They're not deaf
I'm not the world's best poker player. Sometimes I make astonishingly bad reads on situations and last weekend I made one of them. It was a $2/$5 NLHE game in a casino I'll leave unnamed in Atlantic City. A guy raised in early position and I called with ATs on the button. The flop came J-T-x (x was little). He bet and I called. I'm not going to explain/defend/rationalize my thinking - suffice it to say I called. If you need a reason, feel free to insert "Because Lee is a calling station".
The turn was another random small card, he bet a bit more, and I called again. When the river card came out, I was looking right at him and didn't see what it was. He bet maybe 40% of the pot. I looked at the board and discovered I had hit a third ten. I raised him a bunch, he splashed in a call. I turned up my hand; it was, of course, good. He slammed two kings down on the felt.
This is where it got interesting. Because he didn't start berating me. In fact, he turned to his buddy and began berating me to him. You've heard the speech so I won't bore you with the details. The buddy enthusiastically agreed with him, saying that only a truly brain-dead poker player could have gotten to the river with my hand.
Something struck me: I found this more insulting than if the guy with kings had come directly after me. It's one thing to be treated as if you're (at least in a poker sense) stupid; but being treated as if you're deaf and/or invisible, that's a whole different level of affront.
I wish I could say it was an isolated incident, but I saw it again less than a week later. To keep both guilty and innocent anonymous, I won't name the city, casino or the dramatis personae. But it was another $2-5 NLHE game. A newcomer had sat down in our game, and by "newcomer", I mean somebody brand new to casino poker. Her first casino poker game if I'm not mistaken. This woman had escaped the clutches of the pit, and sat down in our game saying, "I play on Friday nights with a bunch of friends, but I've never played in a casino before." Her handling of cards, chips, and everything else - well, either she was telling the truth or she was doing Streep-quality acting. She obviously thought she'd stumbled onto the fun goldmine in the entire casino. "This is way more fun than blackjack; how often do you get together?" "Um, this game runs pretty much all the time." "Same people?" "No, but you'll start to recognize some faces."
I'll tell you something else: the $500 buy-in was pocket lint to this lady. Her demeanor, her dress, all of it said that she considered $500 a small price to pay for the privilege to sit with us and play poker.
Anyway, you can probably guess what happens. She wins a couple of pots and has her stack up to about $700. Then she gets into a multi-way pot with a local pro ("pro"?). The pro (also a woman) flops a set of sevens on an 8-7-4 flop, and shoves a $1,500 stack into a $200 pot, figuring the newbie will call with A8. She might, but she'll also call with 6-5, which is what she has. The board doesn't pair and our newcomer has $1,500 in front of her. She's chatting with us and having a grand time, and it's pretty obvious that it's not really about the money or even so much that she's winning. She is just tickled with the game and the company.
Then a massive three-way pot breaks out with newbie, her self-wounded victim from the previous pot (who has rebought up to about $2,000), and a third (solid) player. The flop was 2-4-5 with two clubs and the three of them put in $100 each. The turn is a red jack. The pro bets $250, newbie calls, and the third player calls all-in for a bit less. The river is the king of clubs, making a club flush possible. Newbie shrugs and says "I'm all-in."
Recall that, thanks to the previous 30 minutes, her all-in is now for more than $1,000. The pro's face implodes as she contemplates the situation. She says, half to herself, half to the table, "I flopped the nuts." The newbie turns to the player next to her and says "What's 'the nuts'?" Everything about her question says that she's honestly confused and wants to know what the pro means. I say to the dealer, "I think we need not to discuss this." Dealer nods his head and encourages everybody to be quiet for a minute.
Finally, the pro shakes her head and says, "I can't call," and mucks her hand. The dealer slides the $60 side pot to the newbie and asks her to turn her hand face-up for the main pot. She turns up KJ (no suits that I can recall) - she'd flopped two overcards, turned top pair, and rivered top two. All-in player mucks his cards unseen.
You can imagine what our "pro" does. She starts explaining, pretty much to the airspace over the table, that while it wasn't technically the nuts, it was A3s for a wheel and how could she call that bet on the flop, and, well, you've heard the litany before.
In the meantime, our new friend is sorting chips and asking if she can color them up because they get in the way of where she puts her cards on the table. She's the happiest person in a very big casino and, unless my read is grossly wrong, it's not about the money she's won. It's that she's discovered this wonderful new game and how much more fun this is than the casino games.
And yet the "pro" continues to lecture the air as if she's not in the room.
For better or worse, right about then, the newcomer's husband shows up, panics at the quantity of chips in front of her, and announces that she's leaving. Right now. In fact, he violates a handful of rules of etiquette by racking her chips, taking them off the table, and generally removing her from the game without her permission. She sighs and says that it'll be easier if she just leaves, but boy this is fun and when can we do it again.
No-one forced you to hit fold
And our pro continues to rant to the world, never addressing the newcomer directly (well, there may have been a sardonic "nice hand"), but making it clear that those chips should be in her stack. All of them.
"You could have said, 'I call.'" breathes the guy on my right, sotto voce.
But none of that is relevant. What is relevant is that I have found a new and more depressing way of chasing away newcomers to our game. Rather than look them in the eye and tell them how badly they play, treat them as if they are deaf, or invisible, or non-existent. Rant to fellow "pros" or "serious players".
Fortunately, I don't think the nice lady really noticed or understood what the pro was going on about. Or maybe she did and was just too well-mannered to acknowledge it. So I expect she'll be back and I hope people treat her better, no matter how lucky she gets. And me, I'll be back despite the treatment in Atlantic City - I've got a thick skin and having been a calling station for two decades, I'm not going to quit now.
But please, when I've been asking you to be nice to the newbies at the table, I meant more than being rude to their faces. I guess now I have to include, "Treat them as if they have ears and feelings and the sense to recognize that you're talking about them."
You know, just behave like a lady or gentleman.
Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980's.