I know this article is being written for an online poker site, but I hope that most of you still find time to play live poker. As much as I love online poker, I would never completely give up sitting at a table and getting the chance to size up an opponent. This week's lesson will examine why I think it is a mistake to wear headphones or sunglasses during live play. Poker is a game of information. You give information to your opponents, and they give information to you.
Most of that information is in the form of betting patterns, which is why online poker is such a great form of the game. All of the betting information is right there for you to use while playing a hand. But when you play live, there is a small amount of additional information that is given off through physical tells and audio cues. I am a very visual player, and am blessed with good eyesight. I wear contacts, and with them, my vision is 20/15. I constantly use my eyes to take in every nuance of what's going on around me at the table. If I wore sunglasses, much of that information would be lost to me. I am confident that the information I take in with my eyes far exceeds what I give away.
If you currently employ sunglasses when you play, I would encourage you to try playing without them. Yeah, you look cool in them. Maybe. But, if you try playing without them while staying committed to taking in as much visual information as possible, you might find that not only are you doing better, the game is suddenly more interesting as well.
I reserve special scorn for the rampant use of headphones in poker tournaments. They slow down the action and, on the whole, I believe they hurt the people who use them. When a player throws a single, large chip into the pot, he usually announces ‘raise' or ‘call'. But all the guys at the table wearing headphones can't hear the call. Invariably, they have to take off their headphones and ask the dealer what the bet is. It is annoying when the action comes to a grinding halt to clarify something that anyone without headphones already knows. Also, poker is a social game. It would make me sad if poker someday becomes a game where nine people are sitting at a table listening to music, and no one is talking to one another.
Also, there are some valuable things you can pick up on simply by paying attention to the conversation around the table. You can sometimes tell when someone is over his head just by listening to him talk. In a recent tournament, I won a very large pot as we were nearing the last few tables because I heard someone speaking a few minutes earlier.
It was the Bellagio $15K WPT poker tournament. The blinds were $4K-$8K and I was in the big blind. A player who'd been playing very tight so far opened the pot from an early position for $25K. The small blind called and I looked down at 9-9. I often re-raise with this hand, but this seemed like a good time to just call. The flop was 8s 5s 3c. The small blind checked and, with about $275K in front of me and $100K in the pot, I continued playing cautiously and checked. The opener checked, too. The turn was (8s 5s 3c) 6c and the small blind checked. I felt like I must have the best hand, so I bet $50K. I was very surprised when the original opener raised all-in for a total of $175K. The small blind folded and now I had a big $125K decision to make. If I call and win, I have $550K and am in great shape. If I call and lose I'm in real trouble.
I didn't think he had a big hand, but it didn't seem like a very good bluffing situation either. The board looked really dangerous. Plus, I hadn't seen this player get out of line at all. But then I remembered a comment he had made to his neighbor about ten minutes earlier. He had hardly played a hand for about an hour, and said to the guy next him that his cards had been so bad, it would have been just as well if he had stayed in his room after the last break. Remembering that comment, I felt there was a good chance that he was frustrated. With that factored in, I made the call. He turned over the Kd-Qd, and with a 2 on the river, I won a key hand that put me in great shape in a big tournament. If I had been listening to music, I don't think I could have made the call.
Poker is a game of information. Sunglasses might keep some information from getting out, but they stop more from coming in. Headphones simply give you fewer opportunities to gain valuable information about other players. These are handicaps I am not willing to spot my opponents.