Poker Etiquette: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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Playing poker in various card rooms across the United states and Central America, I have witnessed all sorts of crazy and odd behavior. For the most part, poker players follow poker etiquette and are relatively polite. Some are very friendly and enjoy joking at the table as much as they enjoy scooping pots. I’m not going to make judgments on people’s personalities here, rather I want to point out some major poker etiquette unwritten rules that should be followed by all players, mean or nice. I personally prefer fun and friendly poker tables where players are conversing and joking when appropriate.  These ‘friendly’ games are generally the most profitable games. Violating poker etiquette should always be avoided for the benefit of all involved in the game.
Some poker etiquette violations carry a penalty in card rooms, but often times this is just a warning followed by more useless warnings.

1) Talking about the hand while it is in progress
This is often perpetrated at poker games of all stakes. A player might make a loud, noticeable sigh when an ace hits the flop, or when the flush card comes. This can greatly affect the action of the players still contesting the pot. At no point should action be encouraged, discouraged,  or affected in any way by a player that is not in the current hand.

2) Acting out of turn

Players should not fold, call, or raise before the action is on them.  This also applies to making hand gestures indicating an imminent fold. This can provide unfair information for players who have not acted yet.

3) Taking too long on mundane decisions (AKA ‘The Hollywood Effect’)
I am normally the last player to ever call clock on a player for taking a long time on a decision. Poker can be complicated and may require time to make the right decision. This does not mean that every time the action gets to a player, they take five seconds to finish a text message, a few seconds to have the dealer repeat what the bet is, and then give a speech. It can be very aggravating when a player does this every hand on minimum bet decisions. Remember, the players and dealers all want as many hands per hour as possible. There are nine other people at the table including the dealer. Don’t be selfish with their time.

4) Celebratory dancing
After winning a pot, making unnecessary fist pumps, clapping hands, and telling the dealer to “ship it” is not very classy. It’s unsportsmanlike, especially since you are winning the pot and taking your opponents money. This also applies to the “free advice” often offered by the winner of the pot to the loser. Be polite, collect your pot and move on to the next hand.

5) Berating the dealer
This happens at all levels of poker games. Unless the dealer has misdealt a hand, they obviously have no control over the outcome of the hand. I know players who will berate a dealer for an unfavorable river less than five minutes after the dealer pushed them a big pot where they got lucky on the river.  Go easy on the dealers guys! They are just trying to make a living and don’t need to be berated because you misplayed your aces.

6) Throwing a bluff in an opponents face
Call me old fashioned but I find it rude and inappropriate to throw a successful bluff in a players face who you just defeated for the pot. True, you might put the player’s on tilt and possibly yield extra profit from their subsequent bad play, but more than likely you will put a target on your back for the rest of the table, as well as give away information about your own playing style. It can also make it more difficult to know what your opponent is thinking next time you face them in a hand. Are they raising you because they have the best hand, or is it because you just showed off a bluff to the whole table?

7) Using inappropriate language when a female is at the table
This rule is self explanatory. I don’t mind players saying anything they want to say at the table with very few exceptions. One of these exceptions is when a female is present, player or dealer.  We are not heathens and can show basic respect. The other exception is threatening language or racial slurs. These have no place at the poker table or anywhere else for that matter.

8) Leave politics and religion at the door
I enjoy political and theological debate. I really do. I encourage you all to read my political blog at www.bloomdoctrine.wordpress.com .  However, politics and religion at the poker table is a recipe for disaster.  Even if a major argument is averted, the two people who are trying their hardest to convince the other of the righteousness of their side are giving major headaches to the other seven players at the table. For everyone’s sake, please save that debate for the bar.

9) Don’t tell everyone how much money you have
People who have financial security rarely talk about the money they have. If people had a quarter of the money they said they had at the poker table, we would never have a recession or economic crisis again. For some reason, at almost every table, there is one player who talks about how rich they are. They usually buy in for the near minimum and usually throw the biggest tantrums when they lose this minimum amount. No need to flaunt money at the table, real or fake. We are all sitting at the same table now.

