I like to think I know poker-rooms. I do not claim to be a good player, I may even be some way off being an average player, but after 10 years of wrangling sweaty-poker players in a professional capacity, I feel like I’m pretty comfortable with your normal happenings inside a cardroom.
I was playing last night, and I encountered something that left me speechless (only momentarily, you’d need Weapons of Mass Destruction to shut down the motor on this mouth for more than a few seconds).
A guy came to our table, and I noticed him straight away.
No lies, I thought he was quite fit.
He looked a bit like Le Chiffre, the bad guy from Casino Royale (chicks always secretly dig the bad guy, huh?) and he was neatly and precisely dressed, which is unusual for poker-men.
No offence, boys, but some of you really need to get more love from fresh water.
There was some immediate kerfuffle, because Le Chiffre had the seat card for seat 9 and someone was sat there, a lad who should have been in seat 8.
Le Chiffre was insistent that he have his rightful seat. I’m not judging that, I think he was right to, the cosmic order of poker should not be disrupted by puny humans, but it’s a bit odd. My normal experience of these incidents is that the new player will just say “aw, what the fuck, I’ll sit here instead, you stay where you are, whatever, right? LOL”.
Le Chiffre took the vein of “That’s my seat, shift.”
I was probably a bit busy perving on him to really notice his attitude at this moment, and equally, I personally agreed he should have his rightful seat, so at the time, I didn’t think anything of it.
A few hands were played, and it quickly became obvious that Le Chiffre’s style of play was as loose as geriatric ball-sack; he got involved in lots of pots. He was running well, and getting paid, so he built up a bigger than average stack for the table in less than two orbits.
At this point, I assumed he was just a newbie. New to poker, having a gamble, doesn’t know the difference between poker and roulette. I love that sort of player and always try to engage them, and be their friend; I want them to feel the love, and come back and donate again.
This guy wasn’t really up for chatting, he responded fairly politely when directly questioned, or mentioned, but he was not pulled into the poker/nonsense/banter that was happening on a very friendly table.
There was a mild, growing irritation towards Le Chiffre, because he was consistently playing crap, and hitting flops hard, but everyone was being outwardly nice, because he was an obvious noob.
I was chatting to a young lad next to me, the same chap featured in this blog. Turns out he’s a mega-poker geek, and I was getting some interesting poker learnings from him, I’m pretty sure he’s a better player than me, and I like to squeeze those bastards whenever I can.
Because I was chatting, I was only alerted to the incident by the player in seat 3 piping up.
I know this player well, I’ll call her Elvira (she’s lovely, but mess with her and she’ll put a spell on you) she’s an experienced live player, and she will not have rules broken without making some noise about it.
A pot was on the turn, 3 ways. Elvira had raised, The Dragon (an hilarious Welshman) was thinking about her big bet from seat 5 when Le Chiffre had apparently said to The Dragon, “Don’t worry about me calling, mate, I’m out.”
The Dragon is an experienced player too, and a really good lad, but he’d been offered free information, and he’d done nothing wrong, so I don’t blame him for rechecking his cards and restudying the board to see if Le Chiffre’s naughty utterance made any difference to his own action.
The Dragon passed, and Le Chiffre passed too. As the dealer handed her the pot, Elvira told him she was not happy about what Le Chiffre had said.
I was impressed with the way the dealer handled it, he told Le Chiffre that what he had done was against the rules and warned him that if he did it again, he would receive a hand penalty. Le Chiffre did not look bothered.
Elvira said to Le Chiffre, “You can’t say stuff like that.”
Le Chiffre replied, “Yeah, I can. I can say what I want.” Elvira whipped out the spell book, she was not happy, at all.
“You can’t say what you want. It’s not right.” She repeated. If I’d been Le Chiffre, I’d have been intimidated by the wicked stare I was facing, but he did not look phased.
“I can say what I like.” he repeated. The atmosphere at the table was quickly turning from friendly to fucked-off.
At this point, the dealer probably should have called the floor. I’d recommend players do it, if they feel it’s necessary, and I know some that would, but it’s easy to feel like a tattle-tale.
I think it’s worth the dealer calling the floor when the table mood suddenly switches, because when a new face arrives at the table, it automatically changes a negative dynamic, and the table dealer should be keeping the game going, not ironing out players’ social issues.
My dealer colleagues are generally not fans of calling the floor “light”, but I will always do it when I’m dealing, because I don’t want any player to leave my table thinking something happened that should not have happened. If I’m dealing, and I cannot entirely resolve a situation on first attempt, all future attempts will be made by my supervisor, it is that simple.
I think the dealer at this table just didn’t realise that the situation wasn’t resolved; the club rule is, warning, and then penalty and he’d said that, clearly and concisely.
He tried to explain this to Elvira, but she was cross because Le Chiffre had broken the rules, was not at all contrite, and was strongly stating he would do it again if he felt like it.
Probably because I thought he was hot, I still, naively, gave him the benefit of the doubt. I thought he just didn’t know why he couldn’t say it. Trying to be helpful, and adorable, I started to explain in my sweetest voice why he couldn’t say it.
