I was dealing cards again this weekend, it’s becoming a bit of a habit, I think I must enjoy it.
I’m still not the best dealer in the world, as detailed in this blog post, but I made slightly fewer errors and managed to keep my opinions about lame 3bets to myself. I am growing.
What I did not manage to do was become a fucking psychic, and I obviously need this skill, because the fashion in live poker appears to be to keep one’s intended action a secret.
I put it to you that one element of modern live poker needs to be eliminated, and that is: The Imperceptible Check.
This weekend, I was dealing at a table where 8/9 players were Imperceptible Checkers, and it was mind-breakingly annoying.
I exclude one player from this, known as The Hooded Donkey. He’s an experienced live player, as cool as polar bear flange, and he still manages to clearly state every action before he makes it. No player, or dealer, will ever be in doubt as to what his intended action is. He never tries to angle shoot, he never tries to “look the part”, he just plays his game and lets his bets talk. Brilliant.
The rest of the players at that table were a sharp pain in my arse for the entire two hours I was on there, because none of them seemed to want to openly admit that they intended to check.
At this table I had 2 Head-Nodders, 3 Finger-Twitchers, 2 Hand-Wobblers, and a Jumper, and this is a very high number of Imperceptible Checkers to have at one table.
The Head-Nodders are difficult because people nod their heads all the time without realising it, and if they’re using it for “check”, I need to know that they actually realise they’re doing it.
If I know I have a Head-Nodder, then I have to make sure I’m watching every head and hand movement, which is really hard if they’re in seat 1/2 or seat 9/10.
Years of dealing has taught me to always confirm the “check” action with a Head-Nodder, because as soon as I think I’ve nailed their specific “check” head-nod, and therefore don’t confirm it, is the second they’ll angle-shoot.
Every time a player uses a tiny nod for “check” I have to slow down the game and ask “is that a check?” and make them say “yes”, so there’s no fuck-ups. That’s assuming I see it, and we don’t all sit there for 20 seconds until I prod them for action and they snap “I’VE CHECKED!” and I say “I’m sorry, my bad”, (although that’s not what I think).
A Finger-Twitcher is easier, because if I miss it, but am looking at them, they will usually look at me like I am an idiot, at which point I can then say “action on you” and they can say “I’ve already checked, you idiot, I did it by twitching my finger one millimetre off the baize whilst apparently staring at the telly and trying to look cool. Maybe I’m so fucking cool the muscles in my hand have iced over, who knows?”
I prefer Finger-Twitchers to Head-Nodders, because after dealing to them for 10 minutes, I know they are Twitchers and can stare at their hands and just snap repeat the action. However, this tactic becomes redundant if I have 3 Twitchers in a row, because I can’t wide-angle lens my vision. If they all check quickly and imperceptibly, then I will have to slow down, again, to ask “have you checked?” and be looked at like an idiot, again.
The Hand-Wobblers put me properly on life-tilt. A hand-wobble is as hard to see as a finger-twitch, but also has the unconscious frequency of a head-nod. A hand-wobble is defined as gently laying a hand on the baize, or on your own arm, or the top of your chips, or your lucky mascot, or anywhere else. A Hand-Wobbler gently lays his hand somewhere, slightly wobbles it, and considers his action declared.
A Hand-Wobbler’s “check” has to be re-checked, every single dang time, because he won’t always wobble his hand in the same place or the same way, and he won’t always mean “check”, sometimes people just wobble a bit, especially when they’re excited/tense.
The weirdest Imperceptible Check this weekend was the Jumper. His right hand would bounce about eight inches off the baize and drop down, just once, very quickly, as if it had been stimulated by an tiny electric charge.
Now this motion was not hard to see, but the problem was that he did it before he looked at his cards as well, so it didn’t just mean “check”, it also meant “let me have a look first”, so I had to wait an extra couple of seconds to see if he stared at me or looked at his cards.
