Poker pet peeves I have and don’t have

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2007) in Bluff magazine.

When you have a “pet peeve,” you have predetermined that a certain type of behavior will annoy you greatly anytime you encounter it. That same behavior might not have bothered you much if you’d just experienced it for the first time. But now you’ve formed an opinion and probably expressed it in public. And so you’re emotionally married to that opinion and are committed to being annoyed.

I once wrote a column about pet peeves in poker. Nobody understood it. I contended that players shouldn’t have any pet peeves, that having them was unproductive, and  short-circuited critical thinking. My contention was that you need to give yourself a chance to be irritated on a situation-by-situation basis, rather than forcing misery on yourself whenever someone exhibited pet-peeve-worthy behavior.

Extreme personal distaste

As the column continued, I grew ever more forceful, ranting that if there was one thing I couldn’t tolerate, it was players with pet peeves. People with pet peeves made me crazy. Of course, the whole point behind that column was that my extreme personal distaste for pet peeves was, in itself, a pet peeve. We all have pet peeves, whether we call them that or not, and we must struggle not to let them distort our outlooks.

Let me give you a real-life example that’s a bit gross. Unfortunately, it’s the first example that comes to mind, so I’ll just go with it and damn the consequences. When I was much younger, it bothered me when patrons at a restaurant used a napkin to blow their noses. I knew those napkins would be reused after possibly not being washed thoroughly enough. And I pitied the people who had to handle them after the customer left. Today, I’m not nearly as fussy about other people’s actions, because maturity has taught me that we all exhibit bizarre behavior at times, without even knowing it.

Fine. I had a date with a fine woman who was cute as a bug – in fact, even cuter. And I was charmed by her. And I sat across the table from her and she was sniffling. She scouted her purse for a Kleenex, found none, then reached for the nearest cloth napkin and daintily dabbed her nose. Incredibly, I found this endearing. Pet peeves should never be absolute.

I no longer have any announced pet peeves, poker or otherwise, but the equivalent still survives in the form of things that regularly irritate me. Here’s a list some of my poker irritations, mixed in with common poker pet peeves of others. I’ll comment along the way.

Peeve 1

(A personal poker irritation.) I’ve previously expressed my contempt for skillful players who discuss serious poker strategy at the table, where weaker players are listening. I’m not complaining because the weaker players might learn from the discussions. My gripe is something quite different. I believe that table talk about complex strategy makes recreational players feel uncomfortable. They become self-conscious about making carefree wagers that may come under scrutiny, and – as a result – they throw less money in the direction of superior opponents. In effect, superior players may be quibbling with each other about the correct way to play a hand. And that correct way only makes a 23-cent difference. But by the act of conducting the public debate, they may be costing themselves hundreds or even thousands of potential dollars.

Peeve 2

(A common poker pet peeve.) Some players lose their civility whenever a dealer makes a mistake. Sometimes these players point out that they would have made a flush and won the pot. They believe that the error cost them significant money. Actually, it didn’t – not in the theoretical long-run. Overall, mistakes will work in your favor exactly often enough to balance the times when they will work against you. So, obviously, I don’t share that pet peeve. Instead, I treat dealers like the weather. I don’t get made at the rain or the wind. I just accept dealer mistakes and sometimes giggle. And I play on.

Peeve 3

(A personal poker irritation.) In poker tournaments, there’s a rule that says you can’t tell opponents what cards you’re holding, even heads-up. Note that there isn’t a rule against talking about your hand. You can lie, if you want to. But you can’t say what cards you really hold. The intent, I guess, is to keep players from colluding – which, of course, is a noble ambition. However, my thinking is that you really shouldn’t be concerned about players telling each other what they hold in front of everyone. Collusion just doesn’t work that way. Players who cheat by partnering up take extreme measures to conceal their activities. Look for subtle signals, not obvious chat.

And when the chat cannot be true, by rule, there’s a problem with logic. That means everything you say about your hand must be false. So, if I say, “I have a pair of aces,” I must have something else. This gives information to an opponent. But if I frequently lie about my hands and sometimes tell the truth, then opponents have much more trouble deciphering my hands from my words. The rule really works against its intention. In fact, if I said, “Don’t worry, I don’t have aces,” then you could be sure that I do have aces – otherwise I’d be telling the truth and going to jail. I hate that no-truth-telling rule. It takes a lot of fun out of poker. This isn’t a pet peeve, by the way – merely an annoyance.

Peeve 4

(A common poker pet peeve.) Some players lose their sanity when an opponent exercises the right to see their hands. The rule is that if you’re involved in a showdown and concede the pot by folding, any other player at the table can request that you turn your cards face-up. Often players will have bluffed and been called. Then they’ll bark, “Good call” and throw their cards face down.

If an opponent demands to see those cards, the bluffer will become enraged. Not only has he lost his money, but he now feels as though someone is adding to his agony by trying to embarrass him. The feeling is understandable, but it shouldn’t be the basis for a pet peeve. A rule is a rule – good or bad. And this rule is there for a reason. It’s intended to make players feel comfortable that the action was legitimate or just to satisfy another player’s curiosity. Personally, I never use this rule. If an opponent doesn’t want to show a hand, I don’t insist. But some players do insist. And when they do, you shouldn’t grumble. Just show politely. If you must have a pet peeve, surely you can find something better than this.

Peeve 5

(A personal poker irritation.) Now we come to the thing that drives me most nuts of anything. It’s simply this: Solid players who enter games where everyone is playing silly and sit smugly taking advantage. Obviously, if you’re a skillful player, you want to sit in weak games, especially ones in which opponents are playing poorly and having a good time in the process.

But wait! When you sit in those games, you have an obligation to join the party. You shouldn’t sit there with a serious, sour expression, waiting for premium hands and broadcasting by demeanor that you’re there to conquer. Doing so spoils the mood, encourages others to play more cautiously, and sometimes breaks up the game altogether. We call especially conservative players “rocks.” And often rocks aren’t very outgoing. They don’t fit in.

Listen. Always try to join the party games when you’re at a carefree table. Mix it up and have a good time. Your profit comes from not playing as poorly as the rest of the table. But you’ve got to use camouflage to keep that party spirit alive. Nothing annoys me more than to be sitting in a high-profit, carefree game, giggling and stacking chips when a tough-as-nails pro sits down and shows everyone that he’s a serious player.

That sucks! It just irritates me beyond words. I despise it every time anyone does that! But it’s not a pet peeve. I don’t have any. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


9 thoughts on “Poker pet peeves I have and don’t have”

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  1. I just realized sometimes I get too busy talking to everyone and play too lose. Maybe I should sthu!

  2. “I grew ever more forcefully”

    Mike: you meant “forceful.”

    Sheryl: just smile and nod along with the extroverts!

    Seb who talks to everyone

    1. Thanks Seb 7 —

      I changed “forcefully” to “forceful” and credited you in the change log (linked to from home page).

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  3. Hmmmm. Some things to think about. Thanks, especially, for number five. I’m a bit of an introvert, I play conservatively, and I don’t drink. I know I seem way too serious at a the table. I’ll see what I can do to lighten up a bit. I’m too old to change my personality, but at least I can be more aware of how others might interpret my behavior.

  4. Great post, and I love your last Non-Peeve most. For me, poker is a game that I enjoy playing, and I want others to enjoy it as well so they will be more inlined to play some more (the more the merrier). When someone joins a table or game that isn’t in the same spirit, they can suck the fun right out of the whole thing, and create tension.

    Since I know you love hippies Mark, I’ll put it this way: “They’re harshing the buzz, man.”

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