Monday, April 6, 2015

Epic slowroll, or epic misunderstanding?

As most of you probably heard/saw, there was a hand that took place today at the final table of the Irish Open that has caused quite an ruckus in the poker community. In case you somehow haven’t seen it, here is the hand in question:

I’m guessing the first thing that came to your mind after seeing this was something along the lines of “wow what an asshole!” or “oh man what a brutal slowroll!” etc. Clearly, the commentators (who, in my opinion, were out of line with their remarks) and the rest of the players at the table thought the same thing, as we can clearly see him being chastised from all angles. Poker is supposed to be a gentleman’s game, and the slow roll is considered one of the dirtiest and disrespectful moves one can pull, right behind angle shooting. As such, it is easy to understand the harsh criticism recieved by Andreas, as slow rolling should be discouraged and frowned upon. 

Now, I want you to put yourself in Andreas’ shoes for a moment. You are an amateur poker player at the final table of a major live event. There is a crowd of people watching, a live stream of the action, and big money at stake. Every hand is crucial and one error in judgement could cost you tens of thousands of dollars. You have the shortest stack and the anxiety of being the next player to bust out is overwhelming. You are incredibly nervous and all you can think about is how desperately you need to double up. A solid player opens for a raise and you look down at KQdd in the small blind. You know you can’t afford to wait for a better hand, but since you are very short stacked, you fear that if you go all in before the flop you might get called by a weak ace. You decide to call and see a flop, and it comes Ad6d8d. You flop the nuts! Suddenly you are overwhelmed with emotion. You check and Donnacha puts you all in! This is amazing, you waited patiently and finally got what you waited for! Now you will have some chips to work with unless you get really unlucky, and you have a decent shot at outlasting a player or two, or who knows, maybe you will catch a couple more lucky breaks and win the whole thing. Your heart races as dopamine floods your nervous system and you can’t help but get a bit lost in the moment, which is most likely the biggest one you’ve experienced in your time as a poker player. Oh, right, the hand isn’t over yet, you still need to call and your hand needs to hold up. You take a deep breath, regroup, and push your chips in the middle…

Ok, you can put your shoes back on. Clearly, in the described scenario, you were completely present in the moment, unaware of time as it passed. Feeling a combination of nervous, anxious, and excited, the last thing on your mind was malicious intent. If someone told you that you did something wrong, you wouldn’t begin to understand why. From your perspective, you played a hand, flopped the nuts, took a few moments to fully realize and enjoy what was happening, and got your money in the middle. 

This is where the concept of subjectivity comes into play. While we might all be looking at the same thing, we are looking through different lenses. This is why one person can look at a painting and find profound meaning, while another person can look at the same painting and be completely uninterested. The classic idiom, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, is based on this idea. This also explains why a professional poker player might look at Andreas' behavior in this hand as completely disrespectful, while Andreas might feel completely innocent. It is important to understand that people have different ways of seeing things, depending their unique life experience. Before we judge someone’s actions, we should take into account their perspective and see if it can allow us to be more understanding. 

Does this mean I would encourage anyone to behave like Andreas did in this hand? Of course not, as this kind of behavior can cause unnecessary frustration for everyone else involved, while wasting precious moments of time as the blinds inevitably rise. However, does this mean I should be angry at Andreas, or chastise him for getting caught up in an whirlwind of  emotions? Again, the answer is no. He is an amateur who is presumably going to be losing money in the long run, thereby contributing to the expectation of the winning players. It is very possible his lack of awareness is attributable to his inexperience, which should earn him a bit of leeway when it comes to the nuances of live play. Experienced players should be expected to know better, and should aim to set an example of how to behave in the best interest of the other players and the integrity of the game. 

Since I don’t know Andreas personally, I can’t say with 100% certainty that my assessment is accurate, but after watching the video (particularly his reaction to the river) a few times, my read is that his “slowroll” was nothing more than a case of an inexperienced player struggling to compose and prepare himself for a moment worth thousands of dollars in equity. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen an old man deliberately count out his chips before calling all in with AA pre flop, and almost never do I think “wow what an asshole”, because I know that in his mind there was no ill will intended. If by some chance I’m wrong, and Andreas intentionally slow rolled, then he is by all means the asshole everyone basically called him, but if my read is right, I think we should be a little more understanding and should be more hesitant to harshly criticize a paying customer who was simply having the time of his life.