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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Poker Stories: Table Talkers

A poker room, like any other place, is full of characters. The locals, the regulars, all know each other and everyone's familiar with this guy's habits, that one's tendencies, etc. There are quiet players, talkative players, funny players, lousy players, good players, unpredictable players, and obnoxious players. They're all out to take each other's chips, but they're also aware of social boundaries that can't be crossed because you're going to see these same players the next time you return to the table.

There are some players who deliberately try to annoy, playing a psychological game to knock you off your stride. That's fine, as long as it doesn't go too far. The last thing I want at the table is a poker bully who might scare off some recreational player who has just come to have a good time and doesn't mind losing some money. I know one player who has a taste for beer and a very short temper and if you get on his wrong side, he'll attack you verbally the rest of the evening -- not because he wants a physical encounter, but because he wants to get revenge by taking your stack (before he gets thrown out of the place, which has happened more than once).

In Las Vegas, the tables have some regulars but far more tourists, and that's where the dynamic gets interesting. A few years ago, I was in a game when, a new player sat down, announced that he was a writer from San Francisco, and immediately started talking about how he was going to run over the table by playing hyper-aggressively, raising a lot, and bullying people out of pots.

There wasn't much chance of that, because the table was full of pretty good players, and one of them -- a pro named Skinny Jimmy -- has a reputation for playing great poker. He regularly crushes the higher-limit games, and you can see why just by watching him. He keeps his mouth shut, but his eyes don't miss a single thing anyone's doing. He stays passive for a couple of rounds to pick off everyone's tells and playing style, and then he pounces. It's like that barroom poker scene in "Maverick" where Mel Gibson promises he'll lose for the first hour and does, but by then he's seen enough to use his opponents' tendencies against them.

Meanwhile, the writer just kept on talking and talking. He wasn't engaging anyone in conversation, just essentially doing a monologue for what may have been a full hour. At one point I wanted to remind him that the bottle says to take only one Ritalin at a time. If the waitress had brought him a Red Bull, he might have exploded. He could give aspirin a headache.

Meanwhile, at the next table, there was a talker of a different kind. This guy kept telling the table that he was the "best player in the world." Aside from Phil Hellmuth, I don't know any poker pro who brags about their abilities at the table. The better you are, the less you want people to know how good you are, because it makes them less likely to play a big pot against you.

Fortunately, no one really thought this loudmouth was all that good and it was fairly enjoyable to see him losing most of the hands he played. Of course, his ego wouldn't allow him to admit that he'd made a bad play. Instead, he'd insist that a worse player would have lost all their chips.

He was right. He was great. At losing.

The oddest thing that happened to me in a Vegas poker room was when a woman walked up and touched my chest. Now, don't get excited. She was an older woman -- naturally, since this is me we're talking about -- and we were passing between tables when she stopped and complimented me on my shirt (we're already in a weird area). Then she reached out and put her whole hand on my chest to feel the material before she moved on. I stood there stunned for a second before my skeptical side kicked back in.

That's when I reached for my pants pocket to make sure my wallet was still there. It was.

So I just wrote her off as another poker room oddity. At least she was quiet.