From her usual one-seat, Babs McDerty eyed the kid as he made his home in seat seven. Several times the kid reached into his backpack to produce first an iPhone, then an iPad, and a power cable, and a power bar, and gigantic silver headphones. Quickly the kid pivoted in his chair as if a waitress and a chip-runner should be there waiting.
It was the kid's first time at the Cash Cow Casino. He was used to bigger rooms. He turned back to the table and barked at the dealer. "Can I get some chips please? And a Red Bull?"
The fun kicked in when the kid won his first pot. The game was $20/$40 limit hold'em. The kid three-bet preflop and got two callers. He bet the flop, two callers. He bet the turn, one caller. He bet the river, no caller. It wasn't the biggest pot in the world. But not the smallest either.
Maybe it's because she served a 20-year sentence in the dealer chair before her playing career stabilized. Or maybe it's because she's a natural-born meddler. Whatever the reason, Babs McDerty has a habit of scrutinizing the ends of hands: the etiquette, the banter, and especially the tipping.
The kid scooped in the $330 pot, and didn't tip. He stacked the chips, and didn't tip. Some players wait a moment or two at this point, and then tip. Babs let some seconds tick off, until she was sure no tip was forthcoming, then she tossed a $1 chip to the dealer. "Here ya go, honey. He must be saving up for goofier sunglasses."
No rise from the kid. And then out of nowhere, the player in seat three — a white-haired Caucasian wearing a jacket and a frown — also chucked a chip at the dealer.
"That's the spirit!" said Babs.
Minutes later, the old white guy and the kid got tangled up in a pot. The kid won it, and again he did not tip. The old frowner was now doubly distraught, from losing the hand, and because the kid again had the unmitigated audacity to stiff the dealer.
Frowny thumb-flicked a $1 chip at the dealer in disgust. The kid did not react. But Babs did. She laughed and said, "You're killing me!" to the old man, and then tipped a dollar, too. Solidarity was on.
"You guys are definitely onto something here," said the dealer, a grandmotherly matron who'd been dealing for a decade at the Cash Cow. "We should instigate a new tipping policy. Everyone who does not win the pot tips the dealer."
That quip led to a discussion about various tipping situations. Babs asked the dealer, "What if a player tips you at the showdown, and after they get done stacking and yacking, they look at you and say, 'Did I tip you?' What's your answer?"
"I tell the truth. I say yes."
Babs shook her head.
"You just robbed yourself."
"Are you saying I should lie to the customer to make an extra buck?"
"No need," said Babs. "You can earn an extra tip most every time. With no fibs required." Babs tucked a clump of frizzy black and gray hair behind her ear. "I'll play dealer. Go ahead and ask me if you tipped me."
"Did I tip you?"
"Just once. So far," Babs said. The old man smiled and tossed a $1 chip to Babs, and the three of them had a laugh. "See!" she said. "It works!"
"I'm definitely using that," the dealer said. "And now I have a question for you."
"Shoot," said Babs.
"What do you say when a guy doesn't tip at all?"
"A prayer." Babs glared into the kid's reflective lenses. "For his wretched soul."
The kid moved his eye-shields to the top of his head and took on Babs's death stare directly. "What's your name?" The kid gave Babs a wink. "Just in case we fall in love afterwards."
"You can just call me awesome."
"Pleased to make the acquaintance, your awesomeness." The kid pulled his glasses back down.
"Not so fast, goggle eyes," said Babs. "I'm not done with you yet." The kid removed his sunglasses, folded them slowly, and placed them between his chip stack and the padded rail. Everyone was listening in on the interrogation now, and Babs knew it.
"I have to know. Are you a stiff because you're naturally dickish? Or is there some kind of logic behind it?"
"Sorry to disappoint," said the kid, "but I will not defend my protocols. Tipping is nothing more than a point of exchange in an economic system based on voluntary co-operation. There's nothing sacred about it."
"Well hello to you too, Mr. Econ!" said Babs.
"Economics was in fact one of my majors," said the kid.
The old man jumped in. "Then you of all people should understand that defectors destroy the system for everyone."
"Apparently not," the dealer said. "We have a defector in our midst, yet here I am, dealing him winner after winner."
"Because the additional cost of the defections are paid for by the co-operators." Frowny was frowning again. "Involuntarily, I might add."
