equally strong hand and makes a small wager, this often triggers a negative emotional response.

The team suggested that being the target of such manipulation causes Machiavellians to go against their perceived personality traits and display strong negative emotions.

There was also evidence that while players tend to bluff with a similar frequency, Machiavellians often make bigger bets when doing so, which could be because they want to be more in control of a situation than others. Dr Yan commented on this trait, saying that ''To be a successful Poker player, the general advice is to be the one controlling the action.'' He added that it could be because they dislike showing any signs of weakness.


A major conclusion of the research was that an individuals sensitivity and emotional reactions to bluffing at Poker are strongly linked to the extent to which they have Machiavellian personality tendencies. Being slow-played, where a low bet is placed by their opponent when bluffing, is more stressful to Machiavellian people than others, as becoming the target of a bluff means they have less control over a situation.

There could be some genuine advantages to understanding the results of the study says Dr Yan. If players find that they are facing a Machiavellian personality, they could potentially unsettle them by slow-playing their hands, while also being able to predict that a bigger bet from such a person is more likely to be a bluff.