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You Don’t Say

by Michael Wiesenberg |  Published: May 30, 2012


Michael WiesenbergUse all your well-learned politesse
– The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

Things you should never say at the poker table:

“What’s a matter, you afraid to gamble?” The guy with a lock on the pot tries to entice suckers into his web. This backfires sometimes, though, because when the situation is reversed, he quite obviously is never willing to take the worst of it. You gotta give action to get action, goes the saying. Don’t try to cajole the players into doing what you won’t do in return.

“You got as much gamble as my Aunt Minnie.” A variation on this one is, “You must have a lot of gamble in you, because you never let any of it out.” Tight players who wish to seem like they’re giving a lot of action sometimes accuse others of playing tight, mainly to take the heat off themselves. This, too, backfires. If you don’t draw attention to tight play, others might not notice it in you; conversely, if you do draw such attention, they probably will notice. This sort of saying usually comes from a player who “talks” a good game, but rarely gives any action. Don’t talk action; play action. In other words, let your actions speak for themselves.

Heard in a hold’em game: “You should never have called that raise with just a small pair on the flop; it was obvious he already had a big set.” Or, “What were you doing in that pot? Don’t you know that guy never comes in unless he has a monster?” Or, “How could you put all your chips in to draw to a flush? You weren’t even getting 2-to-1 on your money.” There are lots of variations on this theme. They all fall into the category of giving lessons, something a smart poker player should never do. Lots of reasons why. If you teach the players you’ve been beating so easily how to play properly, you may no longer find them so easy to beat. If you embarrass a player after he’s just lost a big pot, he may find it a lot easier to resist getting in the next one, with you. He will reason that if he makes a dumb move, thereby losing a pot, you will laugh at him (or criticize him), and he doesn’t want his feelings hurt again. And, you don’t even want to put the notion into other players’ minds that it’s possible to fold — if they don’t already know it. You should love it when they call raises against the other players in situations when they have much the worst of it. Sure, you don’t get the money that time, but you may the next time. Don’t give lessons. Some of the best poker players are guilty of this sin; they’d be better players if they didn’t do it.

On the river card in a seven stud game: “I bet without looking.” The only time you should say this is when you really didn’t look. Unfortunately, too many players sneak a peek, make this pronouncement, and then bet. True, the rules of poker don’t really cover this situation, at least not in cardrooms. Poker is a game of deception, and many players believe that whatever you can get away with that is technically within the rules is part of that deception. The trouble is, if you do it a lot, people will sometimes see that quick peek, and you’ll get a reputation as a liar, a dishonorable player. That is not a reputation a professional wants. There are enough thieves with deservedly bad reputations without you getting that handle unnecessarily. And if there is any doubt whatsoever that you’re telling the truth in that situation, you won’t be believed the one rare situation where you really do want to bet blind. What should you say? Nothing. Even if you really did bet blind, keep your opponents guessing. If you want to startle the other players, you can train yourself to look at your river card, and take it in almost instantaneously, and bet so fast no one would ever suspect you’d seen the card. And one more thing. Even if you really didn’t look when you made the statement, many people flat refuse to believe it, and you lose whatever value you hoped to get from making a blind bet.

I leave this one for last. Not because it’s best, but because it has become rarer to hear this in cardrooms now that most games are dealt by house dealers. Nonetheless, some small cardrooms still have player-dealt games. “Push losers.” If he can’t quite reach all the chips, the clever guy who wins a huge pot likes to rub it in the faces of those he beat. You can bet those “losers” won’t give him as much action next time. If it’s you who wins the big pot, stand up if you can’t reach all the chips. If it’s a dealer game, the dealer will help. ♠

Michael Wiesenberg has been a columnist for Card Player since 1988. He has written or edited many books about poker, and has also written extensively about computers. His crossword puzzles are syndicated in newspapers and magazines. Send felicitation, flak, and facile facts to