To Banter or Not to Banter…
Table banter in poker
The banter on the felt is one of the best things about poker, and one of the things that distinguishes it from other sports and games. But is it useful to natter away, or is it harmful? And is it fair, should table banter it have limits?
One of the famous banterers is the loud-mouthed Lithuanian Tony G. Though admittedly hilarious at times, Tony G’s table banter has at times crossed the line of decency and respect. His most infamous outbursts came at the WPT Final Table in Paris two years ago, where Peter Roche and Surinder Sunar were the main victims of needling and table banging. Was this unfair of Tony G? They are professional players after all, and maybe it is part of a pro’s game to be impervious to anything that is thrown at them? As it happened, they were, as Sunar went on to brilliantly win the title, despite constant reminders of Tony G’s superior “commitment to the game,” and “bigger heart.”
In fact, there was only one player strongly affected by the table banter in Paris, and that was Tony G himself. He became over-exuberant in his self-congratulation, and arguably tried to finish the proceedings off too quickly by making some rather strange all-in calls. And so this leads us onto the question – is talking at the table a useful thing?
The motivation of a table chatterer can be to try to needle the opponents, but is also to try to gain information from the response of other players. This of course only works if the talker is gaining more from other players than he is himself giving away with his talk, and it is well worth being careful about this.
I feel the most effective talkers are the ones who bring a natural and friendly tone to the banter at the table. The perfect example of this kind of player is most definitely Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu. His constant chatter is both friendly and goofy, and serves to lighten the atmosphere at the table. I feel that this is Daniel’s genuine character coming out, but at the same time it gains him an awful lot in the poker game.
People enjoy the friendliness, and are tempted into having fun with a character like Negreanu. Players will often be unaware that even the tone of their response can give information away to such a clinical reader. Negreanu has very definitely realised that people give the most away when they are most relaxed, and through this has added a new dimension to an already brilliant game.
At the other end of the scale, just a few players can bring a more threatening air to the table, and do so in the hope that their behaviour will give them an advantage. These tactics should not work against a player who is capable of controlling their emotions, and in fact a good player will use the boorish threats to pick up a clue to how much they can get away with against the talker.
There is one situation in live tournaments where you will often see a player’s macho behaviour gain him a slight advantage, and this is to do with blind stealing. If a player is constantly droning on about how he will stand up to anyone who goes for his blinds, it unfortunately often has the desired effect of making many players less willing to raise on his big blind.
However, it seems a real shame to behave like this. It is much better to take the view that being polite may not help protect your blind, but actually the bigger pots are won when you yourself can re-steal from the blinds. If a friendlier air means that people are more likely to attack your blind, then the sneaky re-raise move is much more likely to work.
And what of Tony G, his outbursts and apparent hatred towards Russians? Maybe surprisingly, Tony has always been a wonderfully friendly guy, and even a little quiet, away from the table. He is actually always a very gracious loser at the table- it is only his behaviour in winning that has been the subject of criticism. However, the incredible outbursts are definitely a thing of the past, as Tony has nicened up his act at the table. Upon winning the inaugral Asian Poker Tour event earlier this year, he pledged half of his winnings to charity.
Maybe this is the best part of his character shining through, but just maybe he has realised that the best way of succeeding at the table is actually by being nice.
Good luck and see you at the tables – Stuart “TrickyRock” Rutter.