Thursday, April 19, 2012

Advice That Will Help Both My Opponents and Myself

Most of the advice and analysis on this blog could easily be used against me if readers found me at their poker table. (Indirectly, it can hurt me even if we never play against each other by marginally improving the play of the average poker player.) I enjoy doing strategy and hand analysis on this blog, and I think it's been worth any small amounts of EV I may have lost.

A commenter (Rick) suggested that I give some advice that would actually help me if it were followed by my opponents. This sounds easy: Just give bad advice! An intriguing idea, but it wouldn't make much difference because my poker-playing readers can mostly discern bad advice from good, anyway. Fortunately, there is another way: Give advice that helps not only me but also my opponents. This is clearly the angle Rick was suggesting. This seems like a good idea, so I'm going to devote a few posts to encouraging behavior that will improve the culture of casino poker.

When I'm in a poker room, I have three main concerns. Players will surely differ on the relative importance of these three factors, but I think nearly all players are implicitly concerned with these three things. For me, I would rank them as follows.

1. Maximizing my winnings. This is an explicit goal of most players, and the main concern of most poker pros. Like other poker players, I tend focus on ways in which I can win money from other players, but there are also plenty of things players can do to help not only themselves but also other players (either all the other players or some subset).

2. Having an enjoyable social experience. Poker is a social game, after all. Occasionally, I will come across players for whom this seems to be the primary goal of their poker games.

3. Playing an interesting game of poker. This is the concern of the poker purists, who play for the love of the game.

The first piece of advice I want to give is conventional wisdom but is very difficult for many people to follow: Be nice to the bad players. This helps the other players fulfill Concern #1 because the bad players are likely to stick around for longer. It usually also helps the bad players fulfill Concern #2. Unfortunately, poker players are often too immature to resist castigating bad players for bad beats and the like. Personally, I also wish that people were nicer to the good players, but that is not necessarily good for fulfilling Concern #1. There are a few of players at the Bike who are so unpleasant that I tend to try to avoid them, and I imagine it is good for their win rate to get me out of their games.

That's it for today. Stay tuned for my next attempt to help improve the culture of casino poker.


I've been taking an online course on game theory run by two professors at Stanford.


I got into the PhD Statistics programs at UMBC and George Washington, but without funding. I'm still waiting on UMD College Park's PhD program in Applied Math, Applied Statistics, and Scientific Computation.


Anonymous said...

I agree -- being around nice, hospitable, congenial players is crucial to enjoying the game. It's crazy how petty some people are when they lose. What's the worst sportsmanship you've seen?

Keith said...

Most of the bad sportsmanship is basically the same: berating bad players for their stupidity, but occasionally it does take on some added flavor. Throwing the chips at or towards the other player is common. At it's worst, this can delay the game significantly because the pot needs to be recounted.

(A mutual acquaintance of ours once stacked up the $250 or so in front of him and then aggressively splashed the pot before the dealer had a chance to count it. When the dealer protested, our acquaintance showed disgust and said "it's right." I was so shocked and ashamed to have been friendly with him in front of the other players that I almost just left the table.)

Perhaps the worst sportsmanship of the "retaliating against bad players" sort was something I witnessed at the Charles Town Casino in West Virginia. Several hands after giving a bad beat, a woman made a nut flush on the river against a different player. She hemmed and hawed on the river before finally going all-in. It was pretty clear that she had been acting and probably had the nuts. The guy who had received the bad beat earlier had been muttering to his friend ever since. Now, after the lady went all-in and while her opponent was deciding whether to call, he loudly proclaimed how obvious it was that she had the nuts. He gave a rather sophisticated analysis of her play she had never made a bet. He was trying to get back at her by making helping her opponent avoid paying her off! The dealer was remiss to stay quiet, and in fact I ended up complaining to the dealer about all the table talk.

Another story, not as bad: a big semi-pro guy in the Bike's 3-500 NLHE game once told the guy who beat him "I do this for a living, so when you give me a bad beat like that it threatens my livelihood." He said it in earnest. This isn't particularly mean or anything, but I think it's worth noting for its uniqueness! His opponent apologized and said he didn't realize he was a pro, as if conceding that he should have played differently if he had known.