Thursday, August 13, 2009

Self-defeating behavior

I was just browsing through some recent posts on when I found this comment from somebody who is looking forward to trying Harrah's new daily deep-stack tournament:

I love playing poker tourneys. I'm ok at them too, having even won a couple
and cashing at at least 1 every trip to Vegas.For me they are a way to make my
gambling budget spread longer. I am not a good cash games player, but I still
play....and I LOVE the slot machines too....though they always seem to rob me
blind! .... LOL.

As much as I would love to play the big Venetian or Wynn tourneys, to be
honest I am VERY intimidated to go into these rooms. I have played at both those
rooms before in the cash games and been berrated for cards I choose to play and
had people comment and laugh at the way I play and question my reasoning for
playing certain hands. It's very upsetting, my money, my cards, my
choices....BUT....I always end up leaving places like that wishing I never even
went in for some fun and relaxation.

I am looking forward to playing in this tourney when I stay at Harrahs on
my up and coming solo trip from the 26th September. Harrahs has always been a
welcoming place with staff that are second to none, the atmosphere is casual and
fun and not the least bit intimidating.....

(Ellipses in original.)

It is hard to express how pissed off this kind of thing makes me. I realize that complaining about the morons in poker who ridicule and scare away the recreational, inexperienced players is really old. I've done it myself a few times already (in fact, I have a label just for such posts when I remember to use it--which isn't always--here), and you can find such rants in plenty of other places.

But this crap still goes on. I feel a kind of moral obligation to denounce it at every opportunity, and invite and remind other serious poker players that we have to police ourselves against it. If you see or hear a weak player being shamed, scolded, or criticized for bad play, you owe it to yourself and to the entire poker community to do what you can to stop it. Don't contribute to the negative tone by responded harshly at the table, but do something. Get the dealer or floor to enforce the poker room's policy against treating other players with disrespect, or pull the offender aside and remind him or her that the less experienced players are the source of money in the poker economy, and they are to be gently, lovingly nurtured, rather than stomped on and chased away.

Also, talk to the offended player. Tell him or her something like, "Don't pay any attention to him. He's just mad because he lost. You did just fine."

As I quoted Mike Caro recently,
Chastising opponents for playing bad is stupid. In fact, in every case ever
recorded in the history of poker, it's a whole lot more stupid than the play
being chastised.

A few pages earlier in Caro's Most Profitable Hold'em Advice, Caro tells us how he handles bad players (pp. 261-2):
When you boast about the pots won by weak players with horrible hands, you
feed their ego. They may try to live up to their "legend" statures, especially
since you have praised them, rather than criticized them, for their weak play.

For example, "I wish I could play like Harvey! That guy can take 10-9 and
win the biggest pots! He knows exactly when to do it. It's not what you play,
it's how you play." Then look Harvey directly in the eyes, and say sincerely, "I
really mean it. I've seen you do it so many times. It's a joy to watch."

Say stuff like that and learn to mean it and your rewards will be much
greater than if you make Harvey uncomfortable about occasionally winning with
weak hands. You want to encourage his poor play, not discourage it.

Similarly, on pp. 146-147 he advises,
Instead of criticizing a hand that beats me, which is a mistake some pros
make, I often say, "Wow! I didn't think you had that. Believe it or not, I won
twice with that same hand yesterday. I don't always play it, but I'm surprised
it's winning so often. Maybe it's the hand of the month!" Laugh and have fun.
Think about how different this attitude is from one that makes your opponents
uncomfortable about playing poorly. When you ridicule opponents for poor play,
they play better in the future, because they don't want to suffer that same
ridicule again. So, what have you accomplished?

Also, think about how many extra weak calls you might win from this
opponent in the future, just because you've shown you won't be critical of bad
play and simply because he likes you!

That's right! Opponents will give you extra calls with borderline hands
simpy because they like you! But this will only happen if they also think that
you are not painful to lose to and that you gamble, too.

It seems ridiculous to have to point this stuff out, it's so obvious. But this criticism of bad players goes on all the freakin' time, and it takes money out of my pocket every time it happens. It takes money out of the pockets of those doing the ridiculing, too, but apparently they're too stupid to see that, or the sick pleasure they get out of verbally beating up on another player is worth more to them than the money they're losing.

