We’re all one — on the felt

By Vincent Olmos

You may not know me, but we’ve played together. We’ve shared thousands of hands and you may not even recognize my face. We may not live in the same state or even the same country, but we’ve shared the felt. That is because in poker I am you.

Poker players are all one: the people make the game. I am that guy who check-raised you with an air ball, got there, and proudly stacked my ill-acquired chips. It is I who scoffed at your open limp with J-2 off suit when you were feeling hot.

I am also the guy who wholeheartedly says, “Good luck, all-in,” when you send the last of your chips sailing into the pot. I also once informed you that you rivered a one-card straight when you almost open-mucked your hand. I am responsible for all of your best and worst experiences at the table.

As humans, we should opt to coexist and even occasionally assist one another in our daily routines. Poker is no exception. While I’m not advocating open strategy discussions at the table (heavens no!), why not embrace a more humanitarian outlook? After all, this is the game we love and spend countless hours playing. Perhaps our short-term considerations should be more focused on our ethics at the table.

While the poker boom is considered long over, new and inexperienced players slide into cardrooms every single day. These neophyte competitors are the lifeblood of the entire cardroom food chain. New and fun players provide the continuity for poker to continue indefinitely. Once newcomers dry up, so does our favorite pastime. We should do everything we can to draw people to our poker community and ensure they have a great experience.

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with a player I did not recognize. He told me his name, and he declared that it was his birthday. Within a few hands, I recognized this was a relatively unfamiliar experience to him. I bought him a beer and wished him a happy birthday and great success at the table (in a Borat voice). He then went on a massive heater and doubled his buy-in over about two hours. Birthday boy has now been spotted a total of four times in the last month and I can’t help feeling partly responsible.

This is a small example of being welcoming and positive to new players, but what about the old guard? Is there a benefit to acting like a human being to players who have years of poker knowledge under their belt? The answer is a resounding yes. If we spend our days making sniping comments, trying to make people feel foolish, or angling our opponents to no end, what are we really gaining? We are making the climate for poker inhospitable and grating. Looking for edges by upsetting our opponents, we are unknowingly running the game into the ground. Everyone is affected: dealers, new players, fun players, veterans, and even the spectators.

William Kassouf was a polarizing figure during the 2016 broadcast of the WSOP. We all watched him amaze and confound amateurs and professionals alike with his polished “speech play.” He tilted entire tables by prattling on endlessly and taking an inordinate amount of time to make decisions. Even Rio tournament director Jack Effel had his hands full regulating his borderline behavior. While many are turned on by controversy, abusing players and rules is not good for poker. If all nine players at any table turn into William Kassoufs, poker as we know it will implode into nothingness.

Please don’t be mistaken, there is always room for antics. Occasional trolling and antagonizing can be just plain fun. Slow rolling can be the nut low of table tactics and rightly gets a very bad name. However, it can also be a rite of passage and accepted among good friends. Continually bringing up questionable plays can also be hilarious, as long as it is done in good spirit. “Way to flop top set, Jack Deuce!” “You sure are a luck box today!” These can be mean spirited or not. It is our job as players to understand the table dynamic and needle only those who can take it.

If you study the game and build enjoyable games, you will have a successful career. If you are toxic and constantly angling to gain an edge, you will let long-term profit fall through your fingertips. Be good to one another; often you will find yourself staring back on the other side of the table.

Vincent Olmos is a lifelong lover of games and a big cardroom enthusiast. He is a propositional player in his home of Lodi, California. He is a successful cash game player and occasional tournament donkey who enjoys running and family time off the felt.