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On Paying Attention

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Nov 13, 2013


Gavin GriffinI’m guilty of it too. I’m watching the football game or reading a book or listening to a podcast or whatever else I’m doing. I, luckily, have not gotten into the Open-Face Chinese (OFC) craze that is sweeping the poker world. I try not to slow the game down and I think I do a pretty good job of that. I try to keep the game moving as much as possible when I see someone else not paying attention.

Here’s what I do notice when I’m paying attention: Nobody else is. Almost everyone is on their phone or watching the TV. Worse yet, they’ve got their iPad on their lap and their head down. Poker is a game that used to involve social skills but our devices have destroyed that. Everyone has a wonderful little computer in their pocket, a little crutch with a four-inch screen and the Internet at our fingertips. Candy Crush, OFC, Kindle, Pandora, whatever. All of these things have turned a social game into a game where every down moment is filled by entertainment. It’s not only true of the poker world, it’s true everywhere. When was the last time you got on an elevator and didn’t immediately take out your phone? When was the last time you were waiting in a doctor’s office and didn’t fire up Candy Crush? When you’re hanging out with your friends, do you check your Twitter when they run up to get a drink or go to the bathroom?

One thing I read on a poker forum really stuck out to me this year. There was a thread about the WSOP Player of the Year standings and there was some discussion about who was having the best year up to that point. At the time Dan Kelly had made a bunch of deep runs but wasn’t very close to the top of the leaderboard. One of the posters chimed in with an opinion on Dan. He’s a guy that’s been around for quite a long time and has played with most everyone you might know in the poker world. He said that Dan was the best player he’s played with besides Phil Ivey and he listed all of his good skills. One that he cared to note was his focus. He said that Dan Kelly, unlike many of the players these days, never once looked at his phone or got distracted by the TV. What a keen observation this man made that one of the things he noticed about one of the best tournament players in the world was something he wasn’t doing. He wasn’t looking at his phone.

Like I said, I’m guilty of it too, but it needs to stop. Imagine this scenario. You are a tourist heading in to your favorite Las Vegas casino. You see two tables for the game you want to play, each with a seat open. At one table, each player glances up from their phone in turn to see what cards they have and decide whether they are going to play them. If they are, they sleep their phone, play their hand, and when they’re finished, they turn their phone back on and play the next card in OFC. The pots seem to be decently sized, but there is little to no conversation outside of the mechanics of the game and few of the faces are smiling.

At the other table nobody has their phone out. A gentleman wearing a Patriots hat and one wearing a Jets hat are engaged in a lively but friendly conversation about the prospects of their favorite NFL teams and perhaps disparaging each other’s favorite. Three others are toasting with their beers that just showed up while the rest of the table is engaged in a hand of poker. Those involved in the hand don’t have hoodies or headphones on and are engaged in a little bit of table talk as well.

Which of these two games seems like more fun to someone who is walking in to the poker room for the first time with $1,000 or $10,000 or even $100 burning a hole in their pocket? If both of these games were like the first one, do you think the newcomer would pick one of them or perhaps just turn around and bring his money to a craps table that’s hooting and hollering?

The truth is, I usually speak about paying attention and being engaged at the poker table because it helps your game, helps your study, and improves your bottom line. In truth though, one of the biggest reasons poker players need to pay attention to the game and engage with the players around them is to make the game more attractive to new players. Because poker is essentially a meritocracy and the best players at each limit are going to gather up the money that’s being lost at that limit, we need new money being fed into the industry on a regular basis. Of course, poker as a game is inherently interesting and challenging to many people and presents a problem that they want to solve. Not everyone is that inherently interested in games and logic problems so we must do our best to present this game that we love as engaging and encouraging to new blood. Laugh it up, have a drink with someone who offers, tell stories, needle people in a fun way, ignore small rules violations for newcomers, pay attention to what they’re saying, and above all, have fun. It is a game after all. ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG