Thinking Poker: Pros Behaving Badly

Thinking Poker: Pros Behaving Badly

I made two trips to Las Vegas this summer. I was there for the first few weeks of the World Series of Poker, and I returned for the Main Event and stayed to the final day, even though I myself was eliminated early on Day 2.

These two separate trips and the time off in between made it plain to see the change in mood in Las Vegas poker rooms from the beginning of the Series to the end. At the start, everyone is full of excitement and hope. Whether they’re dreaming of winning a bracelet, cashing in on juicy satellites, or profiting from some of the best cash games the city will see all year, everyone is looking forward to something.

Six weeks later, there are a few very happy players, but most hopes have been dashed. Most people still grinding cash games as the Main Event enters its final days are tilted and chasing losses. They may be “good players” in the sense that they play well at their best, but many are grumpy and frustrated and, to put it mildly, not playing their best.

These are good games to play in, and although I don’t enjoy playing with rude and grumpy people, they don’t usually get under my skin, either. What does concern me is that these professionals — and many of them, despite their decidedly unprofessional attitudes, do in fact play for a living — are creating an unpleasant and perhaps intimidating atmosphere for recreational players.

I suspect that the majority of the people reading this article will be recreational players, and the point I want to make to you is that, unpleasant as these people may be, you shouldn’t let them intimidate you. Quite the opposite: this kind of bad attitude is generally symptomatic of psychological weakness, and you should expect to see spewy rather than skillful play from these individuals. If you can get beyond their rude behavior, you may in fact find them quite profitable to play against.

I witnessed many examples of this in my last few days in Vegas, but I’ll recount one particularly illustrative one.

Fellow PokerNews contributor Nate Meyvis, with whom I cohost the Thinking Poker Podcast, and I have a tradition of going to the poker room at Red Rock after busting the Main Event. The $2/$5 game there is great. It has a $1,000 buy-in, loads of casual players, and only a few regulars who seem to derive any income from the game.

Because so many of the people there are playing for enjoyment and relaxation, those playing for profit really ought to think of themselves as customer service providers. If the people losing money to them don’t enjoy the experience, they aren’t likely to keep playing, and these pros will be out of work, or at least in need of new hunting grounds.

I’d been playing for about an hour at a table comprised almost entirely of recreational players when a young guy with all the trappings of a professional sat down a few seats to my left and bought in for the maximum. There was only one other pro at the table, and from the way they greeted each other, the two seemed to be friends.

In this new player’s very first hand at the table, I was dealt a pair of kings. I opened to $15, got one call, and then the new pro raised to $40. The big blind cold-called, and I reraised to $160. The first caller folded, the pro raised to $400, and the big blind folded.

Although I’m not wild about putting in 200 big blinds before the flop with {k-}{k-}, I’m not wild about folding them, either. Given everything I just said about how tilted so many regulars are at this time of year, there was just too good of a chance that he was running some crazy bluff or overvaluing a weaker hand. I shoved, and he called with what turned out to be {7-}{5-}-suited.

I didn’t end up winning the pot, but I promise you I’m not just telling a bad beat story here. I am beyond bankrolled for $2/$5, and I have absolutely no problem with people who want to give me so much action with such a weak hand. I can even see the humor in the outcome and smile along with the winner, in much the same way that casinos proudly display photographs of recent jackpot winners.

However, this player did not know any of this about me. For all he knew, I was some recreational player who was going to be devastated by such a large bad beat. He and his friend were laughing and high-fiving each other in a way that I imagine would be quite upsetting and demoralizing to a different sort of player. I, however, was happy to load up another $1,000 and go to war.

About two hours later, I played a very large pot with this player’s friend, the one who’d been laughing and high-fiving him. The details aren’t important, but I won nearly $1,500 from him in the hand in question, with about half of it coming when he called my shove on the river.

I was far more gracious in victory than he and his friend had been, but he took the loss badly and reloaded angrily. Just a few hands later, he played another big pot with a female pro who’d just joined the table. They each put in $400 preflop with him holding {j-}{j-} and her holding {4-}{4-}. She flopped a set, and he lost another 200 big blinds. She was apologetic, but he stormed away from the table.

It can be intimidating to play against multiple professionals who are friendly with each other, and it doesn’t help that these players too often present an exclusionary and demeaning attitude towards players they don’t know or who aren’t part of their clique.

If you play poker primarily for fun, you might want to avoid these players. Or, you might enjoy trying to put them in their place.

If you’re looking to make money, though, don’t be so quick to quit the game. Psychological fortitude is an important poker skill, and truly great players rarely behave this way. Even if these players could outplay you at their best, you can expect that they won’t be at their best when they’re behaving this way.

Finally, if you’re a professional, or at least serious about making money at poker, don’t act like this. Don’t treat your customers this way. If you find that you can’t keep yourself from behaving badly, that’s probably a sign that you’re tilted and need to take a break.

Be sure to listen to Andrew and Nate Meyvis on the Thinking Poker podcast, and for strategy articles, reviews, and more from Andrew, check out the rest of The Thinking Poker website.

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  • Some poker players who are "professionals" and play for a living adopt unprofessional attitudes at the tables.

  • A discussion of so-called “pros” acting less than professionally, and consequences that come from such behavior.

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