April 12, 2009


It’s inescapable at most poker tables. You could be in a casino, on a cruise or playing in your best friend’s basement, but chatter from other players will accompany the deal of the cards like heart surgery goes with a fast food burger.

Not necessarily a bad thing, although it does tend to slow up a game. And in my world of impatience, that’s enough to at least put it on my radar of things to discuss as they relate to the wide world of poker.

Now, in my opinion there are a few different types of chatter. They each have vastly different intentions and/or are the result of different things.

First, you’ve got the “off the subject” conversation. This is the talking that really bothers me. Of course, I’m just as guilty as the next person of doing it, but my hypocrisy aside for now, there’s nothing that irritates me more than when you’re in the middle an intense game, thinking about a major move or reacting to one, and Bobby and Jimmy are talking about how cute that chick at the gym is, or how awesome the latest action flick was when they saw it drunk at 1 in the morning last weekend. If you’re one of these people, do everyone else at the table a favor and shut up. Seriously, or at least keep the conversations to between hands. Even if you’re quick to play and it’s not technically delaying the game play in terms of seconds and minutes, it’s likely pissing someone else off. But maybe that’s the point, which brings me smoothly to the next kind of chatter.

And that is, “talking with a purpose.” Usually this purpose is to throw someone else off their game. These targeted cause/effect statements typically work when you know your competition, at least they’re safer in that environment. There’s no telling how someone you’ve never played with before is going to react to an off-the-cuff comment slamming their favorite sports team.

Other times, the “purpose” chatter is aimed at getting you to reveal something about your hand, either through a slip in your language or revealing your emotion in your voice or body movements while you talk. Unless the person talking is an accomplished actor, though, it’s usually pretty easy to spot. No dude you know mostly from poker games is just gonna ask you how your old, sick dog is doing between the flop and the turn.

A third form of this “purpose” talk is when someone takes an accusatory tone. They’re either frustrated from losing or irritated at a decision they made or you made, but the purpose is generally to vent this frustration and put you back on your heels. Almost like a power move after the cards and chips have been temporarily removed from the equation.

The last major form of talking I hear at poker tables is the “defensive” stance. That description is a little misleading, I’ll admit, since the intention of the person speaking isn’t really to take a defensive stance in the literal sense. I just get the feeling that it comes off that way in particular situations. I’ll explain what I mean. Let’s say there’s a big pot hand and it comes down to you vs. someone else. After an all-in battle, you end up taking the hand…with…9 high (nice lucky failed bluff, man!). Anyway, the loser is none too pleased and lets you know it. Striking the aforementioned accusatory tone, he suggests you shouldn’t have won because you made the wrong call. Or on a different hand he claims you got a lucky card. In either situation, he’s trying to turn the tables and make you feel guilty and wrong for being the winner, even though you’re the one cleaning up the pot. This naturally puts you in a position where most feel they have to explain themselves. You could have a perfectly logical, calm and collected response, but you’re still going to sound like you’re being defensive.

If someone comes at me like that, I usually shrug my shoulders in silence and take a drink of whatever’s next to me. After all, it’s best to let your cards do the talking. The can speak louder, and with a greater purpose, than anyone’s voice every time.