Don’t Tap the Glass
Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Jeff KImber on fish.
Ever sat in a cash game and heard someone slagging off the fish? Jeff Kimber has and he’s here to tell you why it’s an issue and how you can fix it.
Cash games for dough and tournaments for show, or so the saying goes. It used to be the case that cash games were the last bastion of hope for the sickos who had busted every tournament at a festival. It was the only way you could stay in the game while your mates grinded away and try to recoup some of your losses. However, these days it the case that every cash game at a live festival will have live pros who are vastly experienced at relieving others of their hard earned.
Through a combination of cash game players migrating to the tournament world, and MTT-ers dipping their toes into cash games, certain skills that were once reserved for cash games are now common in tournaments. In fact, the current trend in tournaments is to call raises from the big blind, play out of position and be comfortable post-flop. Of course, this has been going on forever in cash games while tournament players were still folding every big blind.
The Missing Link for Tournament Players
Somehow, however, while these sorts of skills have passed from cash game tables to tournaments around the world, there is something many MTT pros have still yet to learn from cash games: how to treat the table fish. Now I’m not referring to beating them out of their cash as the fish usually manage to give that away whatever the circumstances. What I am referring to, however, is how they are treated emotionally at the table. Basically, what I want to look at is how some tournament players make the fish feel and whether or not they are really making them feel like they’re having fun so that they continue to come back and donate.
To make things clear, a lot of these so-called “fish” are simply guys who enjoy playing poker as a hobby and they are happy that it costs them money in the same way that pastimes such as golf and fishing would. I spend 90% of my time in the live arena playing tournaments and would agree with the general feeling that poker players are pretty socially inept individuals. It only really hit home recently when I busted a tourney in record quick time (I got unlucky, I’ll tell you the bad beat story some time if you like) and had nothing better to do than sit in the cash game.
Ways to Increase the Size of Small Edges
Poker is a game built around small edges and any time you find someone who isn’t quite as good as you, it’s probably worth trying to keep them playing badly for as long as possible. Cash game grinders get this. If a guy in the game isn’t very good at poker, they’re extra nice to him; they make him comfortable and make sure he has a good time. If they does this then, hopefully, when he’s inevitably done his money, he’ll feel like pulling up again or coming back another time.
The £2/£5 game I found myself in after my tournament demise had a quiet start, but when an older guy came and sat one to my left, it became obvious he was the kind of player every cash game needs. Well dressed and ordering double Belvedere vodkas every time a waitress came within shouting distance, this guy would play hands blind, 10x it pre-flop and make massive bluffs just so he could show them. Basically, he was the definition of ‘good for the game’. Naturally, the game quickly filled up and one of the cash game regs I know who lives locally walked past; obviously looking to get into the now full game.
Can I Buy You a Drink?
It just so happened the waitresses were thin on the ground as our hero’s glass got dangerously close to being half empty, so he asked the passing pro, who he obviously knew, if he could see a waitress anywhere. “No, but I’ll go the bar for you if you want, what you having?” came the reply. “Nice one, double vodka for me, get yourself one too,” he said, handing over £20. “That’s ok, I’m not drinking tonight thanks,” the pro replied before he tottered off to the bar to get the guy a drink.
Later that night the same pro managed to get into the game and continued his charm offensive as the fish continued doing his money round the table.“How’s your business, still doing well?”
“You got the Christmas do booked for your staff? I remember you saying how good it was last year.”
“Still supporting Manchester United? Not got yourself a proper team yet?” The complimentary chat was incessant, as was the amount of pots the two played, which for the most part went all the way of the pro. There was one pot where the fish managed to make quads after calling a raise blind with pocket deuces. However, even after losing that one, it was no sweat to the pro who quietly said “nice hand” and “well played” just to make sure the friendly atmosphere continued.
A Small Blip but It’s All Good
As seems inevitable, once I’ve spotted one of these rich businessmen who seems to be giving it away, I lost most of my stack to him after he three-bet me with 8-9 offsuit and found an A-7-6 flop I thought my A-Q liked. Sadly the harmless looking 5 on the turn cost me plenty, but it all came back the next hand we played; as did a healthy bit more after I continually checked to him with my value hands and waited to call the inevitable big bet. Basically, he was such a nice guy that he let you know his hand by the river and told you to fold when he had it; in fact I’d have considered folding a house when he had the quads, so sure was I that he had the nuts.
However, it’s not just about behaving in a polite and friendly way to the fish, it’s also about making sure the game as a whole is fun and played in a good spirit. A fish doesn’t want to sit and play poker at a quiet, unfriendly table; even if people are being nice to him. These players aren’t stupid - which is why they can afford to lose at poker without it having any impact on their life as a whole - so they soon realise when they’re being set up as the mark. As it transpired, our game got livelier and those not having a drink were soon persuaded to get on it. Noticeably the cash game pro and his pal, who obviously both frequented this game regularly, ordered the fish another double vodka without even asking him.
Naturally, a couple of hands later a big pot had brewed pre-flop and the fish was now left to decide if he wanted to call off his whole stack on the flop. As he pondered his options, he lamented with a knowing sigh: “I don’t know why I play with you two; you pound on me every single night.” The reply, delivered while flashing the aces and a cheeky smile, was perfect. .”Not every night...you don’t come in on Thursdays!” With that, more drinks were ordered, the fish pulled up some more money and the game continued in the spirit of what felt almost like a home game. Maybe that’s the problem: keeping the fish happy probably doesn’t offer any direct benefit to the tournament player at that time or, possibly, ever.
It’s Not Rocket Science
However, the cash grinders know that even if they do their money on Friday night, the chances of the fish being at the same table on Saturday night are high if they behave with some decorum. The tournament player, perhaps playing in a foreign casino with players he’s never seen before, sees no harm in telling the fish how badly they play and what they should have done. In their world, this kind of thinking might be ok because it only affects that one person at one table in one tournament. However, in a general sense, this attitude is terrible for poker and every tournament player should take a long hard look at the way they behave not just in cash games, but in poker generally.
It’s not rocket science: think about how you’d be in any other walk of life where a guy is new to your line of work. New guys don’t know how things work - when the breaks are, where the bathrooms are, how to bag and tag at the end of the day - so be ready to step in with a helping hand. Think back to when you first started playing poker and how daunting it is to not know what’s going on while all around you seem to be experts. One bad experience at that stage and you might never have gone back for a second crack.
My advice: throw in the odd compliment when they win a hand, even if they’ve done nothing special. If you know they’ve won a seat online, ask if they bought in direct and them something to brag about while also suggesting that you think they’re good enough to be buying into events of this size. During a boom the poker economy looks after itself. Go back five or six years and we had plenty of satellite qualifiers providing value in every event. As you’ll be aware, times subsequently got tougher, but the economy as a whole has since improved and more businessmen-types are starting to take days off from their jobs to play some cards instead. While this is great, it could easily change again and that’s something none of us want.
Let’s Keep Poker Friendly and Profitable
Now it’s up to all of us to make sure the poker economy remains healthy. People are going to get lucky, especially inexperienced or bad players, because they put their money in behind more often.
Berating them about their play doesn’t work, so don’t bother. Even if you’re not bothered about the game as a whole or whether or not the fish enjoys their time at the table, revealing your inner emotions and giving away that you’ve noted how bad a certain player is will only hinder you when you try to get those chips back.
Being nice costs nothing and should be the default setting for all of us. However, even if it isn’t, bite that tongue and keep your outburst to yourself. It’s better for you, it’s better for the atmosphere at the table and better it’s better for poker in general.