The live poker fouls at the table that drive some of us insane
He was tanking again. I hate calling the clock, but he tanks all the time. It had been about a minute and 45 seconds. I decided if it got to three minutes I was doing it. He looked tortured with his decision. I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. There were some hands he could have that would make this a weird spot. He had 28 big blinds, and the under the gun player had moved in for 15BB. The hijack moved in for just two more than under the gun. The tanker was in the cutoff. It’s a weird spot with 99, I thought. Maybe he had 99 and really had to think it through. Maybe even 1010 or JJ. Fair enough. I decided to push my clock calling back to 3:30 into the tank.
I ended up not having to worry about it when he folded at about 2:30. Under the gun turned over AQ of clubs and the hijack turned over two black tens. Good fold if he had 99, I thought. The flop came 9h,2c,Qs. The turn was the 10 of hearts – ending the tournament of the under the gun player. The river was an irrelevant ace, and the loser of the hand glumly got up from the table and left.
I wasn’t upset with the tanker. He probably had a tough decision and made a good fold. My magnanimous nature quickly faded when the tanker pointed at the board and said “I had seven eight of hearts. Look at that turn card!” Seven eight of hearts. What the hell? There was no time within the 2:30 of tanking that this guy was even considering calling. He was just tanking to tank. Just wasting time. Maybe he thought it could somehow help him as an overall strategy to tank ALL the time, because this guy tanks ALL the time. I don’t really see how, especially in a situation like this. I was not happy.
What the tanker did is not a technical violation of the rules. It was just meaningless, and it wasted everyone’s time. It was a pretty severe LPF, or Live Poker Foul. This post will explore all different kinds of LPFs, from examples as bad as this to minor infractions that are simply annoyances. This post will also make me look like a curmudgeonly scrooge (which may have some validity). Well, we might as well start with the one just outlined:
The Unnecessary Tank
As exemplified above, this action only serves to waste time and infuriate your more observant opponents. Here’s the thing – if you are one of these constant tankers, the better players are going to know you are doing it meaninglessly most of the time. Nobody has that many tough decisions.
There are some times that a player can tank when they are considering nothing other than folding and it makes sense. For example, a player who opens a weak hand and gets 3bet by an active 3bettor. The opener may tank to discourage the 3bettor from aggression in future hands. I don’t personally believe this is worth it, but I can understand the reasoning. Anything close to the 78 of hearts example above, however, is a completely unacceptable LPF.
Blaming the Dealer
Phil Hellmuth does it all the time. If you want a fun example, check out this hand. Blaming the dealer blurs the line between LPF and actual violation, because if the player becomes abusive enough the floor may enforce a penalty.
There are a couple of problems with blaming the dealer. First, and most important, the dealer has essentially nothing to do with the cards you or your opponent get. There is no magic that makes it so one dealer is worse luck for you than another. It’s all random. It’s all variance. Even if one dealer shuffles differently from another, that shuffle does not favor any one player at the table. Everyone has an equal shot at the bad end of variance.
Second, and actually probably most important instead of that first thing, the dealer is a real person. When you blame the dealer for bad luck you look like the jerk in the restaurant yelling at your waiter. The dealer didn’t mean to give you the bad end of it, although he may be happy he did once you start whining. Dealers have to handle tons of crap from players. It’s a mostly thankless job, because everyone sits down expecting to win (and not expecting to credit the dealer for winning), so don’t add to the crap pile.
Thinking you are the most card dead person ever
This often ties into blaming the dealer. If you play frequently and there are regulars where you play, you can probably think of at least a few who are consistently guilty of this LPF. There are generally two categories of these violators: Angry and Jokey.
