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How to Kill a Great Poker Game

How to Kill a Great Poker Game

Do you ever need to kill a great poker game? Yeah, me neither, but in the interest of academic research, I present here a surefire way of getting it done.

It was a joyous gathering at a $2/$3/$5 no-limit hold'em game in the Bay Area. The assembled gamblers had informally agreed that whoever won the pot would straddle to $10 for the next pot. A couple of folks chose not to straddle when they won, but somebody would always volunteer to grab the straddle button. So we had us a $2/$3/$5/$10 game, and that big orange straddle button was inducing action, variance, and delight around the table.

And this is where I interject a music analogy because (1) I adore music, and (2) it's my article.

I am an active bluegrass musician and spend as much time as I can in bluegrass jams at festivals. Such jams are delicate ephemeral things. They require the right musicians, the right combination of musicians, appropriate weather, all of it. A single player coming or going can turn a crappy jam into a great one, or vice-versa, in the span of one song. There are sadder things on this earth than a sparkling bluegrass jam suddenly evaporating, but not many.

That last paragraph was no tangent. I return us to that sparkling $2/$3/$5/$10 NLHE game. Somebody got up and was replaced by a new player. The dealer, as other dealers had been doing, said, "So you're aware, the players have agreed to do a winner's straddle."

I consider this simply good manners on the dealer's part — she's alerting the newcomer that this is happening. Certainly nobody was being forced to do it, but some kind of unwritten understanding had been reached multiple dealers ago and the new fellow should be aware of it.

That's when one of the non-straddlers spoke up.

"I didn't agree to it."

Now the dealer has a problem. Recall that whatever she does, to whatever degree she engages with that person, what she must not do is stop dealing the game. Furthermore, the player who said this is not only her customer, but the direct source (along with the rest of us) of most of her income.

"Well, I was just telling him that most people are doing a winner's straddle."

"You didn't say that."

The dealer dropped the subject and her gaze, and continued pitching cards.

The chill was settling over the table like the fog over San Francisco on an August morning.

The guy who had just won the pot ceremoniously tossed the straddle button back to the dealer, ending it for that hand, and effectively for future ones. One of the biggest action players at the table racked up his chips and left, presumably looking for a game where they were doing the winner's straddle.

Me, I thought, "And this jam was just getting awesome."

I can't tell you what to say, or not, at the poker table. I can tell you that my son, an elementary school principal, tells his students, "Don't yuck somebody else's yum."

If it's not hurting you, and it's making others happy, let it go. Great poker games are as delicate and ephemeral as sparkling bluegrass jams. If you're in one, you might think twice before saying or doing anything that could evaporate the greatness of the game.

Lee Jones can help you take all the money out of a game while not killing the buzz. Go to and schedule a free coaching consultation. Lee specializes in coaching low-stakes cash game players.

  • Great poker games are as delicate and ephemeral as sparkling bluegrass jams, explains @leehjones.

  • Find yourself in a great poker game? Think twice before saying or doing something that might kill it.

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