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Knowing Which Poker Players To Ignore

If you’re going to play winning poker, you’re going to have to ignore a lot of people.

I was once playing deep in a major tournament. I barreled two streets versus a a good reg. On the river, another draw came in, but my combo draw missed. The river card also happened to be an over card to the board. I debated jamming for a second, then I decided this player wouldn’t fold. I checked. He checked back with a good pair. “Thanks for not jamming the river,” he chortled at me after I tabled my hand. “Although, if you jammed, I would have called,” he then added. It took all my energy to not laugh hysterically at this reg. I wanted to tell him, “WHOA WHAT A SICKO. WHAT EVER I DO YOU’RE GONNA BEAT ME HUH?” But right after he said it, you could tell he felt silly. He threw up the white flag in a nonverbal way. He’s normally an even keeled cool guy, so you could tell this foray into smack talking was not in his normal wheelhouse. I accidentally stared at him incredulously with a big smile, trying not to say anything. He gave me a look like, ‘yeah, you got me, that was not my best speech play.’ I then remembered my manners, straightened my face, and got back to the next hand.  

The Honest Truth

The truth is, back when I started playing poker the pros were more or less pool hustlers. If they were my opponent in this hand, they’d go, “whoa, I got lucky there, you had some outs!” They’d try to make you feel better so you’d stay in the game. If you ever watch Negreanu work he’s old-school like this. He makes the game fun for the players, and they keep coming back to play with him. Sadly, we’re no longer in that era. There’s a lot of talk now in poker, and a good deal of it is not pleasant or beneficial.

What bothers me the most about this era is the elitism. It keeps new players out of the game. We more or less socialize players into being terrified of making a mistake, because we’ll just mock them if they do something “wrong.” This ruins many loose games. Don’t get me wrong, I was a punk too when I was younger. I’ve said my share of dumb things at the poker table. But now that I’m older I realize we have to do more to make this game fun for new players. Since I can’t collectively change the poker playing populace to be more welcoming, what I can do is help you guys not worry about the crap some people spew online and off.

How To React

I didn’t know it at the time, but the best response to someone needling you is to smile at them. If they’re being particularly vicious, then laugh hard at them. That instance in real life taught me a good lesson: If you laugh at someone’s needle, smile wide, and just roll your eyes. It really makes the player off balance by showing you don’t care. If you dig in and start arguing with them then you’ve already lost, just take the high road and go, “it’s just a game buddy” it makes them sound even sillier. If you’ve ever watched a boxing match you’ll see fighters do a version of this. They get rocked hard with a right hand…and they smile at their opponent. It’s the most defeating feeling in the world if you do it right, it sends the message, “you’re going to have to try a lot harder than that kid if you want to get to me.”

If you ever lose a big pot at the table, you should joke with the dealer in the next hand or two. Ask them how they’ve been. Make idle conversation like you couldn’t care less. Poker players get emboldened when they think you’re hurting. If you show them you’re not staking your life on the outcome of a card game they will back off. Most guys in 2022 are pretty terrible when it comes to trash talking. They’re used to no one saying anything back. I have a few clever canned responses from old home games that I use routinely. I’m always shocked at how freaked out trash talkers will become now if you say just a couple of blasé jokes back. Did these guys never play pick-up sports growing up? That said, you almost never need to respond back verbally. The best response is always just to laugh and smile. That will shut up 90% of guys now. If a guy is really working on you, just put the headphones in, turn on something chill, and turn the volume up. I suggest Kuranesh.

Don’t take the headphones off. When they say something to you just point at your headphones and mouth the words, “I can’t hear you.” If they ask you again go, “I don’t speak English.” This has pissed off every single trash talker I’ve ever dealt with. Many of these guys are desperate for attention, so this drives them crazy. At the end of the day be sure to take off your headphones, smile wide, and say “pleasure playing with you” before you head out. Online, turn off your chat. Always. It’s always a waste of time. Focus on your game. I haven’t played with chat on any site for almost five years now.

The Benefits Of Tuning Them Out

Knowing who to ignore is a valuable skill in all avenues of life, but in poker it’s particularly important. You’ll get a lot of advice from people who have no idea what they’re talking about. If someone tells you to do a certain play because your play was bad say to them, “okay, what’s the evidence?” Never take someone at their word. Any dumbass can win in poker for three years, that doesn’t mean their word is gospel. If you ask, “where’s the evidence” and the guy shows you statistics, combinatoric analyses, solvers, something…alright, now we’re rocking. Now you need to double check the math. Find another program that does the same thing the first program was doing, do the math yourself, and see if it matches. If you’ve got the same result, then you’re in business.

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion,” W. Edwards Deming

Let’s say you do the math and find a different result. You come back to the guy and show your findings. If he changes his opinion or revises it slightly that’s someone who doesn’t approach this game with religious fervor. That’s someone who cares about the truth. This person is a great resource. One guy like that is worth more than the rest of the idle chit chatters put together. If someone came up to you on the street while you were walking to your job and started yelling their unsubstantiated political opinions, then you’d rightfully be pissed. That person would be deliberately wasting your time. Sadly, many “friends” in life are not much better than that random person, they just want you to confirm what they already believe about themselves or the world. They’re not working to find the truth, they want to be comforted instead. They’re wasting your time, you must avoid them at all costs. This goes beyond poker.

Finally, if someone is a truth seeker and has the data to back it up, you’re going to need to hang out with that person even if they’re not particularly likeable. You just want their ideas, you don’t want them as a spouse. A number of guys who taught me about poker when I was in my teens treated me terribly. I was mocked ruthlessly and made to run errands, but it didn’t matter. They were giving me six-figure insights into the game. If I had to eat shit to get the goods, then that’s what I did. When I got older and began doing my own analysis of poker players and games, I’d always study outliers a great deal. People would always wonder why I would do this. I would find a player that was considered “terrible” or “lucky” by the poker populace, and I’d try to reverse engineer what they were doing at the tables. Many of these guys had earned their hatred by being brash at the tables, unorthodox, and terrible losers. But again, I wasn’t trying to marry the guy, I wanted to steal his ideas. There’s a difference.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, I’d recommend reading Tim Ferriss broadly, especially any article of his which details rapid learning. His lessons on tuning out noise and focusing on what’s extremely important is what’s helped many people excel in their careers.

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