Sit down at any poker table, and odds are that you'll confront at least one of the game's five stock characters. They conform to type and are ripe for the taking — as long as you know who they are and how to play them. Puggy Pearson knows. In a game in which some play cards while others play people, Pearson is tops at playing people. He says he's won and lost millions hustling pool and poker. And who can doubt him, when he's painted this boast on the side of his RV? "I'll play any man from any land, any game that he can name, for any amount that I can count (providing I like it)," it reads. Here are Pearson's strategies for handling poker's five types.
The Rock: He bets only when he's got a great hand. Otherwise, he sits tight — and drives you nuts.
Puggy's Play: "A Rock won't go in unless he believes he's got the pot won. But you can bluff him out in the early rounds. He'll fold if he thinks you have the stronger hand — even if you don't."
The Kibitzer: He talks about the casino, his winnings, restaurants in Pittsburgh — anything to throw you off your game.
Puggy's Play: "Don't ignore him — lead him on. Suppose he figures that you folded with a flush, even though you hadn't made your hand. Just nod and let him believe what you want him to believe."
The Bluffer: He acts as if he has the best hand at the table. He tries to scare you with big raises and a bigger attitude.
Puggy's Play: "Look for his tells. Does he bite his lower lip when he thinks that you have the stronger hand? Once you've read him, you can just about read his cards."
The Chip Riffler: He's spent so much time at poker tables that he's mastered a one-handed chip riffle. He's seen a lot of hands and learned almost every angle.
Puggy's Play: "Never go in on him unless you're sure that you have the best hand. As a fallback, irritate him."
The Whale Pockets: loaded with wads of bills, he stays in when he should bail out and folds when he ought to be raising. But he has the cash to outlast savvier players.
Puggy's Play: "Keep him in the game and let him think he's got the best of you. First milk him. Then nail him."
A version of this article appeared in the November 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.