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The Rules Guy: How To Conduct Yourself at the Poker Table

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Nov 13, 2013

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Most players learn poker’s explicit rules pretty quickly: the “one-chip rule,” for example, or “verbal declarations are binding.” But not everyone seems to have digested the game’s vast book of unwritten rules, admonitions like “don’t berate other players (particularly bad ones)” or “say ‘nice hand’ even when you mean something entirely different.”

Enter “The Rules Guy.” TRG believes that civility and sportsmanship are never wrong, and that bad behavior (even when you’re simply trying to get an edge) is bad for the game. Have you got a question about how to conduct yourself at the poker table? Email TRG at therulesguy@cardplayer.com.


No Laughing Matter!

Dear The Rules Guy:

I am sure you saw the YouTube clip when Shaun Deeb slowrolled Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. I gotta know, Rules Guy, was that cool?

— A Card Player Reader

Dear Reader,

Sigh! Some things are, of course, beyond the pale at the poker table. For example, cheating or collusion of any kind is beyond the pale; if we assigned “hand values” to bad behavior, cheating would be the royal flush of things not to do. And in this imperfect calculus, if cheating is the royal flush, then slowrolling an opponent can rightly be considered the quads of wickedness.

And quads, ironically, is what Shaun Deeb held in what The Rules Guy hopes will become an infamous breech of decorum — an object lesson, a morality tale.

The hand in question, in a scene destined to feature on the forthcoming show “Poker Night in America” occurs in a cash game at Turning Stone Casino in upstate New York. The game is no-limit hold’em, the blinds are $25-$50, and the lineup is great, and decidedly colorful: Mike “The Mouth” Matusow and Shaun Deeb, of course, along with the likes of Tom Schneider, Greg Mueller, and Gavin Smith. Everyone’s having fun, though Matusow has just lost an all-in pot with queens versus Schneider’s aces, and is steaming a bit.
On to the slowroll: Mueller straddles, Mike raises to $400 with pocket jacks (with $5,600 behind), Deeb calls with pocket fives, and everyone else gets out of the way.
Presto! Flop is 10-5-5 with two clubs. Deeb is obviously a fan of this flop, and it presumably looks to be a good flop for Matusow’s overpair. Mike opens for $1,000. Deeb calls (in that nonchalant way which usually means: “Woot! I’ve got the nuts!”). The turn is the 4Club Suit, completing a meaningless and nonexistent flush draw, and Matusow moves all-in.

Here’s what should have happened next: Deeb says “I call” within two seconds, adding, “Sorry, Mike, I have quads.” Then he might, or might not, make a comment about being lucky, running well, or something to take the sting out of losing the pot for Mike.
But what actually happened is this: Deeb took 30 full seconds (a figurative blink of an eye if you’re watching, say, a commercial; an eternity if you’re waiting on a poker player to fold or call). He paused. He laughed at a neighbor’s joke. He gave a sly and seemingly evil wink to someone at the table. He even asked for a count — as if the amount made any different to his decision to call or not.

And after 30 seconds, Deeb said “I call,” then turned over his hand and began the joyous celebration.

Joyous, that is, if you’re Shaun Deeb. Or maybe if you’re not in the hand. But not if you’re Mike Matusow. Or anyone else who values civility at the table.

Good poker players try to understand their opponent, try to put their visible decisions into a framework or a context that makes them understandable (“Ah, he raised on the come with his flush draw.”). But what can anyone understand about Shaun Deeb, an excellent player, and his thinking when he slowrolls one of poker’s most emotional players? With every second, he delays the inevitable pain and frustration he is preparing to inflict on a player already in pain and already frustrated (remember that Matusow’s queens ran into Schneider’s aces). Every second Deeb delays gives Matusow hope — that Deeb will fold or will call with a worse hand — hope that will be dashed in a particularly painful and humiliating way.

A slowroll is a dagger sharp enough to penetrate the heart and rough enough to hurt like hell going in. And when you slowroll a friend, that dagger is heated, then dipped in a mixture of lye and curare, and then slowly plunged into your friend’s heart for maximum pain.

Perhaps TRG goes too far. Maybe the slowroll is part of the game. Mike Matusow is a big boy, an experienced poker player, and he should be able to laugh it off. But the reality is different (and, TRG thinks, the reality is always different): Matusow is emotional, he wears his heart on his proverbial sleeve, and — this is the key point — he is a friend of Deeb’s.

Slowrolling is no way to treat a friend. It’s not even a way to treat an enemy.

And the look of anger, and frustration, and humiliation on Matusow — entirely predictable, entirely understandable — is enough to convince anyone that slowrolling is an act of malice. And it should have been enough to convince Deeb that he should apologize pronto. Even if he didn’t apologize pronto, he should have distanced himself from it by saying (via Twitter, or in an interview) something like “man, I should never have slowrolled the Mouth on TV — that was a cheap shot, and I apologize to Mike.” Instead, Deeb said something to the effect “I thought it would make good TV.”

TRG has some questions: First, when did making “good TV” trump being a good friend or a good person? Second, how can a slowroll (or any of the more egregious behaviors seen around a poker table) be good for poker on TV? Third, how can it be beneficial to the game to make fun of another person’s pain and suffering?

TRG also has some concrete recommendations: Shaun Deeb, call your friend Mike and atone for your sin. Use part of that pot, and a hefty part, to buy him an incredible dinner or take him out for an incredible night on the town. Mike Matusow: Anger is part of your schtick (and TRG doesn’t blame you for being angry), but don’t threaten physical violence to Deeb or anyone else. Both of you have an interest in making the game more approachable, more welcoming, and more fun — not just an interest but a responsibility. Accept that responsibility, especially when you’re on TV.

Perhaps some good can come from this inexplicable bad. Perhaps people will think twice about the possibility of inflicting pain at the poker table. Perhaps people will think that “good TV” and good poker result from playing hard against your opponents and treating them with respect. Perhaps. TRG is, after all, an optimist, about human nature if not his ability to win flips. ♠