Unconventionality, Going on Tilt, and Winning Weird

“We must walk without rhythm.”
    — Paul Atreides (from Dune (1975))

I had an interesting (and rare) winning experience recently playing Texas Hold’em poker with some colleagues. I’m an impatient and ineffective poker player, but I played an unusual strategy, which I won’t bore people with in detail, but involved playing tight for a long time, and then doing the opposite, including going all-in repeatedly and aggressively.

As you might imagine, my tactics were not universally popular, with some seeing them as erratic, maddening, and (eventually) bullying. Nevertheless, it was a useful reminder that unconventionality (not just unpredictability) is too often overlooked as a strategy, whether in poker, or in business and venture capital. Among other things, if you win at something a few times in unexpected ways it is demoralizing to opponents — as ably pointed out in a worth-reading 2003 research paper about poker-playing computer bots:

The bot routinely makes unconventional plays that confuse and confound humans. Invariably, some of these “bizarre” plays happen to coincide with a lucky escape, and several of these bad beats in quick succession will often cause strong emotional reactions (sometimes referred to as “going on tilt”). The level of play generally goes down sharply in these circumstances.

The same holds true for more activities than poker, of course, making this a worthwhile insight. Winning ugly is underrated, but winning weird is even more so.


  1. North Korea, Iran, etc.

  2. Brent Buckner says:

    I sent the permalink for the old entry to someone yesterday, but by the time he clicked you had deleted the entry (at least I’d grabbed the link to the 2003 paper, so we had that interesting reference). Thanks for the rewrite!

  3. Brent — Yes, made some edits and then reposted it. So, it’s ba-ack.

  4. I remember when I first started playing poker, one guy kept saying that I played so erratically. At the time, I took it as something I should fix. Now. . .I kind of wish I hadn’t.

  5. Wow, now I think I know what that Fatboy Slim song “weapon of choice” is talking about.
    Amazing. Bootsy Collins singing lyrics that reference Dune.