Years from now, we will look back on Jan. 21 as the day the poker world decided that debating rake, jackpot games and big blind ante simply wasn’t enough.
On Jan. 21, the poker community made the decision to go to the mattresses over behavior. Specifically, an argument broke out about whether being polite, pleasant and courteous to your fellow tablemates was good for the game.
As is often the case, the debate began due to a tweet from Daniel Negreanu.
Immediately, everyone stopped listening to each other
Somehow, the idea that winning players should do things that would make more people want to play poker became a controversial topic.
Unfortunately, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about poker in 2019. Here are some of the key components:
- Players are arguing about extreme, outlier situations, like the final table of a major tournament. I think we can all agree that serious players should receive far more leeway in how they comport themselves at the final table of a WSOP event versus a $500 cash game or an $80 daily tournament.
- People on both sides are defining ambiguous terms like “nit” in different ways.
- The Negreanu side is using a later, edited version of the tweet (where quiet was replaced with rude) while the other side is focusing on the original version.
So, instead of everyone agreeing that certain personalities aren’t fun to play poker with, the discussion has veered off course.
The true value is the sentiment behind Negreanu’s words
The direction of the discussion is partly Negreanu’s fault for not being more precise with his words. On the other hand, some people took things personally and got defensive when they self-identified some of their personality traits on Negreanu’s list.
If they just zoomed out a bit, they’d realize Negreanu is talking about behavior that borders or crosses into the extreme.
He’s not talking about someone being negative or acting slowly. He’s referring to the point where a minor annoyance becomes unbearable. For example:
- It’s one thing to take your time; it’s a whole different ball of wax to consume an inordinate amount of time for every decision.
- There’s nothing wrong with being frugal, but it can become frustrating when someone takes advantage of rules (angle-shots) over and over.
- An introvert who doesn’t engage in much table banter is quite different from someone wearing a cowl, or a turtleneck pulled up to their nose. He’s talking about those who refuse to acknowledge the other people at the table outside of an uncomfortable stare for 2 minutes during a difficult decision.
The different degrees of bad behavior
Dara O’Kearney waded into the conversation by describing the diverse group of ultramarathoners he’s trained with. He found the wide spectrum of personalities to be beneficial.
I agree with most of his post, but again, I think O’Kearney is missing the big picture.
The running equivalent of Negreanu’s “bad for poker” player isn’t someone who’s a jokester or someone who quietly trains.
It’s someone who constantly complains (about the weather or the distance) during the run.
Or someone who always complains that the group is full of amateurs who can’t keep up and are holding him back.
Or in an extreme situation, it’s someone who thinks tripping you from behind or emptying your water bottle before you set out is funny.
Even in a group of diverse personalities, that person will quickly wear out his or her welcome. He or shee will cause other members of the group to train elsewhere.
This controversy isn’t about — as many people are arguing — making poker players conform or be cast out. Part of the appeal of poker is the interesting clash of personalities.
It’s about a character that zaps the life out of the rest of the group. It’s about someone who can kill a game.
An analogy to highlight the dangers of the hoodie crowd
In my teens and early 20s, I spent a lot of time playing pickup basketball.
When I first started playing, the 3-on-3 games would start up around 11 am and run all afternoon with a revolving door of players. By 5 pm, full-court games were going, and we’d have 20 people waiting to play by 7 pm.
The afternoon and night games were quite different, even though a lot of the daytime 3-on-3 crowd would come back and play in the full-court games at night.
The full-court games were far more intense. If your team wasn’t winning, or you weren’t a top player, you didn’t get many opportunities to play at night.
With so many people waiting to play, staying on the court was a premium. The player who had the spot for the next game would pick whomever he or she wants, including people from the losing team. If you weren’t one of the best players, you could be waiting hours before you stepped on the court.
So, people played harder and, in some cases, dirtier. As a result, fights and/or the threat of fights were more common.
Now, some of these dirty players were actually good at basketball. But, if you saw them walking across the street, the whole mood at the courts would change in an instant.
Many of the less-serious players would start packing up their things. During the day, some of the longtime regulars would complain about some of the people that they didn’t want to deal with at night. Or, they would mention that they had joined an over-30 league.
Over time, every one of these “recreational” players simply stopped showing up at night. Then, they stopped coming altogether.
You can win the battle, but still lose the war
I tell this story because I was one of the ones responsible for killing the game. We were so focused on winning, and just assumed there would always be enough people to play.
Instead of sitting out once in a while, we made the recs sit out for hours. Since we could deal with the jerks, we assumed everyone else could, too.
Winning and staying on the court was the only thing that mattered until we ran out of people to beat. Then, it didn’t matter who had next.
So, if you want to make it about the definition of a “nit” or when quiet crosses over to the realm of rude, you might win the argument. But, don’t be surprised if you end up alone at the table.