If you are a new player yourself, and you wonder why you cannot tell a person who is making a decision what you are fixing to do after them, it is because it can make a big difference to what they will decide to do, it is very helpful information in nearly every spot.
The short version; it’s cheating.
I managed to get four words into this explanation when Le Chiffre just dismissed me.
“I know the rules. But I’ll still say what I want.” My fat mouth hung wide open.
As did everyone else’s.
There was a beat of shocked silence, until I said:
“But why would you want to play like that?” Le Chiffre declined to answer and sat back.
I, and the rest of the table, descended into mega-bitchy mode. The rhubarb was very bitter, and the dealer definitely should have called the floor here.
I decided to turn into a TD for 30 seconds and said “right, okay. Well, he’s had his warning. Let’s see if he does it again, and then he’ll be penalised. Next hand, let’s go.”
The game continued, but it had gone from being fun and friendly, to everyone trying to get Le Chiffre’s chips, a largely unsuccessful endeavour, as he was on super-sweet-ultra-heat.
Elvira was incensed, and she was not forgiving, or quiet, about how annoyed she was with him. Elvira is not the type of lady to get upset by a bloke and then go and cry in the toilets, she was on a rampage to piss him off and knock him out.
Le Chiffre remained entirely unruffled.
He was really good at giving people the needle, quietly and slyly, but very effectively. Nobody at that table liked that guy; he had induced the tiniest tilt in everybody.
Did I play poker last night with an evil-genius?
I was on BB and he was small. It passed to him and he limped. I peeked at A10 os and instantly shoved all-in for 27 big blinds.
Loony? I’m not sure.
I maintain he calls me far more often with worse than he does with better. I’d played around 40 hands with him by then, I’d seen the evidence of what he called shorter stacks with pre-flop.
He snapped me with Q8 os and spiked a Q. He raised a sleek, baddy-eyebrow and I punched him in the face.
No, obviously I didn’t do that, but I wanted to.
I wanted to punch him before I shipped all my chips knowing I’d get called with less.
Does LeChiffre just have a different game to me? Is his principle strategy to make everyone hate him, which causes them to make insane plays against him, looking to “punish” him for being a total bastard?
He didn’t break the speech-play rule again while I was at the table. That one proud and unrepentant act had laid the groundwork for a good long time of being known as “a twat”.
He could actually do the same thing at the next table he went to, if there was a new dealer, and none of the gobby players from the 1st table were there. He wouldn’t have got a second go if Elvira had moved to a new table with him.
On my lonley walk home I began to consider that maybe this was +EV live poker. I wondered if I am missing a trick, an opportunity to play a type of game I’m certainly capable of. I can easily piss people off, very quickly, if I try.
Am I labouring under the illusion that it’s worth being “nice” to people at a poker table? I want noobs to feel at home, I want to have a pleasant time, aggro is emotionally draining, and stops me playing my best game.
Is that what the evil-genius, Le Chiffre, was trying to orchestrate?
I think I’m a little bit scared that he was, and that it worked, specifically, on me.
I guess the real question is, if that really is his strategy, and it could be proven to be a successful, +EV strategy, should it be allowed?
Should a player be allowed to deliberately wind everybody else up to win at poker?
My first instinct is “yes”. If one doesn’t repeatedly break the written rules then one should be allowed to “be a bastard” at a poker table.
If I take this to its logical conclusion, however, then I have to assume that any +EV strategy will eventually start to fully permeate and dominate the game.
I think I could survive in a cardroom full of total arseholes, I am a bit of an arsehole, but I have to ask, “what’s the point?”.
If a cardroom becomes a socially unpleasant environment for a majority of personality types, then they will fuck-off and play online, or play golf; the softer money will be squeezed out.
In addition, if everyone left is equally on tilt because everyone else is equally a total arsehole, then the advantage of being a total arsehole has been eradicated.
I will annoy some players, even when I think I’m being lovely. Some players will annoy me, even though they are not doing anything wrong/rude/unpleasant; the majority of players will not upset everybody at once.
I don’t think routinely being a total arsehole should be allowed (we’re all allowed one or two meltdowns), or that constantly upsetting everybody is a long term viable strategy.
I think players/dealers/TDs need to crack down on individuals who piss everybody off, all at once, all the time, in a poker room.
This isn’t school, we’re not running support groups for the socially incompetent; when adult humans come together we need to make an effort to feel positive about our environment, otherwise the strength and/or the skills of the group will be seriously limited.
A poker table well may be a hunting ground, but it shouldn’t be a slaughterhouse.
I won’t forget Le Chiffre, and if I play him again, I will, as a player, immediately call the floor myself the very second he tries anything in the colour of arsehole.
I’ll explain this story, and make sure the rest of the table know as well. I will start a one woman campaign to undermine his plan for poker domination.
I may now start wearing a tuxedos to that casino, and invest in some swanky gadgets so that next time I encounter him I really feel like James Bond, ready to tackle an evil-genius and score with some fierce women.
Till we meet again, Mr Le Chiffre, and don’t worry about that poker chair with a hole in the middle. It’s merely waiting to be reupholstered.
Featured brilliant Bond artwork can be bought as a print here.