Take the power back

Take the power back

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Overcoming an attack of the hoodies in live poker

ByAlex 'Pickleman' Rousso.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about players ruining the live game by belittling and berating the bad players. Neil Channing was particularly vociferous in Vegas this year about this, writing a couple of blogs and starting a mini-campaign on Twitter that managed to get much of poker’s old guard animated on the subject.

There’s no question that in comparison with the heady days of the mid-noughties the fish tank is drier than it used to be. This might be because poker was a fad which is slowly passing. All those extra passengers who came along for the ride, spinning up their spare cash, are gradually disembarking and there aren’t the numbers of new players to continue the trend. Either that or we’ve skinned them so quickly that demand has outstripped supply.

One of the factors in that “supply” side is that poker is fun for the recreational players. These players burn their entertainment money in any number of ways. Poker essentially competes with restaurants, sports and other leisure activities for the punters’ money. The more fun poker is to them, the more value for money they get, and the more likely they are to spend it in our world. The Old School always knew this and they were accommodating to the point of being sinister where new blood was concerned.

As Channing rightly points out, it is a small number of the younger internet players who are scaring the customers out of the live game. That’s not to say that they are the only players guilty of misconduct. Certainly, poker has its fair share of grumpy old men who can make a day at the tables feel like a bit of a grind. However, it’s the young players who consider themselves professionals who are particularly a problem.

In contrast to the grumpy old men, it seems these players go out of their way to humiliate the money-losing players, which is a pretty stupid thing to do since it’s they who are paying their wages. Most of these abusive players are the “young, dumb and full of cum” archetype of twenty-somethings. They are desperate to prove themselves as good players, desperate to be part of the clique who know the in terms and in jokes, and desperate to alienate those who aren’t.

Most of these players want to feel like they belong. They spend hours alone in front of their screens, hoping to make money. They can and will go weeks on end where the empirical evidence makes them fear the contrary. As their parents, friends and perhaps inner voices are telling them, this entire project could be a waste of time. Being in the live arena is their time to prove themselves. How else would they do that apart from talking loudly about 4-bet ranges? How else would they achieve that other than joining in baiting the guy who 5x-ed it UTG? As in the playground, so on the poker table.

But describing the problem is only half the battle. We need to discuss what to do about it. So here are my tips for how to battle the “in” crowd if you’re an old git who’s just there for the laugh (or in Channing’s case, an old git who’s there to make money).

Stand up to them

It’s easy to feel castrated in a situation where you are outnumbered, but the comic books have it that if you stand up to bullies, they quickly back down. I read one of the best anecdotes on this subject in an old road gambler book. A rich guy busts from a table and, as he leaves, the young pros laugh at his play. He walks back and says, “I earn $300k a year and blow off a few thousand bucks just for fun. When I come back next year, you guys will still be sat here. Now who’s the loser?” The table fell silent.

Take the piss

The bravura is all about one-upmanship and picking on the little guy. They may think themselves big in this pond but the reality is that outside of their bubble nobody gives a shit. Make them realise that they are just another number. Take the piss out of their stupid hats. Take the piss out of their stupid hoodies. Take the piss out of their sunglasses. Sun’s really stong in here, isn’t it? What are you hiding from, kid? You guys must really know your 3-bet shove ranges (like that’s something in this world to be proud of...).

Play on their insecurities

The hubristic young man doesn’t exist only in poker. Viz. comic once described college kids as “talking loudly about philosophy by the cash machine”. Remember that they act this way out of insecurity. They got into poker because it gave them the opportunity to travel, make money and stick it to the man. Now they put in 12 hour days, sitting in an uncomfortable seat in a darkened room, next to the infernal noise of a slot machine. They are beginning to realise that with their intelligence and work ethic they could be putting in 12 hours a day in the city and earning twice what they are now with far less risk attached.

In ten years’ time the city boys will be earning twice that much again, while they will be earning the same as they are now, if they are lucky. Each year, they will be clinging on to that rising balloon, wondering what happens if they give up or go bust: a CV with a massive hiatus after university; dare they say how they filled that time? Remind them of this. Better still, do it subtly, slowly; in a piecemeal way. “So what will you guys do after poker?” should get the ball rolling nicely. Of course, with all their arrogance and bluster, they’ll have pat answers to these questions too, but keep chipping away and you’ll find a weakness before long.

Outgun them

The reason you feel cowed as they crow their way through another hand analysis is because there are more of them and they are talking louder than you. Take them on. If you really want to engage the alienated Texan businessman in seat 4 who’s looking miserable because he didn’t come here to talk range merges, then do so. In other words, play them at their own game. Ignore the hoodies and start a conversation with the guys you believe need humouring. If the hoodies talk over you, talk louder. It just takes a critical mass of good guys against bad, and then it’s them putting on their headphones and staring into their iPads, not you.

Tags: Strategy, Alex 'Pickleman' Rouso