Monday, November 26, 2012

Let's be careful out there...

There's been a bit of talk around Irish  poker recently about acceptable behaviour at the table. As you might expect from a game where the object is to deceive opponents, poker is not exactly known for sportsmanship and there is no universally agreed code of conduct.

Most of the comment has focused on perceived bad behaviour by pros or wannabe pros towards recreational players. There's no doubt that some of us on this side of the fence sometimes let ourselves down. At a recent event one top Irish player tweeted the following:

Table move. Stuck in seat 1 with big fat guy in seat 2. Can barely see my cards. 

and also:

Some cross eyed woman got my off 1010 on a 842 board by chk raising. It went to showdown as she had k8. I reckon her eyes deceived her!!

These were obviously meant as humour but there's a growing consensus (of which I consider myself part) that all these types of comments complaining about recreational players (sometimes by name, or with a surreptitious photo attached) not only display a lack of class but are also bad for business. In financial terms, poker is a game that requires far more people to lose money than to win money. In any given tournament 80 to 85 per cent of people lose their entire buyin. In the long run, over 95% of people lose. While some are delusional and believe themselves to be the victims of bad luck, I think most recreational players realise that barring a lot of good luck they can expect to lose. They are willing to do so because they enjoy the game. Part of this enjoyment comes from getting to play against players they see as top players. In no other sport that I can think of can any level of player compete equally with the stars. That's one of the best things about poker: anyone with the entry fee can play anything they want. If you're a club tennis player you can't just show up at Wimbledon hoping to get Rafa in the first round.

The first time I ever entered a big tournament I was myself essentially a recreational player. I was a little star struck when I found out I was going to be at the same table as two big name pros, Neil Channing and another guy it's probably best I don't name. Over the course of the day I saw a stark contrast in how pros behave towards casual players. Neil was witty, charming, friendly and made everybody feel they were getting value for their money as he slowly took it off them. The other gentleman who makes a habit of not being mentioned by name in blogs .... Well, let's just say he proved himself to be no gentleman as he sneered, mocked, derided and condescended.

Twitter is a brave new world of social interactions for which the accepted norms of behaviour are still to emerge. In the past I've thought of it as a conversation with close friends and as a result tweeted a few peeved hand histories on tilt. However I quickly realised that Twitter is an audience that extends well beyond your inner circle so if you say something unkind about an opponent's play and mention him by name (or include a surreptitious photo) there's a very good chance it will get back to him. So I've adopted a policy of just factual descriptions of hands with no names no photos no snide comments. That may render them a little less colourful but I'd rather that than offend the people who essentially pay my wages.

It seems though that not everyone agrees. After a recent live event my friend Sandro posted this on my Facebook wall:

yes he is a a true gent who understands the scope of many players who show up for an entertaining weekend only to suffer derogatory and condescending remarks from some of the so called "elite" who are just plain obnoxious nasty and rude!.....Teach them some manners Dara!
I have no idea who if anyone Sandro is referencing but I did see a few tweets other than the ones quoted above from so called top players that made me wince.

There's a certain sort of tweet might be hilarious to you and your 4 or 5 closest friends but in my opinion has no place on a public forum where there's an excellent chance the target of your "humour" will see it (to make matters worse, tweets were being displayed on a giant screen at this particular event). In this context I think the rule of thumb should be don't tweet anything you wouldn't say out loud at the table within earshot of the person.

I should point out that I don't think that pros or winning players or whatever you want to call them have the monopoly on classless behaviour. Both sides have their fair share and in fact if anything I've noticed as a general rule that the lower the buyin (and the higher the recreational to pro player ratio) the lower the table etiquette. Most pros learn a certain amount of emotional control as they go whereas most recreational players by their very nature invest more emotionally in an event. At a recent live event, a recreational player crippled me when I raised kts from the small blind for most of his stack. Apparently not realising that meant I'm never folding to a shove no matter what I have, he shoved an unsuited king with a bad kicker, which he immediately started calling for when I turned over my hand. The poker Gods were obviously listening as he hit his kicker on the flop. They also heeded his impassioned shouts of Hold. After he had "held" he fist pumped less than a metre from my face, snarled something I'd rather not repeat, did a little victory dance and shouted to a friend on the rail "They keep trying to knock me out but they always fail. BRING IT ON!" As I sat there looking at what was left of my stack that meant I was now a short favourite to bubble yet again on the worst cashless streak of my career live, the temptation to respond and bite back was there.  I'd played with the gentleman in question for almost two days and had seen him react emotionally to everything to the point where I can't imagine him ever being anything other than someone who is going to have to keep paying in the long run for his poker fix. For him to remain willing to keep doing that he needs to keep finding ways to enjoy losing his money and if that means more suckout dances and macho war cries, then so be it. I'm no saint and while I don't enjoy being on the receiving end of this sort of behaviour, I see it as part of my job as a professional poker player to be able to take it and not let it affect my play. So I bit my tongue, tried to force a smile, said "Nice hand" and let him enjoy his moment.


I don't think it matters if you're a pro or a recreational player, if you're a douche then you're going to act like one.

I'm a recreational player (PLUG: I try to behave in a respectful manner. I do sometimes say "nice hand" though, and we all know what that really means.

I quite enjoy the snarky tweets from pros, bit dull if it's just the hands.

"I don't think it matters if you're a pro or a recreational player, if you're a douche then you're going to act like one. "

Agreed, but I think if you're a pro you have a professional obligation to try to curb your douche tendencies. Similar to when you work in a shop and you encounter a rude customer; part of the job is being able to restrain yourself from responding in kind.

Thanks for the comment.

"Tweeting." Thats something to do with birds, right?
Good blog by the way and I gotta agree with your conclusions. Really thought this would be a fairly well established attitude by now. It certainly was back in my day!

Im ashamed to say I'm a fist pumper :D

Thanks Mick and I might enjoy a fist pumping from you Michelle lol

I think I wrote a long post about this subject a few years ago on the poker forum. Its probably my pet hate in poker, as a player and maybe even more-so as a club owner.

Imagine what its like for a newcommer to go into a poker club for his 1st live game outside of homegames, and be met with a tirade of abuse about how he's playing his/her hands. Its enough to put them off returning to the club again.

Its something we have stamped down on in our club over the last couple of years and Im happy to say that its no longer an issue here. New players are the lifeblood of any club (in all sports, not just poker) and if we are not going to encourage new players along, then its a bleak future for the game.

Thanks for the comment Connie. I remember my first live experience (in the Fitz) where I had to contend with a fair amount of harsh commentary not just from other players but also dealers on my inexperience. I sometimes wonder if I would still be playing if I hadn't been lucky to run well that night (I came second) or lucky enough to be thick skinned. I also wonder how many less thick skinned potential players have been lost to the game forever.


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