After about 40mins, I worked out it if he did it and looked at his cards, he would check-fold, if he did it without looking, he would check-call/raise. Superb tell, well played.
Of course, there are many unusual checks, all of them annoying, even if it’s clear.
There’s the Lordly Wave, swishing the air in front of you and looking at the next player as if they’re up next in a comedy improv sing-off. This is fine, but if you do it when you have nothing and then tap the table like a robot when you have the nuts, you may as well just face-up your cards.
There’s the Windmill, a classic, swirling an extended index finger like a Circus Ringmaster introducing doped up elephants. Windmillers need to watch what they’re doing with their digits, eyes are at risk. The biggest problem with the Windmill is that it causes a waft of armpit air, which is fine if the Windmiller has had a shower recently, or ever.
There’s the Chip-Knocker, and these guys make me laugh out loud the loudest because sometimes their stupid check turns into a bet. They play with their chips while they think, and then when they’ve decided to check, they casually bounce the chips into the palm of their hand, slide them into their pinched fingers, and then use them to signify “check” by tapping the pinched chips on the table.
Except for the 10% of times that they mis-fire on the chip handling and spanner a 2x pot bet onto the table instead, an action that will stand 100% of the time I am called to rule upon it. Hahaha. Don’t look very “cool” now, do ya?
I think there are two sensible “checks”.
A clear verbal statement of “Check.” You can still be creative, maybe say “CheckSki” or “CheckAroo” or “Checky-Wecky-Poo”, whatever, just say something in a clear voice and make “check” the first sound of it.
The other way, if you want to be silent, is to extended your hand towards the centre of the table, where everyone can see it, and tap the table 2 or 3 times and then take your hand back.
I know there is a lot of ego in poker, and I know I don’t compete with men in the “being a cool guy” competition, because I’m a girl, so I’m not in that field.
But I am a poker player, and a poker lover, and I just don’t think there is any room for ego/looking cool where it is slowing down the game, causing confusion or rulings, or even becomes a leak in my game as a player.
Whatever my intended action, I should make it known to all at that table with a clear statement or unequivocal physical motion.
If I’m thinking smart, my clear action will look roughly the same each time, whatever the strength of my holding.
Last time I wrote a blog about being a dealer, I slagged myself off, I said I wasn’t really up to the job at high level. I wasn’t the best thing for the game, and I was upset about that.
Now I’m asking you to look at yourself as a player: Are you the guy with whom the dealer has to check action on every single street? Any chance you could stop being that guy? Please?
As a player, I want a fast game, but as a dealer, I have to be clear on an intended action before I move on. Ambiguous action is boring and unnecessary.
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I just don’t get “looking cool”, and tiny, imperceptible movement is just part of being “cool” that I will never understand.
Maybe I’m being too fussy as a dealer, but too many times I have misinterpreted an Imperceptible Check, and it has caused a dispute/assisted an angle; now I feel I just have to re-confirm every time to insure against the 1/10 that might be problematic.
What I do know, having dealt many different gambling games over the years, is that when you have a table with an experienced dealer and experienced players, there can be a flow, a certain physical poetry to the game. This will always be more prevalent on a game like Roulette, where the players face the house, as opposed to each other, and there obviously is more thinking required in a game like Texas Hold’Em, but “the flow” can definitely happen at a poker table.
I have dealt tables, usually finals, where everybody knows what they’re doing, and nobody’s trying to look ‘cool’, they just state their action, and the game moves quickly. Dull pots are over in a flash and thinking pots engage the whole table. Those games are an absolute pleasure to deal and play in, and that has to be something to do with every player caring about the clarity of their own actions as much as the dealer should care about every action.
There is much to keep secret at a poker table, but once you have decided on your action, it doesn’t need to be a secret, just make it clear to everyone. If the dealer keeps checking if you’ve checked, then you may be an Imperceptible Checker; at best it’s annoying, at worst it could be your biggest tell, you’d better check on that, quickly and perceptibly.