10) Don’t be a baby when you lose a hand
This is one of my biggest pet peeves and grossest violations of poker etiquette. When you lose a hand, either tell your opponent good hand or say nothing at all. Don’t berate them.  Don’t try to explain to them what they did wrong.  One of the first lessons my parents taught me in life was to be a good sport in victory and defeat. Poker is a game that includes variance. If bad players never won, the profit in the game would cease to exist. 

These are some simple rules of etiquette to follow at any poker table. They are universal from Belize to Macau to Las Vegas.  They apply in home games as well as large casinos. Though card rooms are often somewhat lax in enforcing these unofficial guidelines, as a classy player you should always avoid doing them yourself.
On a side note, I would like to point out that in my experience the rules are followed more in Las Vegas card rooms than any where else I’ve played. Though Florida has some of the best and most lucrative card games in the world, poker etiquette is violated more often than any where else I’ve played. California poker rooms are hit or miss regarding poker etiquette. Some are very good while some are terrible. Hollywood Park was by far the worst in California. Poker rooms in Central America have players that tend to do a fairly good job of following good poker etiquette. Beginner players sometimes are not aware of these rules and therefore break them more frequently. Poker rooms in Central America for example had a lot of beginner players that would not abide by proper poker etiquette. This is to be excused and is not the same as an experienced player breaking the same rule.  Many of the private games I’ve played in Georgia have players that exercise great poker etiquette.
In conclusion, be a good sport, don’t be rude, and ABOVE ALL never try to bluff me!
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Tilt: Every Poker Player’s Achilles Heel

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Tilt is the single biggest threat to any poker player’s game. It saturates all cognitive reasoning skills and renders the player a victim of how the cards fall. Any skill advantage of a player is neutralized and replaced with an emotional drive to ‘catch back’ or ‘get even’.  This can have catastrophic effects on a poker player’s bottom line, even if the tilted player doesn’t give away their whole stack.

I will define tilt very broadly. I classify a player as being tilted if they are playing in any way different than they would play if they were completely emotionally neutral. Successful poker players think rationally and logically.  Emotion has no place at a poker table and it’s presence can slowly (or very quickly) destroy a chip stack. Many players act ‘spewy’ while others retreat into a passive shell when tilted. 

The best poker pro can squeeze out 10-15 big blinds per hour on average. A very small and simple bluff can cost 15-20 big blinds.  Larger ones cost far more. Poker players have a remarkable ability to sense a tilted player, and it is very common for the other 8 players at the table to circle like a pack of sharks sensing a wounded fish. Bluffs are more likely to be called and exposed by opponents. Two or three of these failed bluff attempts can easily cost 3-4 hours of poker wages, all without the tilted player even realizing how large the gaping hole  in their game actually is. After all, the average poker session is around 3-4 hours. This is the number one reason why many very good poker players can’t seem to generate the profit per hour that they want.

The solution…….simple. Take off the imaginary 100 lb weights that holds you to your seat after you lose a significant pot and take a break. I recommend setting a stop-loss amount whereby if you lose more than a certain amount in a single pot, take a walk. Don’t make this number high, as the more mentally reinvigorating breaks you take, the better you will do. After all, there will always be a poker game going.

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The Naturally Great Poker Player

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The title of this blog is oxymoronic. People often ask, “how can I make good money as a professional poker player” and “should I quit my job to give professional poker a shot”. It is virtually impossible to be successful in poker for any real length of time without reading LOTS of poker literature, spending lots of time studying your own play, and making harsh self assessments.

Those that know me are well aware of my poor golfing skills (major understatement). A while back I decided to take a golf lesson. As the instructor saw my frustration growing, he told me something that directly applies to poker. He said, “There is nothing natural about the golf swing”. His point was that there is no substitute for training, even for athletic people. There is nothing natural about playing great poker. An aspiring professional poker player should read many books and study online forums. It never ceases to amaze me when players tell me they refuse to read poker books. After all, what do they have to gain by learning from seasoned professionals who have played successfully for many years (insert sarcastic tone here). These people must think they are better than Phil Ivey, David Sklansky, Barry Greenstein, and they myriad of other poker greats who have written books.

An aspiring pro should also spend a great deal of time introspectively studying their play. This can be done after each session. The analysis should be objective and harsh. It serves no point in throwing your hands in the air and blame a bad play on someone else or bad luck. The person who does this is only fooling themselves at the direct expense of long term profitability.

