How to spot a poker bastard

How to spot a poker bastard

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Bluff explores the dubious morals of the angle-shooter

We’re down to two tables of five at the EPT Grand Final 2011 and Ivan Freitez, a former Venezualen socialist revolutionary, no less, has an unlikely full house with 6-5 on a 5-3-K-5-6 board. [] Eugene Yanayt, with K-Q, has good reason to believe he has the best hand and value-bets accordingly. Freitez announces “raise” tossing in a call; then mumbles, unconvincingly, “No, sorry. I meant call.”

Confusion abounds. Obviously the rules state that the verbal declaration is binding and the raise must stand, except that no one quite believes Freitez’s trumpery performance.

“No speak English,” he offers lamely.

TD Thomas Kremser is called and he’s livid. “I believe this is a repetition of a situation earlier in the tournament,” he fumes, “where you did exactly the same thing and you had the nuts.”

According to the rules, Freitez is forced to min-raise but his opponent is warned of his previous shenanigans. Yanayt goes into the tank. Is Freitez angle-shooting again or had he made a genuine mistake? Ultimately, the pot odds prove too much for Yanyat and he makes the call. Everyone is thoroughly disgusted with the outcome. Perhaps they expected better from a socialist idealist.

Yanayt, however, is philosophical. “It’s a kind of tell,” he told Michelle Orpe afterwards. “He could have got more money out of me by making a normal raise.”

Ha! Joke’s on you, then, Freitez. Well, not really, coz he went on to win the whole thing for €1,500,000; proof that the nefarious really do prosper in this world.
Welcome, then, to the world of the angle-shooter. Forever bathed in a scuzzy half-light, these people inhabit the shades of grey between legal and illegal play – kinda like Luis Suarez – and will do anything to gain an edge and get your chips.

Moving forward…
Of course, as new angles develop, new rules are established to deal with them. Once upon a time, the string bet – a variation on Freitez’ sneaky verbal declaration – was a classic angle shoot; a simple way of pretending to call, spotting a reaction and then deciding to raise. Similarly, the “forward motion” move – to feign that you’re about to push your chips over the line in order to get a reaction – is now banned.

However, just because certain things are illegal doesn’t mean they’re easy enough to spot. For instance, watch out for players shorting the pot. Our writer Alex Rousso was recently surprised to see a well-known player and EPT winner “at it” at a recent WSOP tournament.

“I was sat to his right, and noticed that he was often shorting the pot, by some really negligible amounts – 25 chips here and there,” Alex tells us. “I kept seeing it out of the corner of my eye, and he even got picked up on it once by the dealer. He was profusely apologetic about it in his nice-guy way. I thought WTF? Like he would be shorting by such small amounts! So I resolved to keep an eye on him to be sure. Sure enough, within a few hands he was at it again. I stared at his call just to be certain, and he muttered under his breath to me, ‘Keep it quiet, yeah?’”

50 shades of grey

This behaviour is unequivocally illegal, but what about those grey areas so beloved of the angle-shooter? One of the most common, for example, is that a player might motion as if he were folding his hand to induce other players to fold theirs out of turn. A small thing, but shady behaviour, nonetheless.

Then there is the standard hiding of the large domination chip to encourage players to misread your stack and shove on you, although, as Rousso points out, “it’s normally noobs who do this” because you could only get away with it if people believed you were supremely naive.

Another example of sneaky behaviour is when a player intentionally miscalls his hand after all betting is done in the hope that his opponent will muck the better hand. After all, when the cards are in the muck they’re dead and by the time you realise you’ve been duped it’s too late. Pretty skanky, eh?


A similar situation occurred in a hand between Tobias Reinkemeier and Roland De Wolfe at the EPT Barcelona in 2009. After betting the river and getting called by his opponent, De Wolfe sheepishly shows king-high, exposing just the king. Reinkemeier appears to indicate he beats the hand and waits for De Wolfe to muck, presumably arguing that, as he called De Wolfe, De Wolfe must either show both cards or fold (although the audio is unclear at this point). Roland kind of semi-folds and the dealer kind of grabs his cards, at which point Reinkemeier reveals his queen-high. The TD rules in Reinkemeier’s favour. De Wolfe is furious and Reinkemeier is just a little too pleased for his own good.

We asked Neil Channing about things people get up to at the tables that piss him off. “Encouraging everyone to straddle and then getting up and having a walk around when it's your turn to straddle is pretty bad,” frowns Neil.

Or another: “When asked how much you are playing to simply lie. Go higher if you don't want to price them in, lower if you do. I reckon it’s cheating.”

Channing warms to his theme: “Taking a long time to move to your new table so you miss the big blind. That is just cheating to me.”

We have to admit, however, that it’s hard to agree on the definition of an angle. What’s downright bad etiquette to some is pure cunning to others. After all, poker is a game of multiple layers of deception and, hey, it’s dog eat dog out there. Certainly, there are some things that some people may consider shady that Channing thinks are OK.

“Timing the end of the level by dwelling up or playing fast so that you get the button on the first hand of a new level – I don't have a problem with that,” he says. “I consider it a tactic. Or noticing the table is breaking soon and playing slow for a few hands so you don’t get the blind again before it breaks. I don't mind that. It rewards people who are alert.”

No peeking 

“I’m all-in!” says Tony G at the PokerStars Big Game.
“Without looking?” asks Phil Hellmuth.
“Without looking,” confirms Tony.

Except he has looked, the tricky little swine; the cameras confirm it. What’s more, he’s woken up with A-K after double-straddling, and Phil, on the big blind with A-J, has raised pot. Phil eventually calls only to realise the horrible truth. “I can’t believe you lied,” says a surprisingly restrained Phil Hellmuth. “That’s poor etiquette, man.”

“Of course I lied! This is poker!” exclaims Tony, gleefully. A horrible argument ensues.

But, of course, Tony has got straight to the heart of the matter. Poker is about lying. Was this move an angle-shoot or just a clever means of exploiting a situation and inducing a call? It’s certainly kinda entertaining, but maybe that’s just because Phil Hellmuth was on the receiving end. Would it be so funny if some poor amateur was getting rinsed for thousands of dollars here?

We went to our moral compass, Paul Jackson, for the answer. “What I hate most is people who behave in an inherently dishonest and dishonourable way without solicitation,” he told us. “Even worse when it’s a friend as they are using their friendship as a weapon, where they say things like, ‘You know I wouldn’t put a move on you,’ or ‘You know I’m not at it!’ and they are actually bluffing. They are choosing to say this when their opponent has not said anything that requires a response.

“Just because it is poker and deception is often used it doesn’t mean that unsolicited, overt dishonesty is acceptable, even though it can sometimes be a sketchy line between the two. There’s a big difference in the nature of a person who answers a leading question with a lie as compared to one who voluntarily chooses to engage in an unsolicited lie.”

So, there you have it. Life is about treating others as you would have them treat you. So remember to play nicely, and if we catch you pulling any of these moves, we’ll get you in the car park.

Tags: feature, Ivan Freitez, Phil Hellmuth, Tony G, Roland de Wolfe, Tobias Reinkemeier