The kid's voice went up a couple pitches. "May I remind you that tipping is an option? That's why the best policy is to do whatever you want, and mind your own business."
"Of course you'd like that," Babs said, "because no one would call you out for being a nitwad."
"Here's what you don't understand," the kid said. "Just because you feel bad about me not tipping doesn't mean that I do, too. By my code, I'm not doing anything wrong. And besides, I didn't come here to make friends. I came here to..."
The kid stopped when he realized what he was saying. So Babs said it. "To make money? Just like, for example, a dealer?"
The kid kept his head down.
"What about good-old-fashioned fairness?" Babs said. "Why should we pay your share?"
The kid snapped back to attention. "Should has nothing to do with it. Should is just someone's opinion."
"Okay then, forget about what other people think you should do. Don't you have something inside you that tells you what's fair and what isn't?"
"I think it's fair to take what's given. You give me a free card, I'll take it. Same goes for free coffee, and free dealers."
The kid lowered his shields again, and the game went quiet.
For about a minute.
And then this hand came up…
$20/$40 limit hold'em. Capped before the flop, three-way. The cast of characters was Babs, the kid, and Frowny, with Babs and the kid doing the preflop raising.
On the flop, Babs bet, the kid raised, Frowny called two cold, and Babs folded.
On the turn, the kid bet, and Frowny called, but not before striking a bargain with the poker gods. "C'mon dealer," he pleaded, "put up a deuce and I'll tip half the pot!"
The dealer did as requested.
The kid checked. Frowny bet. The kid called. Frowny showed his hand. He had 4-5. The deuce on the river gave him a gutshot wheel. The kid flashed his pocket kings on their way to the muck. He had flopped top set.
It was nothing but smiles from the old man as he stacked the pot and split it into two equal portions. "You're going to need a bigger shirt pocket," he said to the dealer, as he slid $255 her way, in $5 chips.
"I'll somehow manage." And with three quick motions the dealer loaded the giant tip into her fanny pack.
"Be sure to spread that around. It's a contribution to our economic system from Mr. No-tip over there."
"With pleasure," said the dealer.
The kid smiled.
"And you're okay with this?" said Babs.
"It's not my money. And as incredible as it may seem to you, I'm actually glad you guys are having fun."
Babs gave him a suspicious look. "I do hate your kind, but I'm having a hard time hating you."
The kid adjusted his baseball cap as if it were formal wear. "I'm touched."
"Let me ask you something," Babs said. "Who pays for your free coffee?"
"And who pays the casino?" Babs didn't wait for an answer. "You do. We all do. We pay rent, for our chairs. Which means we share the cost of everything here evenly, by way of the rake. Everything from coffee to landscaping."
The dealer shot a glance at Babs. "I was getting there," Babs said.
"Except for the dealers," Babs said. "They work for tips. And as we've seen, tip sizes can vary." The old man smiled.
"What if no one tipped?" Babs said.
"The rake would go up," said the kid.
"What if you were on a sinking boat? Would you help bail water, or would you just count on everyone else to do it?
"I would definitely help. But we're not sinking."
"Because we're bailing," said the old man.
The kid tapped a chip against the felt thoughtfully. Then he shook his head and put it back in his stack.
Half a round of peaceful poker later, the six-seat opened up, and Torty Poacher was poised to fill it. He slapped his rack down and startled the kid in seat seven.
Babs stiffened. Frowny scowled. The dealer winced. Even the kid looked worried. He could feel the camaraderie leaching from the table.
"Would you like to post or wait?" asked the dealer.
"I'd like a different dealer," Torty snapped. "But I guess I'm stuck with you for another 10 minutes."
The dealer kept her professional face on. "Are you going to post or wait?"
Torty tossed out a blind. "Quit asking stupid questions and deal me some cards! Unless that's too taxing for you."
Right away, Torty won a big pot. Babs watched, and as expected, Torty failed to tip.
Babs made eye contact with the kid from under her hat brim and muttered, "Is that really who you want to be?" Then Babs tipped the dealer a dollar, and Frowny followed her lead.
Torty lit up. He was happy anytime he got a rise. "What kind of freak farm are you guys running here today?"
The kid sent a disgusted look to his right-hand opponent and scooched a couple inches away. Then he held up a $1 chip, and examined both sides like he'd never seen one before, and tossed it to the dealer, to the sound of sparse applause from Frowny and Babs.
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