Are You A Bully?

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Despite logging an enormous amount of hours at the poker table, I found it odd (and even somewhat implausible) that I’ve rarely received harsh criticism on my play. With several thousand hands played in live setting and even more accumulated online, you would think I’d possess a memory full of hilarious chats and conversations. Although it would be easy to attribute the lack of stories to my introverted personality or laid-back demeanor, I think it’s merely a product of staying focused and collected during my time at the felt.

In a unique correlation, recent news about bullying as a growing trend, or more specifically the incident of Karen Huff Klein has inspired me to compare the similarities of bullying and tilting. Luckily enough, most of the information I’ll be providing in regards to poker will not be first hand experience. But despite the absence of a first-hand account, I’ve witnessed and remedied more than my first share of table arguments.

While maybe this wasn’t my first preference in terms of amusement for my inaugural strategy post, I think its topic should serve as entertainment, and also spur thought to the correlation between harassment and spiteful poker banter.

To provide a brief background, Karen Huff Klein is an elderly bus monitor who worked for the Greece, NY middle school district. Only 1 & ½ hours away from my hometown, locally this was one of the most televised events in recent weeks. Its popularity grew exponentially because Mrs. Klein was viewed on a viral video taking harsh criticism from several middle school students. While the actual dialogue of the conversation is rousing, the main point to understand is that the students’ words were particularly unkind, unacceptable, and undeserving to any human being. (The actual clip can be viewed on nearly any social media or video web site.)

Because of the content of the students’ words, and the growing epidemic that bullying has become, the video ignited outrage. Waves of disappointment stemmed from the behavior of the students, and also the school district’s neglect to discipline such an act appropriately. There’s still much research that needs to be done with the incident, but most viewers were also surprised at the course of action that Mrs. Klein chose to take. Despite Mrs. Klein being harassed for over 10 minutes, she rarely broke composure, to the shock of millions of observers.

Stating afterwards that all she would ask for is a sincere apology, it was astonishing that anyone who is not a robot could emerge from such a situation with humility.

For many poker players, we’ve learned to accept and manage our emotions because it’s what we’ve been trained to do. Separating the luck and human elements from our mathematical expectations, it’s known to be beneficial to ignore feelings for the bigger cause of making money. The best players are experts at this task, but the majority will have lapses in judgment. Not to imply that either side of the argument is more valuable than the other, but it’s interesting to think about – are we better off ignoring tilt or expressing our emotion?

For those of us who are feverishly analytical, we’d likely sift through our databases and poker journals to find instances where we tilted off several buy-ins, and compare the expected value to similar situations where we were more level-headed. The results might prove that we benefit financially by avoiding tilt, but is it useful mentally and physically to go on a verbal tangent?
In my opinion it is, but we can’t go it for prolonged periods and towards another individual. I’ll explain why.

While I didn’t take the time to scientifically research the duration of the average argument, I can’t see any constructive benefit or relief occurring after 1-2 minutes. I’ve been upset before, and its commonplace to give your most crude and honest feelings very shortly after an incident. But for those who continue to direct statements to a person for minutes, or even hours afterwards, you should probably see a shrink. I say this because the continuance of such conduct should only serve to tilt you further. Your opponent may initially be distraught by your comments, but over time they will eventually grow numb. Self-induced tilt as I like to call it; it’s particularly detrimental to your game and should be avoided at all costs.

Your villain, and less-obviously the other players at the table should pick up on your frustration and use it to their advantage. In a game where many of the players are of similar skill, playing while on tilt could be the difference between positive and negative results.

Reverting back to Mrs. Klein, in an effort to lift her spirits, a stranger started an online fundraising site designed to help send her on a dream vacation with her family. While it’s expectation was to earn a few thousand dollars, the donations snowballed to the tune of $550,000 and climbing. Mrs. Klein is now considering retirement, while the kids who inflicted the grief are now experiencing worse treatment than they provided. (After watching the video, you may become enraged and send hate letters yourself. Please don’t, as it’s also a form of bullying which is not advocated either!)

While hopefully your losses would never grow to the tune of half a million dollars, a similar situation could occur with your online bankroll. If other intelligent players pick up on a drop in your playing level, you’ll be surprised at how many other players will begin to pay attention and play as many pots with you as they can. This could be very costly in the short term, and even worse could affect your overall win-rate should you tilt and berate other players frequently.

Unfortunately, poker in the latest decade has become harder to beat, and in order to maintain an edge we need to exploit every opportunity that arrives. All poker players, both of the recreational and professional variety want to do what we can to keep games running, so that we’re both comfortable playing against one another. Taunting the fish at the table for his terrible mistakes will only make him feel unwelcome and desire to leave, and that’s neither good for pros or novices. The monetary value of keeping quiet is immeasurable, and you should consider the importance of keeping a weak player in the game for the progression of your bankroll.

In conclusion, I don’t want to omit going over the differences between live and online chat. When we play online, we’re presented with the option of turning off chat completely on most platforms. A tool primarily used by professionals, it’s a great way to prevent seeing any comment that could upset you. In contrast, when we’re playing in the real world, we don’t have a mute button. Ignoring mockery becomes increasingly difficult, and if one person pulls the right trigger it could rile your nerves. Mrs. Klein couldn’t walk off the bus, but you’re always allowed to get up from the table to take a breather and avoid controversy. (If this person follows you, you’ve started a riot, and you must have done something deserving of a brawl.)

Thankfully, it’s easy to note the source of such irregular behavior, so just pay attention to the obvious signs and use these players to your advantage. Mrs. Klein sure did.

Good luck at the tables.

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