I tend to be a very quiet person at the poker table. There are times when people see me suddenly enter a pot and exclaim that they hadn’t seen me there before. I like this. I’m not there to make friends or have conversations, although this does happen from time to time organically. When I sit down at the poker table I’m there to take other people’s money, and it’s much easier to do that if I’m not getting chummy with them.
Poker is a game of incomplete information. We all know this. Many repeat it like a mantra. One of the most important characteristics of a good player is that they work to prevent their opponent from gathering more information than absolutely necessary to make a decision. You see, poker is also a game of precarious decision-making. Winning players make more correct decisions than losing players. This is the most basic level of separation between good players and bad players. Consistent good decision-making is what makes someone a winner over the long run.
As I gather experience by watching poker shows and playing with people in casinos, it becomes more and more apparent to me that a vast majority of amateur poker players suffer from Talk Too Much disease.
Case in point: the Poker Stars “Big Game” show that featured an amateur “loose cannon” every week. So far I’ve only gotten half way through the first season, but a consistent theme seems to be that amateurs who talk a lot (especially while they’re involved in hands) end up broke, and those who know enough to stay silent at the right times leave with profits.
The only big talker that left with a good amount of money was Ernest Wiggins, and that was because he managed to get extremely lucky in a hand against Phil Helmuth. (Please watch that video, because it’s really one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen.)
Despite the results, this situation is a PERFECT example of Talk Too Much disease. Wiggins makes the classic mistake of not reraising with his pocket kings even though he had two people acting behind him, this is mistake number one out of so many in just 30 or so short seconds. Phil flops three nines and says to Ernest, “That flop looks like you, doesn’t it?” and Ernest confidently says, “No Phil, I look like me.” and Phil laughs because he got exactly what he wanted from the small comment: information. Ernest showed strength so Phil decided to bet big.
Ernest exacerbates the situation by reraising (one street too late), and then Phil says, “What are you going to do if I move in, are you going to call?” and Ernest replies in the affirmative, so he replies, “What, do you have aces or kings?”
This is when the best part of the exchange comes, Ernest says, “If I had aces or kings, man…I’d be the man right now, wouldn’t I?” At this point the whole table starts laughing (at Ernest rather than with him) since everyone except Ernest seems to be fully aware that Phil has him beat, and Daniel Negreanu says, “This is why this show is so fun!”
I’m sure it is fun for the pros to have an amateur letting them know when they’re beat and when they can milk him for all he’s got.
The amazing thing is that exchanges very similar to this one happen over and over during the course of the show. It’s not surprising that very few amateurs have made it through the 150 hands, let alone come away with a profit. I can’t help thinking that they might as well be giving away the money. If you sit down at a table and you know for a fact that every other player is more skilled than you, why would you give them a further edge by revealing exactly what you have through conversation?
Some people are capable of having a conversation that reveals absolutely nothing about their hand, but the vast majority of people do not have such a capability. The lack of self-awareness regarding this fact boils down to ego. Everyone wants to feel like they’re the most clever, the most deceptive, the most intelligent. The reality is that you’re costing yourself money, and the more you talk the less you listen.
The most egregious symptom of Talk Too Much disease is that players who have it are so wrapped up in their own hand and their own big talk that they don’t pay attention to what other players are doing or saying. They don’t even realize that they’re being manipulated and pumped for valuable information. When Phil went all in during the hand in the video, Ernest called confidently and turned over his kings as if it was undoubtedly the winning hand. He didn’t stop to think,”Hey, Phil called out my hand, I basically admitted I had it, and he’s still going all in. Is there not a possibility that he’s going all in because he knows he can beat a hand like aces or kings?” Nope. Didn’t even cross his mind.
Some of my biggest losses have come from me being so wrapped up in my hand that I act before I can think about what the other person may have. I once called off $150 with kings so fast that it left my head spinning, and it wasn’t until my opponent turned over a set of fives that my brain caught up with my betting hand. Looking back on it now I can see that it was a very dangerous board (straight and flush draws all got there) and that I vastly overvalued my single pair of kings. My opponent took advantage of that, and I didn’t even say one word during the hand. Now imagine how much worse it gets when you’re acting more quickly than you should and talking way too much on top of that.
If all you want to do is have fun at a poker table, then by all means chat away. But if you really want to make money consistently, silence is your best friend. Even when you’re not in a hand, a comment you make can inadvertently give your opponent an edge. The other people at a poker table are (usually) not your friends. They want to take your money. The person who will actually come away with that money in the end is the one who can both take advantage of any edge he has and minimize any edge he gives his foes.
You can read Zuly’s comments on poker shows in real time by following @ZulyTweets on Twitter.