Professional poker can be a lucrative way to make a living. However it is not easy and as most things in life, success is rarely an accident.

A True Great Friend

In life, we all have our good times and our bad times. If we are lucky enough, we have an opportunity to share these events with great friends and family. Often times we don’t realize how important these people are to us until its too late. Unfortunately for me, that was the case with my good buddy Jace Markgraf.

Jace has been one of the most upstanding members of the professional poker community for many years. He was respected in the field by players and poker room staff alike. I have been lucky enough to have called him friend for about three years now. It was no surprise that he was always warmly accepted at a table. His sportsmanship was great and he nearly always contributed to the conversation at the table. His poker abilities at the table were well known and as a competitor, he was feared.

My buddy Jace passed away last week. I am unfortunately unable to express the sadness this has brought me and the other people who were lucky enough to have shared part of their lives with him. Jace would never believe me when I say this, but he was one of the most beloved people in the poker community. Among his friends, his company was always cherished.

Jace, you will be missed dearly. I am grateful for the time we had together. I hope you are in a better place where your cards are always huge, the Dallas Cowboys always win, and all of your bowling rolls are strikes. Rest in peace buddy.

California Poker Vacation!

As always, with the passing of the World Series of Poker, comes the annual poker drought in Las Vegas. Not a good game in sight. This year my wife and I took the chance to go to Fresno, California. Our good friends were having a baby shower and we decided to make it a 10 Day poker vacation. Since there were no tournament series in Fresno at time, I decided to play cash games at the new Club 500 casino. My strategy was to log enough cash game action while still getting to enjoy a California vacation with friends. After all, I would not be able to get many hours logged in Las Vegas right after the WSOP. I found the 2/5 no limit action to be pretty good. A lot of gamblers early in the evening. Suprisingly enough, the majority of the money I made was not at these action-fest games. Towards the end of the night the table would get very short handed and even heads-up. On two seperate nights I played over 3 hours of heads-up poker to very weak passive opponents. These heads-up sessions were the saving grace of my bottom line. My net profits for the trip was enough to pay for the vacation with a small amount left over while only logging about 25 hours of play.
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The vacation side of things were great. We got to spend lots of time with our Fresno peeps including my new buddies in the Garage Poker League (GPL). The GPL literally has one of the most sick home poker game setups I have ever seen. Much props to Corky for organizing that league. They also participate in WSOP bracelet events annually. Watch for them in next years WSOP events. Kelsey and I hiked around beautiful Yosemite National Park and walked around Fresno’s Tower District. I got to teach my buddy Tyler and his dad a thing or two on the golf course and still was able to spend lots of time with all the rest of my Fresno buddies.

I look forward to my next trip to Fresno which will be in October for the Heartland Poker Tour. That will be a televised event and I hope to have a good finish. Keep following the Poker Politico for updates on the upcoming Hard Rock Open World Poker Tour event.
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World Series of Poker 2013

IMG_3752Another WSOP has come and gone. Annually, the WSOP brings happiness, heartbreak, and an abundance of edge of your seat excitement to the Rio in Las Vegas. This year was certainly no exception. I went into this series with an eye towards playing mostly tournaments, while still playing at least 50 hours of juicy cash game action. I knew this was going to be an ambitious goal since I had already committed to 6 tournaments.

The series began with its share of heartbreaks. The first tournament I played was the Millionaire maker which drew over 6000 players, making it the largest event outside of the Main Event in WSOP history. I fought through Day 1 well and played the first half of Day 2. Right around the 800th position, I found myself stupidly calling off my stack pre-flop with AK against my opponents AA. Ouch!! The money paid out around 650th place, so needless to say, the tournament series started out in the ‘rough’. My second tournament had a different ending, but with the same result. This time my opponent, and WSOP bracelet winner Carlos Mortenson and WPT Champion, hit a two outer on the last hand of Day 1 to put me out just shy of the money. As they say, the show must go on!! I had to keep my head up as I had lots of poker left to play in the series.

Finally, the poker gods decided to give me a break in the form of WSOP Event 28. What an event it was!! The $1500 event drew 2114 entrants and fell on Fathers Day. My dad and my first poker teacher decided to play this event, as this was his first year playing bracelet events. Low and behold, we both fought through the masses of Day 1 to find ourselves with seats and chips on Day 2. Just before Day 1 ended I was in the bathroom and who do you know comes to the bathroom sink next to me? The renowned actor James Woods. He started incessantly splashing water on his face readying himself for the last two levels of the night. I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by, so I said, “Hey man, do you think we are going to make it to the money tonight or have to come back tomorrow to bust the bubble”? Little did I know, he would go on for about 5 minutes, in what was an awkward conversation for me, but what seemed like a normal bathroom interaction for him. We went back to play at our different tables, and ended up advancing and bagging our chips to leave for the night. My dad and I are waiting at the valet, when guess who comes up to me and my dad and starts talking to us like he has known us for years, James Woods!! Crazy ending for a Fathers Day with my dad at the WSOP.

Day 2 was no less exciting. My dad and I both found ourselves making it to the money after playing about 2 hours. This represented my dads first WSOP bracelet event cash which was very cool. For some odd reason, my table broke and I was randomly seated at my dad’s table (1 in 20 shot). He was seated next to Joe Cada, WSOP Main Event Champion in 2009. After about 30 minutes, my dad found himself in a hand all-in with Cada and my dad took him out. That drew lots of attention to our table and to my dad who was obviously elated. Unfortunately, he was eliminated a little while later by an opponents unlucky draw. I played the rest of Day 2 well and made it to the Final 18 and last two tables at the end of the night. I had a tough table and was two seats to the left of T.J Cloutier, one of the winningest tournament players in history. We bagged our chips on Day 2, and I found myself making my first WSOP Day 3 ever.

Day 3 was very exciting, yet unfortunately very short. We were seated in the main spectator viewing section so everyone’s family, friends, and spectators could cheer them on. My beautiful wife, who we just found out is pregnant with our first child, and my dad were there to support their favorite player (not TJ Cloutier). Sadly, the good guy died at the end of this movie. I went all-in with AQ and my opponent, Jason Duval of Canada, called me in the big blind with 9-2. The nine of course came on the river, knocking me out in 16th place. TJ Cloutier reached over to shake my hand and said in his somewhat hoarse Texas accent, “you fight hard boy, you fight real hard”. Duval went on to win the tournament and $521,202. Though I was upset at getting knocked out so close to the final table, I was happy with a high cash and my best WSOP finish ever. As my wife told me as I walked away from the table, there will be many more chances to come. A bracelet is in my future!!

As far as cash games go, I clocked a total of 42 hours, only 8 hours shy of my 50 hour goal. The games were juicy, as they are every year, and I had a higher hourly rate than I had anticipated. My hours were cut slightly short due to mental exhaustion from so many hours of tournaments.

All in all, this was my best series to date and I look forward to my next major tournament series, which is the Hard Rock Open in Florida August 8-28th. Stay tuned to the Poker Politico for updates on this series as well as other happenings in the poker world.
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New Technology Sweeps Live Poker

             The emergence of new technology in poker has really picked up recently.  This is mainly due to the exploding app market.  Players now have access to apps like Bravo Poker, which give the player real time game information on almost every poker room nationwide.  I can see how many 5/10 tables are going on right now as well as how many people are on the waiting list on a game in any poker room that utilizes Bravo Poker software (which is almost all of them).  Even the long time holdouts, MGM properties including Bellagio, MGM, and Aria, are now on the Bravo Poker app and provide real time game info.  Another emerging app for Las Vegas poker players is the AllVegasPoker app, which provides extensive poker tournament information.  I believe these apps make playing professional poker much easier, while at the same time increasing total game attendance.  The Poker Income Tracker app allows players to track and analyze their poker wins/losses in an easy to understand format.  As I’ve told many aspiring poker professionals, you are not a pro unless you have extensive records of your own play.  Business like financial reports in my opinion are necessary, not just recommended.  The Poker Income Tracker makes this task much easier.  These apps are either free or available for less than $10 (Poker Income Tracker).

