Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Table Conduct

In a small attempt to periodically update this space with something other than infrequent (and probably rather boring) bankroll or tournament updates -- and maybe more importantly to move beyond the plateau to some sort of growth -- I'm going to attempt to throw up a few things on more general strategy and thinking. Below is the first of these posts.

Somewhere along the line I picked up a little quote that should be every players guide to conducting themselves appropriately at the table:
Win with grace, lose with dignity, and never ever tell a sucker what he's doing wrong.
Let's examine the three parts of this.

Win with grace

Winning with grace is probably the easiest to achieve of the three parts for most players. We win a hand or a tournament or a race situation... We're pleased... We're in a good mood. Typically people with such a mood are naturally gracious to those around them. We may shrug our shoulders to our losing opponent, or offer some condolence if we won via a bad beat or even-money situation. The hand-shake is frequently seen as a way to soothe egos and establish that we, the winner, aren't somehow gloating over our (perceived) dominance of the other player.

Being a gracious winner is really the only way to be a respected winner, and achieving that status in other player's minds is simply put, good business for future encounters at the table. (And often just as importantly, away from the table.)

Personally, I think I do pretty well with this. By nature, I am an empathetic person, and tend to be quite cordial when I'm in a good mood - when hands are holding up - when I'm making good decisions - when the game is running as it is "supposed" to run.

But there are still paths available to slipping from being a gracious winner. Perhaps a (losing) opponent will insult your play. Sometimes, prior history with an opponent may incline you to gloat or insult. The "there, moron, take that" sentiment can be quite strong. This kind of gloating behavior belies an attitude that is completely counter-productive in poker: it's as if you are seeking out confrontation to prove your mastery, when the more appropriate approach often is to avoid confrontation... to tip-toe around it... to stop when your opponent "goes"... to zig when they zag. Simply put: It reveals that your ego is involved.

Poker is definitely not the game for someone who derives pleasure in adding insult to injury.

Lose with dignity

Yeah, this is the tough one. The second-bests keep coming in an unbroken chain. The 9 and 4 and 2 outers cripple us. Every raise we make is hijacked from behind with a re-raise. 80/20 situations feel like races, and races feel like domination.

I don't need to say much about why players struggle with losing in a dignified manner - every player knows these emotions all too well. Some will whine and complain - some will hurl insults and passive-aggressive remarks.

Personally, I can be horrible in this arena. I'm a naturally animated person (which is obviously a formidable handicap as a poker player). A coolly-intended statement can take on the feel of an exclamation when you're inclined to be so animated. Often there is a disconnect between how I actually feel about a beat or a loss, and how what happens after is displayed or perceived by others. I may be "okay" with the result, but something said intended as a tension-relieving joke may be seen as bitterness. An innocently-begun postmortem may end up looking like whining or anything else other players don't want to hear.

Perhaps the best I've ever done was leaving the room entirely after a particularly bad beat. While this may not be necessary, and may in itself be somewhat of a surrender of your dignity (the little baby can't take it so he runs off to cry), it's far superior to a lot of other things that can happen after a loss. Ideally, and most appropriately for players who share my problems detailed above, silence may be the best option.

So why be dignified when losing? Simply put: people like watching train wrecks. We all secretly love seeing others in distressed situations. We take delight in seeing a player lose his cool, if for no other reason than he might rebuy and fuel the game with tilt. He's not thinking clearly and coolly, he's putting blood in the water and chips in the pot. In a game where skill can take a painfully long time to dominate luck, perhaps the only real domination we can accomplish in the short-term is to get another player frustrated and off his game.

And here's the point: the more a player tends to become an undignified loser, the more others at the table want to see him lose. Your ego is on your sleeve and good players will recognize this as the sign of a target.
You will be seen as a likely source of profit. They'll take shots against you they might not take if you were more respected, seek out your weaknesses, and then pick them apart, while they likely leave other, quieter, players alone.

(Side note: don't even think that you can get more action by acting like an ass. I've yet to see a player who can pull this off to the desired effect.)

Never ever tell a sucker what he's doing wrong

As a long-time player, I've "been around the block" I think. I've seen and played in a lot of different games, and one of the worst things that can happen to a game (and it always does if the game goes on long enough) is that the dead-money players which fuel the game and give us a profit will inevitably leave. Hopefully they leave broke, but for one reason or another, they always leave.

Why would you encourage them to do so? Telling someone what they are doing wrong is not only the sure sign of someone with an ego that needs propping up, it's a sure way to discourage a poor player from continuing to be a poor player. He might leave, or he might correct his errors, but either way, the driving force of the game has left the table. Poor players not only directly fuel the game, but they indirectly often run good players that you might normally struggle to beat, right into your monster hands. Simply, they encourage and drive action.

The most common form of this error occurs when a poor player plays poorly and is rewarded for his efforts. The loser's superiority has not manifested itself in the end result of the hand, and he will feel the need to exert this superiority in some other way. Thus, he tells the sucker what he's doing wrong.

Perhaps the most glaring form of this error is missing the fact that different people play poker for widely-varying reasons, and for some of them, it is purely for fun. Now, if you are ultimately going to profit from their fun, and they are going to have a good time, what does pointing out their poor play accomplish? Likely feeling insulted... perhaps even beginning to feel like an "outsider" at the table, they are not likely to be enjoying the experience, and when they leave or alter their play, you're no longer profiting: everyone has lost exactly what they came to the game for.

In conclusion

Analogous to "Win with grace, lose with dignity, and never ever tell a sucker what he's doing wrong", is the similarly-minded quote "Never complain, never explain." By never complaining and never explaining at the table, you're likely to be a gracious winner and a dignified loser. I have to assume that these things will aid your game, if the majority of other technical aspects of play are in place and you feel that you are at a plateau.

14 Comments:

At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Bet365 Poker Pro said...

Ok, can someone tell me whatthe bestway to deal with some idiot that can't help but laugh at all those he wins from at the table??

Have been playing online at Bet365 for a short while now and there's some fool that is really pissing me off whenever he wins. Any ideas on how to get one up on him- besides from winning it all back from him??

Any quick way of ensuring he loses it all to me...?? :-(

 
At 6:52 AM, Anonymous Blackpool Club Poker Player said...

Very well put! I agree with your logic that this will ensure the poor players continue playing, but it also ensures that everyone has a good time. I know that sounds naive, after all, who cares about making it a good time? However, I cannot stand playing poker at the same table with someone who is a jerk (unless of course I am there for the soul purpose of cleaning them out). If you have a rough loss, get over it! And if you win you should make sure the other players are still smiling so that you will have more opportunities to take their money.

 
At 2:45 AM, Anonymous Uk Poker Player said...

I enjoyed your post about Table Conduct. I too find it very hard to be a good loser at times... If I know my odds don't look good at the table, I start to watch the reactions of those that are going to win... Some players will giveaway the fact their going to win or that they have a good hand... Come next game, it's easier to tell if they're bluffing about having a great hand because you know the signs.

 
At 2:38 AM, Anonymous UK Poker Pro said...

Hey - I noticed you haven't posted on your blog in a while. Just wondering if you've moved sites? I enjoyed your earlier writings, so just wanted to check in!

 
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At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Betfair Poker King said...

Wow. You can get a huge AMEN from me and I'm sure many others for this post. Poker etiquette is huge, and as a matter of fact, I just respectfully bowed out of a friend's weekly game because of the behavior of another guy that comes through. Even if it is all about the money to you, at least make an effort to ACT like you're having a good time, right? *shakes head*. some people...

 
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Proper conduct makes a complete enjoyment of playing poker. Dont be a jerk, its not profitable.

 
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