Poker Thoughts: When An Angle Isn’t An Angle But Is Still An Angle

Steve Ruddock August 28, 2017 3043 Reads
Angle Shoot

Patrick Leonard has been having himself one heck of a year in 2017.

The partypoker ambassador has been instrumental in reshaping the company’s rewards program (which has driven solid cash game traffic gains). He’s also been cleaning up at the poker tables and by all accounts, is staking all the right people.

But this past weekend Leonard was in the news for a different reason.

A clip emerged that seems to show Leonard shooting an angle during a major poker tournament.

The otherwise ordinary hand occurred during the bubble of the PokerStars Championship Barcelona Main Event and was captured on the live stream.

The video has caused quite a stir.

The poker community inevitably did its thing, d launched into a debate over whether or not Leonard’s words and subsequent actions constituted an angle-shot, and by-and-large concluded that what Leonard did is in fact an angle.

But there is more to it than this. As with most things in poker, there’s a lot of gray in this situation, and I think it’s important to separate the action, and whether or not it’s acceptable, from Leonard’s intent.

Let’s cut through the noise

When it comes to what Leonard said, there are a few things that people have brought up that are complete red herrings.

First, it doesn’t matter that the player didn’t muck his cards or make some other blunder.

Not every angle-shot is going to be successful. Anyone with a fair amount of live poker experience knows to keep your hand protected until your last opponent’s hand hits the muck and the dealer pushes you the pot. Angle-shooters are just hoping you don’t have experience.

Second, Leonard’s explanation of what was going through his head shouldn’t factor into whether we place his speech into the angle-shot category or not. The whole point of shooting an angle is to give yourself plausible deniability that something untoward occurred.

If this was a known angle-shooter, what Leonard did would 100 percent be seen as an angle. If this wasn’t Patrick Leonard this wouldn’t even be a discussion.

As New Jersey poker pro Mike Gagliano put it:

Leonard’s explanation makes perfect sense

But as I said above, there is a difference between the act itself and the motive behind it.

Leonard provided a good synopsis of the hand from his perspective in a 15-minute video posted on YouTube.

In the video, Leonard admits he was in fact angling for information, but not for his opponent to make a huge mistake and muck his hand.

As Doug Polk said, angling for information is still in a gray area.

In the end, Leonard realized he inadvertently stuck his toe over the line and said he would be more careful in the future to avoid blurring the line of acceptable speech play.

I think the admission by Leonard is important, and I think in this particular situation, we should take Leonard’s explanation and reputation into account when considering the underlying intent, as Leonard is not known for sketchy play, and has a good reputation.

Vanessa Selbst pointed out that for it to be a textbook angle-shot it needs to be intentionally scummy, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. But she also notes that even if it’s not intentional (and how are we supposed to know for sure other than taking the person at the word) it looks bad.

But what about other situations?

The problem is we can’t make the same reputation calculation for every player that finds themselves facing similar accusations.

Further, what he did could have led to his opponent mucking. Leonard assumed that wouldn’t happen, but I’ve seen crazier things happen at a poker table.

If his opponent did irretrievably pitch his cards into the muck and Leonard was awarded the pot, this situation would have been a lot worse and far more controversial.

A misdemeanor, but a dangerous precedent

On the angle-shooting scale of one-to-Ivan-Freitez, this ranks pretty low. It’s more in the faux pas category.

Tournament director Matt Savage summed it up best by saying that while he wouldn’t kill the hand or give a penalty, he would take the offending player aside to have a word.

I’m with Savage. It’s important to not overreact, but it’s also important to not tolerate vague language that can be easily misconstrued by inexperienced players.

Many really “good” people may say and do things that aren’t meant to be angle-shots, but that doesn’t mean what they did can’t also be used as an angle. So even if there wasn’t a malicious motive, the person needs to be told not to do it again.

As Chase Bianchi said, rules exist to prevent angles, even if the vast majority of the time it’s not used as an angle.

Bottom line

This seems to be a case of a non-angle-shooter getting a little too carried away in his speech play for a hand. Nothing bad came of it. It also had the positive impact of causing him to reexamine what he says in a similar situation in the future.

However, we have to draw attention to it and explain why it’s not acceptable. If we don’t, the next time we see this play it might be someone with less virtue pulling it against a recreational player in a cash game at Aria, the Commerce, or Foxwoods.

Leonard may be an all-around good guy with no malintent, but if we classify his speech as acceptable and just part of the game, other people who are more ethically challenged will begin adding it to their repertoires and tweaking it to make it an even more malicious play.

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