16/05/2013

The Guy Who Just Won't Shut Up

Alex Rousso

Poker has a way of putting us in social situations which we would never ordinarily tolerate. Nine or ten people, many of whom we would run a mile from passing the time with, packed around a table, from which we are largely unable to move for hours on end. Not most people’s idea of a party.

The scenario is slightly different for the professional player. This is, after all, their job, and at work one is prepared to put up with much more in the pursuit of making a living. These aren’t people you’re hanging out with. This isn’t a social gathering you’ve chosen to attend. It’s a workplace and these are customers. And the customer is always right.

Occasionally we find ourselves sat next to a customer who’s such a pain in the arse, we wonder why we do it. I’m talking about The Guy Who Just Won’t Shut Up (TGWJWSU). The guy for whom the other nine people at the table are there to be regaled with his brilliant repartee.

In poker, we’re often stuck with these types, but ironically, that’s one of the reasons they are attracted to the game in the first place. In any other social situation, the guy would reel off one or two of his lines, we’d instantly recognise him for who he is, and quietly but politely make our excuses and tootle off. At the poker table, we’re stuck with him. We are his captive audience. Perhaps that’s why he’s there.

The good news is that TGWJWSU is usually a bad player; scatch that – a terrible player. They are often quite new to the game as well. We can surmise this for two reasons. First, because players that terrible don’t often last long in the game. Second, because even the thickest-headed of poker dullards eventually discovers that other people do not share his view of himself, and he is not actually the life and soul of the poker party.

Personally, it’s their newness to the game that winds me up. Guys like this are always coming up with “clever” comments in life. What they fail to realise is that, in poker, we have heard them a thousand times before.

The guy calls my raise preflop. “Are my Aces ahead?” he asks me. Devastating wit. The board runs out unpaired and with no flushes possible. He “psyches out” his opponent by claiming he has a flush or a full house. Genius, I tell you. He folds preflop and the board comes QQ4. “I folded Q4!” he claims. Goodness me, that has never happened before.

In isolation, these comments are irksome but fairly harmless. It’s when they are spat out a machine gun pace for hours on end that you lose the will to live. I sat next to this guy last weekend and had my headphones on within half an hour. And believe me, I like to hear what’s going on at the table because I think what people are saying is invaluable.

It’s important to take this guy’s chips and not let him get you on tilt. Like I say, he’s likely to be the most value guy at the table, so banter aside, you want him to be there. Here are some tips for how to make the time pass more pleasantly between him sitting at the table and inevitably losing all his chips.

Engage him in conversation

Often, the instinctive reaction to TGWJWSU is to stay silent. He tends to kill the mood and everyone passively hopes he’ll go away. This just makes him more insecure and ramps up the number of dumb comments he comes up with. Remember that he’s at the poker table because in other social situations people just walk away from him. Then he found poker. Finally, some friends!

Annoying though he may be, he’ll be more relaxed if you talk to him, he’ll make fewer annoying comments if he has to engage in conversation, and it’ll pass the time quicker. And believe me, his standard of play will not improve*.

Take the piss out of him

The guy is insecure because secretly he needs to captain the table. And his level of insecurity is directly proportional to the number of annoying comments. Take the piss, and you cow him; you show him that he can’t be boss. In most such situations I’ve found that the table takes ages to get wound up with him. Only then do they start taking the piss, but the damage has been done: they’re already on tilt. Start early on this front put him in his place.

If all else fails: headphones

As I say, last weekend it took me only half an hour before the headphones went on. This really is a last resort: as Neil Channing often blogs, players who staunchly shut down and put the headphones on kill the atmosphere of the table. In this extreme situation, however, the atmosphere has already been killed.

If you feel yourself going on tilt, it’s best to look after number one. I suggest putting the headphones on for half an hour, or until the next break, just to recover your equilibrium. Remember that you lose information if you’re not listening in on the table dynamic, and TGWJWSU will give away a lot about his hand verbally. But missing out on that is not as –EV as getting more wound up by him.

The guy that just won’t shut up; insecurity, captive audience; what to do: engage, headphones, take piss

* Caveat: sometimes this strategy can go wrong. I was sat next to TGWJWSU at a Venetian PLO tournament once. He was playing any four cards, aggressively, and getting lucky. Sat to his immediate left, I had to pick my spots very carefully. I humoured the guy while everyone else snarled and bitched about him. After an hour, I finally found myself heads up with him and with a decent hand. I bet, he looked at his cards and said “OK, you’re a nice guy, I’ll let you have it.” *SIGH*

Jared Tendler’s view

This is what Jared Tendler had to say about situations like this.

Use him to improve your mental game

TGWJWSU doesn't annoy everyone at the table. Sure he is probably annoying most of the players, but not everyone. Since that's true, we can't just say that he is annoying, only that he annoys you. So why does this matter? It matters because it's your problem not his. He's not the problem, you have the problem with him. You have no control over what he says, thinks, does, and plays. And, if you try to control it, you'll only play into his hands. He knows he gotten under your skin and he'll dig deeper until you're tilted and making dumb moves. Then, what will happen? You'll blame him. "If he would have just shut the f*** up I wouldn't have blown two buy-ins playing like an a**hole." Wrong. It's your job to control what you can control and not try to control him. So use situations like this to understand specifically what pisses you off. If you figure it out, then you can actually use these situations to become stronger mentally. Many players want to try and take control of the situation, but they have to do that in a controlled way. If they play out of control, then TGWJWSU has won. Force yourself to make well thought out decisions and to learn how to play under these conditions. Athletes in all sports have to learn how to play in less than ideal conditions, ex. bad weather and in front of hostile crowds. The players that excel are the ones who have learned to excel in all conditions. That's your job too.