The Angry Card Dead Guy doesn’t have much patience. The tournament started six minutes ago, and it’s the 5th hand. He gets his cards and looks before his action. It’s clear to everybody paying attention that he’s definitely going to fold, and he’s ANGRY about it. How is it possible that he has been dealt five entire hands without getting AA? Finally, it’s his turn. He gets to show everyone how CRAZY BAD his luck is. He violently folds with a scowl on his face, probably exposing at least one of his cards as he clumsily chucks them toward the dealer. If this guy doesn’t get a string of premium hands soon, every hand will begin with an intentionally heavy sigh and his visible rage as he folds further and further out of turn. Although this might be a crazy-annoying and stupid LPF, it may be profitable to have one of these guys at your table. If you’re lucky, he might not get AA for an entire hour (insane, right?) and end up 3-bet shoving 50 BB hand after hand.
The Jokey Card Dead Guy isn’t as bad as the angry one, but he can get pretty annoying. You will commonly hear this guy talking up the dealer, saying something akin to, “Well, at least you’re giving me easy decisions.” He will probably have some fake smile plastered on his face as he says it. Other phrases you may hear him utter include: “A set? I would settle for a pair” and (when someone else shows down AA) “That must be nice. I wish I knew what it was like to have a hand like that.” This guy is a likely offender of the Old Joke LPF as well. Although he may be marginally good natured during a lot of these little incidents, if he doesn’t start picking up hands eventually he may switch over to Angry Card Dead Guy mode.
The Old Joke
Old poker jokes are being told constantly at the table. Problem is, everyone who has played even a little bit has already heard them, and they usually aren’t very funny. The old joke is made worse when the teller seems to be conveying that it is original, or expecting that nobody has heard it before. That’s plagiarism, buddy.
- Player A turns over KJ for top pair. Player B turns over KJ for the same hand. Player A says “You play that crap?”
- Player A goes all in, Player B calls. Player A has AK suited, player B has AK unsuited. Player B says “I have 2 flush draws.”
- The board is KJJ94. A player turns over K9 and says “I have 3 pair.” Related to “3 pair doesn’t beat a flush?”
- After the river: “Can we see an ocean?”
- “There are 3 ways to play pocket jacks, and they’re all wrong.”
- Player A goes all in. Player B calls. Player A shows AK, player B shows 1010. Flop AAK, turn 3, river A. Observer, “At what point did you like your hand?”
- “Im all…out” (ugh, I really want to quit poker when people say this)
The Old Joke is a pretty minor LPF, yet if one guy tells enough of them he may begin to get on some people’s nerves. Like mine.
Telling a bad beat story after someone else takes a bad beat
Let me be clear: telling a bad beat story in any situation is unacceptable unless someone explicitly asks you to. “Telling a bad beat story” could be an entire article about one LPF, so instead I am going to focus on it’s most depraved subcategory.
Here’s a fun scenario: You just got 50 blinds in pre flop with AA. You were against AK. The flop is K high, the turn a blank, and the river a K. You are now a short stack. You are watching your chips get pushed to the now big stacked player who just beat you with a 7% hand. This is not the time that you want to hear somebody else’s unrelated bad beat story.
There are three categories of stories that spring out of this situation. The first is when the storyteller relates to the current bad beat recipient. In the scenario above, the storyteller may say, “I just lost with AA to AK last week. blah blah blah…” The second, and somehow even more annoying, is when the storyteller just tells the most recent bad beat story from his life. He might say, “Well, last night a guy beat my JJ with 55!” Or, if he’s the worst of offenders, he will tell the not bad beat-bad beat story, “Last night I had QQ and this guy called a pre-flop all in with AK! And of course he hit an ace on the river.”
When a player tells a bad beat story it often comes off as him saying he has particularly bad luck. When he does it immediately after another player takes a bad beat, it is as if he is saying, “Whatever, I’m less lucky.” The worst part is not that the story was completely unsolicited. It’s that they storyteller decided to take the time when someone else at the table is justifiably unhappy and turn it into his own public, self important pity party.
It can be argued that any celebrating in poker is over celebrating. This section, however, is about when the celebration is clearly disproportionate to the situation. Here are just a couple examples of the multitude of over celebration types that exist.
