A lot of what makes poker such a fascinating game is that it allows a player to influence the course of a hand just by saying something.
Because of that, when you play poker, it’s expected that you know how to talk to other players.
Still, there are moments when words are not only not advisable, but even unacceptable. That’s when talking becomes a sin at poker.
In this post, I’ll be going over the subject of speaking at the poker table.
When Is It Appropriate to Talk at the Poker Table?
First, let’s start by making clear why, and when, you should talk at a poker table.
There are at least two reasons to do this. The first reason is to extract information from the other players.
Your opponent may fall prey to a slip of the tongue, for example. And that single comment may be all you need to make a decision.
Another reason to talk is to balance your table image, as we’ll see.
The Importance of Talking When Playing Tight
If you’re playing tight, being too quiet might prevent you from getting some action when you hit a great hand.
Sometimes, this will happen even if you’re being aggressive pre-flop and c-betting frequently.
The logic here is simple. If you talk a lot, you give the impression that you’re giving a lot of action, too.
Of course, you must also beware of not talking too much. Being annoying would be even worse than not saying anything at all. But we’ll get into that later in this article.
The Importance of Talking When Playing Loose-Aggressive
If you’re playing loose-aggressive, your actions may cause some discomfort at the table. Hence, talking may prevent others from resenting what you do.
That’s another thing that Mike Caro said. Published on the old Poker1 site, here’s a quote from the first paragraph of an article of his called “Poker Word Is Talk.”
Whenever I’m seated at a poker table, one of my main missions is to make my opponents feel comfortable with me. I believe the more they enjoy my presence, the more money I’ll make.
An exception for this rule is if you want to be the “villain” of the table, so to speak. But, if you do, you’d better have some stomach for it. Not everyone can be Tony G.
In fact, I bet that not even Tony G behaves like Tony G when there are no cameras around.
So, unless you know what you’re doing, it’s better to take it easy with any kind of trash talk, especially if you’re more of a cash game player than a tournament player.
What Is a Sin at the Poker Table?
Okay, now, we can start paying more attention to the premise of this article. You might have thought I was exaggerating when I said that talking at poker can become a sin.
I can’t blame you if you thought this. I’m just gonna ask you to stay with me for the next lines, and you’ll understand what I meant by that.
There are at least two ways to understand the word “sin.” The most common is that which you will find in most dictionaries.
It usually has something do with offending a particular deity by not doing what that deity specifically demands from you.
Here’s how the Cambridge Dictionary defines this word: “the offence of breaking, or the breaking of, a religious or moral law.”
This sounds good. However, some Bible scholars have also pointed out the following:
Doesn’t this make things a little more interesting than the other definition?
I think so. Because if forces a person to answer an important question before anything else.
The question is, “Why am I even seated at this poker table in the first place?”
What Is Your Goal as a Poker Player?
Asking what someone’s goal is in poker might even be offensive to some people.
“What do you mean, what’s my goal? Of course it’s to make money!”
Good for you. Because, for many others, this is not necessarily the case. Sure, nobody enjoys losing money, at least nobody that I know of. But some players’ main goal is to socialize.
It doesn’t matter so much to them if they have some losing sessions here and there. Their goals include feeling like part of an “in-crowd.” Maybe poker is not as cool as it was 10 years ago, but it’s still quite fashionable to be seen at a poker table.
Others are in it more for the challenge that it brings. They do want to win, but it’s often enough that they have done their best and have learned something (regardless of the result).
And let’s not forget that some play for the thrill. As a consequence, these people sometimes treat poker as if it were a game of chance.
So, as you can see, “missing the mark” means different things for different people. Still, there’s a goal that should be shared by everyone who likes poker, to keep the integrity of the game.
And, to do so, everyone must know how to behave properly at a table.
The Etiquette of Poker
How many times have you seen a player talking about a hand they’re not involved in? Many times, they may not even be aware that this is a sin.
For example, when playing Omaha, the flop may bring three cards of the same suit. It’s here that someone might feel compelled to say, “Someone must have a flush!”
If another player reprehends them for saying that, the answer will be something like, “But isn’t that obvious?”
Maybe. But it’s none of your business… Of course, if you’re playing that hand, this is actually your business.
But even then, you don’t have the right to say much unless you’re on a heads-up situation. And you can’t just say anything you want. You can’t, for example, explicitly give away the content of your hand.
I know this last comment sounds crazy, and it should have been unnecessary. But if you’ve watched poker on TV, you might have seen that happen at least more than once.
The reasons for doing it are what I’ll analyze in our next section. Before finishing this brief discussion about poker etiquette, I’d like to offer a tip, though.
If you don’t know whether you can or cannot say something during a hand, just be quiet. You can always clarify your doubts once that hand is over.
The Most Human of All Needs
The rest of this article only applies if your main objective at poker is to make money. Or, to put it in more technical terms, to maximize your gains and minimize your losses.
If that’s your case, it’ll be easy for you to remember things you said during a hand that were counterproductive to your main goal.
Unfortunately, many times, this realization only comes after you leave the table. And you may even ask yourself, “Why did I say that?”
This is what Dale Carnegie (paraphrasing John Dewey) calls “the desire to be important” in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Of course, Carnegie is aware of other human desires as well (food, sleep, sex, etc.). And he also mentions them in his book.
But the desire to feel important deserves a special place. For a start, because it’s characteristically human (most animals seem okay if their other needs are met).
Another reason is that, as Carnegie says, such desire is “seldom gratified.” And when it’s not gratified properly, guess what happens? It degenerates into desperate actions in search for external validation, like the example we provided above.
What other explanation would you give to a person who complains to others about a bad run of cards? And what other explanation can you give to a person who says, “I knew it!” after a showdown?
I wish I could say that there’s an easy fix to this type of behavior. But, if there is, I don’t know about it.
What I am aware of is, first of all, the need to be honest with oneself. And, once you recognize this, you need to address your insatiable need to feel important.
The safest way to do that is by experiencing different kinds of contemplative practices. You can try one of many different forms of meditation, for example.
What do all these techniques have in common? Silence.
The good thing is that, whatever route you take, you don’t need to worry about losing your edge as a player.