Sunday, 12 July 2009
What is acceptable to say when you are on the battlefield of a poker table and what is not? Paul Jackson discusses.
What is acceptable to say when you are on the battlefield of a poker table and what is not? Well, what follows may come across as the ranting of a rabid baboon, but it’s just a measure of the loathing I have for dishonourable behaviour and how such behaviour is often unreasonably associated with poker players in general. Scumbags are scumbags wherever they are and whatever they do, but when they act badly at a poker table, observers seem to tarnish us all with the same brush.
Granted, the game of poker is a psychological war and, in the UK at least, I think “verbal” is restricted to a ridiculous extent so as to safeguard those poor, weak-minded individuals that cannot tolerate the heat of proper battle. Obviously verbal abuse and intimidation are entirely inappropriate but the game of poker is a battle of minds as well as cards and the way the mental side of things has been restricted goes too far.
My personal view is that, excluding intimidation and abuse, you ought to be able to say virtually what you like, but your personal honour and integrity should restrict the words you use.
Now, I particularly dislike liars and this extends to those who tell lies at the poker table. Sure, if someone asks you a direct question about your hand, then lying (though I would not do it myself) is acceptable, I guess, as you obviously wish to avoid disadvantaging yourself. But to offer an unsolicited lie is, in my opinion, an indication that you are a low life scumbag who should not be trusted, period.
I often hear players saying things like, “Don’t expect a poker player to tell the truth,” and this is reasonable; however there is a difference between misrepresenting the truth and just plain lying. Misrepresentation is an integral part of poker, while lying is just something that scumbags do in order to advance their own agenda, whether at a poker table or in any other part of life.
It has been said that you can get a good idea of a person’s nature by how he behaves at a poker table and this is a fine example. In a recent cash game, a player made a bet, and while a personal friend of his was about to make a call, he all but told him to fold because he had aces and he did not want to take his money, although he actually had ace-high. The important thing here is that he was using his personal friendship as a weapon to further his own financial position.
I left shortly afterwards and was later told that this guy ultimately lost his money and, after borrowing more off another friend (I guess he uses that word quite lightly), again managed to get into a significant pot with that person.
This time he actually told his opponent that he had two pairs in order to discourage him from calling his significant bet. His “friend” folded top pair, top kicker but, as the villain tried to muck his cards, the dealer accidently exposed them to reveal a missed gutshot.
This is not part of poker; this is lowlife scamming. Neither is it part of verbal sparring or banter. He was quite fortunate that this did not happen 15 years ago when poker was a lot less mainstream and there was a much higher proportion of, shall we say, “people who don’t vote or pay income tax”. Had it been, he may well have had difficulty in getting back to his vehicle without using his hands and knees.
Back to the question of what is acceptable. The cardroom staff of any poker environment should be there to ensure fair play and to keep players informed. If the local rules of any given establishment differ from the norm (and I appreciate that “the norm” is not always easily identifiable), then it’s the venue’s responsibility to make the local rules clear to poker players from outside its usual clientele. It’s not the responsibility of the players to locate a raggy piece of paper on a wall written in small print so they know what they can and can’t do.
So, if we establish that all players are aware of what is required of them and what is not deemed acceptable in the venue they have chosen to go to, they cannot complain if a rule they feel is unfair adversely affects them.
In a recent GUKPT, a player, when facing an opponent about to make a bet said, unsolicited, “If you bet I will call.”
The player about to bet was made aware that such a verbal statement was binding and moved all-in, with, I think, the nuts, and his opponent was then forced to call. He was apparently unaware how binding his verbal was and, in the overall context of the situation, you can understand him being unhappy about this, although the rules were available (on a raggy piece of paper in small print in a corner somewhere). However, his verbal was completely unsolicited and rather foolish in retrospect.
Later than same day, however, a player who was at this table when this ruling was made did the exact same thing and, for some reason, felt aggrieved that the very same rule had been applied. My view on that would be if you insist on acting like that much of a donkey you probably deserve to be lashed on the arse on Blackpool Pleasure Beach.