The goofiest type is the celebratory fist pump. Nobody looks good fist pumping. George Clooney would look like a heap of garbage if he fist pumped at a poker table. I’ve seen a guy fist pump so hard that his momentum carried him out of his chair. He made some sort of noise at the same time that had no meaning, but was very loud. What had just happened? Did he win the WSOP Main Event? Nope. He won a standard all in pre-flop race when his 88 held against AQ for an 18 big blind pot. Half the field was still left.
Although the fist pump is obnoxious buffoonery, it doesn’t compare to the worst version of over celebration, which I will call “How Dare You Angry Talking”. To explain what I mean by this I’ll use athletes as an example. You know when you’re watching football and some special teams guy tackles the kick returner, then gets up and screams angrily and gets in his opponent’s face as if to say, “How dare you play football against me?! That is insulting to me!”? It’s like that, but poker. Example: Player A has just bet the river. Player B calls. Player A was bluffing. Player B wins. Player B makes some sort of grunt and twists his mouth angrily, spitting out some words like “SHIP IT”, “THAT’S RIGHT” or “DAMN STRAIGHT.” There may even be an angry fist pump involved. It is clear throughout the process that Player B is offended Player A would consider bluffing him. What an insult!
Forcing conversation about a recent tournament you did well in
This one really gets me. Here’s the thing about your recent minor tournament success, nobody wants to hear about it. Sure, tell your close friends and allies. Let them know what you did right and what went right. Maybe it can be a good communal learning experience. Don’t tell the guy that you vaguely recognize sitting at the table next to you. He doesn’t care at all.
The worst version of FCARTYDWI (good acronym, right?) goes something like this:
Guy who won tournament for 600$ last night: “Hey, how did you end up last night?”
Guy who doesn’t care: “Oh, you know, things didn’t go exactly my way.”
Guy who won tournament for 600$ last night: “Oh. I did pretty well… I guess I didn’t see you there at the end. When I was still there. It went pretty late. I’m actually pretty tired.”
Guy who doesn’t care: “uh huh.”
Guy who won tournament for 600$ last night: “I ended up winning it.”
Guy who doesn’t care:”…uh, congratulations. Good job and stuff.” (secretly begins hating Guy who won tournament for 600$ last night)
The Fundamental Attribution Error
The Fundamental Attribution Error is a psychological principle that applies to many things, but poker is a great stage for it to shine. The basis of it has to do with whether a person attributes an event or situation to external or internal forces (psychologically described as internal or external “locus of control”). For example, if there is a serious car crash that the driver would not usually survive but does, how does the driver explain this? One attributing their fortune to external forces may say something like “God must have been watching over me,” while one attributing it to internal forces may say, “I have a strong will to survive.”
The Fundamental Attribution Error occurs when a person consistently misjudges the true locus of control. If every time something good happens a person thinks “I did that, good job me,” and every time something bad happens they think, “That is so unlucky, there was nothing different I could do,” they are committing the Fundamental Attribution Error. I’m sure you can see how this applies to poker. When Player A runs deep and does well in a tournament, they played well. When they don’t it’s because they were unlucky. And you are going to hear about it.
To be fair, everyone who plays poker is at least a little bit guilty of the fundamental attribution error, it’s almost impossible not to be. It’s the players who are so consistently (and loudly) guilty of it that are committing the LPF. These are the same people who say they only win with AA half the time and never win with JJ. They tend to be a little more ready to brag when they have had a recent good result and more likely to complain when they don’t win a hand for a while. In fact, this category is probably the most likely to coincide with other common LPFs.
Ok, so that article certainly did serve the function of making me seem like a curmudgeonly scrooge. Still, live poker would be a lot more enjoyable if none of the above mentioned categories were as pervasive. I definitely didn’t cover all of the LPFs that exist (but maybe a part 2 will come around eventually).
Anyway, before I go, I gotta tell you about this bad beat I took. I mean, I had been so card dead and the dealer was giving everyone else great hands……
Thanks to Jonathan Levy for helpful contributions.