I'll admit that I haven't reached a Caro-like ability to rejoice in being beaten by a combination of bad play and bad luck. I can't sound genuine congratulating somebody on pulling off a horrible suckout against me. But (1) I do manage to maintain a diplomatic silence, and (2) when I'm not the victim, I can throw in a supportive and sincere-sounding "Nice hand" or "Well played" to the lucky fish, thus trying to do my part to keep him or her in the game and playing exactly the same way in the future.

If I ran a poker room, berating another player for playing badly would be grounds for immediate expulsion from the room--no warnings, no second chances, no excuses. People are trainable; they can conform their behavior to what is required of them. If it becomes known that this penalty is swifly and uniformly enforced, players will behave themselves. As I wrote last year, even Phil Hellmuth proved that he can contain his venom when it has been made clear to him that the consequences of failure to do so will be real.

It falls on all of us who care about keeping the poker economy healthy and full of fish and new money coming in to be vigilant at stomping out the sort of behavior described in the AVP post. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but it's necessary. The few bad actors who scare away the weakest players seriously hurt us all, and we have to be diligent at making such detrimental conduct not tolerated for one second, anywhere, anytime, for any reason.


Michael said...

Great post, even as an ABC player, strictly level 1, I can tell you I won't even bother with many of the poker rooms, as I just don't want that headache on a trip if I make a bad play and win, or heck even make a good play and win. (which bad players tend to mimic the pros on TV for chatsizing).

Hell my father won't play blackjack in a casino anymore, based on people's belief that it's a table vs house mentality and getting chatsized for a play, (whether correct strategy or not). I'm sure it's harder for those playing daily, but truth is if you are going to play a community game with others, then behavior needs to be considered as much as possible.

We all get mad on bad beats, huge suckouts, and players seeming to win with no idea how to play, but it's part of the game. The only thing oneself can control is their own reaction.

gr7070 said...

I don't condone berating anyone.

I also don't condone nor would I ever advocate lying to someone in the hopes that I could take their money more easily.

I find both actions equally disgusting.

Win your money by playingyour cards better. If you want to jerk someone off there's another profession in Vegas for that.

gr7070 said...

Note, I'm referring to Caro's suggestions not the Grump's.

bastinptc said...

This, of course, assumes that all people are capable of civility. Some are just mouth-breathing angry-inchers just looking for an opportunity to blow up.

Cardgrrl said...

@gr7070: Poker frequently involves failing to accurately relate the current state of affairs, either through words or actions, with the intention of taking someone else's money. In some cases it is bluffing. In other cases it involves building a misleading table image or keeping somebody in the game who might otherwise leave.

The object of poker is to win other people's money while adhering to the rules and etiquette of the game. You may find yourself frequently disgusted at the table.

Anonymous said...

I am glad someone is addressing the problem. I play at a lot of Oklahoma Casinos, and every time someone berates a new or bad player, it makes me mad. I remember the 1st time I played, I was so intimidated if one person would of scolded me on bad play, I know I would of quit. They are just as bad if not worse online. I have seen a lot of past fish playing blackjack or slots most likely tired of being abused by other players. Some people are good at poker and have no common sense.

Keiser said...

I've been working on this very thing since living here in Vegas. When I was playing online I started typing "Nice hand, well played" when I lost a big hand, no matter how bad it was. I've been translating that to live play and just generally trying to not talk about my opponents much.

Occasionally on a *really* bad hand (1-2 outers on the river or runner runners) I will say "hey, nice hand, sir, well played, very well played" and while the words might look fine, say that out loud in a sarcastic voice and you'll hear how it comes out at the table. Sometimes I just can't help myself, but the good news is they probably don't catch the sarcasm if their play is that bad.

astrobel said...

I consider myself a very very friendly player, normally I get on well with most people at the table, chat, try to keep things "light". I do this not only because I think it's good for the game, it's in my nature and I enjoy myself as well.

However , I know I have to work on completely erasing any sort of sour comment after some fishy play takes away my chips. It does not make any sense, the best thing is to move on and concentrate on the next hand.

The Vegas Flea said...

"Also, talk to the offended player. Tell him or her something like, "Don't pay any attention to him. He's just mad because he lost. You did just fine.""

That's exactly what I do.