            Players who played the World Series of Poker bracelet events saw technology at work in a live tournament setting.  All table breakdowns and player table moves were handled by mobile devices with great efficiency and accuracy.  This is crucial for moving players to new tables in tournaments with such a large number of entrants.  Without it, players would have seen longer times with vacant seats at the table accompanied by more confusion by the floor staff.

            New technologies that I would like to see introduced in the future include an app that allows a player to put their name on the waiting list with the push of a button.  I would also like to see an app that allows players to take fast, easy, USABLE notes on players at a live game.  Poker rooms should even think about creating a way for players to order food or drinks on their mobile device directly to the table.  The Poker Politico welcomes the new technologies and hopes for new tools to bring in more players and make finding the best games easier.

A New Poker Boom!!

             As many of you know, the poker scene took a significant hit the day that the federal government shut down the major online poker sites and froze the funds of many poker players worldwide.  This essentially took over $300 million out of the market as well as cutting off a major source of play.  New players were discouraged from joining the scene and many existing hard working citizens lost their bankrolls and savings.  Many of these players stopped playing in the live brick and mortar casinos around the world as a result of this oppressive government action.  This day was April 15th, 2011, dubbed Black Friday by poker players.

             The poker rooms in Las Vegas, where I play, were greatly affected.  My game is centered on 2/5 and 5/10 No Limit Hold’em cash tables.  Before Black Friday, rooms like Bellagio had upwards of five separate 5/10 games and the weekend $1000 tournament would have more than 50 players.  Since Black Friday, Bellagio would typically have only one or two 5/10 cash games and the weekend tournament buy in was reduced to $500 to accommodate the 30 or so players competing.  This was bad news for the professional poker players who have been forced to compete with fewer weak players over a smaller prize pool.  This was the atmosphere for the past year and a half.  Finally, a new day has come……

            Over the last couple of months, some great news has hit the poker scene.  News that the Department of Justice is going to essentially ‘unfreeze’ $300 million in player funds to their rightful owners has been passed down.  An upcoming legislative session that will hopefully undo the midnight, backroom deal that slipped in an online poker ban to the Port Security Improvement Act (what a joke), is hopefully on the horizon.  The online poker sites like Full Tilt are operating again in all countries other than the USA.  The feeling of a new poker boom is in the air!!  Venetian poker room had 38 cash game tables going at 3:00 in the afternoon this past Thursday.  Bellagio had four 5/10 games at the same time, while MGM (my personal favorite) has been hosting two or three 2/5 games again.  This is great news for the local poker pros as a new era is beginning!! Is a new poker boom like we saw in the post-Chris Moneymaker era in our midst. More updates to follow, but this poker writer is very optimistic about the direction of poker in 2013.

Welcome to the Poker Politico

Hello, there.  Welcome to the Poker Politico.  I am Jason Bloom and since this is my blog, I will be writing about a long time passion of mine, poker.  First, some background information is necessary.  I am a 32-year-old professional poker player, living in Las Vegas, Nevada with my beautiful wife.  We enjoy traveling as much as possible as well as trying to take advantage of all Las Vegas has to offer.  I am also very passionate about political issues and am currently pursuing a PhD in Political Science at UNLV.  In that same vein, I have another blog, The Bloom Doctrine where my rants are politically based rather than poker related.  If you have thick skin, feel free to check out that blog as well.  Now, a little about my poker credentials.  I have played professional poker for over five years now in California, Nevada, and Belize, Central America.  I am a cash game player, but I do occasionally play tournaments to mix it up a bit.  My 2012 Player of the Year event tournament cashes included the World Series of Poker, Wynn Classic, and the Bellagio Five Diamond Classic.  Since 90% of my poker time is spent in the Las Vegas cash games, a lot of my blogs will focus on these games.  I will however give you my thoughts (and complaints) about the poker political scene.  These include my thoughts on the oppressive government tactics of online poker ‘prohibition’, which allows the government to tell us that we cannot play poker in the privacy of our own house. An act that we can do in almost every state in the union.  An act that the founders of our country participated in and wanted us to take part in (maybe a little far reaching).  Anyways, I hope my writings keep you interested at the very least.  I want to hear from the Poker Politico die-hard fans (all two of us), so please comment on the blogs.  Welcome to the Poker Politico.