The Rise of Ego: When Revealing Your Hole Cards Highlights Your Conceit

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When it comes to poor etiquette at the poker table, illegally revealing your hole cards is one of those truly egregious acts that displays a blatant disrespect for the game.  It doesn’t matter if such an act is done overtly or covertly, verbally or non-verbally. When you purposely reveal illegal information to players at the table, it’s a direct affront to one of the fundamental concepts of poker that only allows for “one player per hand.”  Illegally revealing hole cards at the poker table is a form of cheating that’s simply not penalized often enough by many tournament directors across the country, leading novice players to assume it’s not a big deal.

It is a big deal and should be avoided at all cost.

Let’s take a look at a few common examples of how a player reveals illegal information at the poker table.  One way that players cheat is by showing their hole cards to neighboring players before folding to a bet. You will see this happen a lot at small casinos, especially in multiway pots, where a player will be facing a bet or a big raise, and instead of folding, he or she bemoans the decision, and lifts his or her hole cards so that the neighboring players can see what’s being folded.  Simply put, the neighboring players, even though they are no longer part of the action, are not allowed to possess information about the type hands you fold that the rest of the players at the table aren’t privy to.

Another common way poker players break the rules is by making obvious verbal and nonverbal gestures about the community cards, signalling that they would’ve connected with the flop really well had they not folded.  You will often see players fold low, suited cards preflop, either because of a raise or re-raise, and then smack the table when three cards flop that would’ve made them a flush.  Sometimes loud grunts or players suddenly jumping up from the table happen at smaller casinos when players who should no longer be apart of the action realize that a hand they folded would’ve likely won on the turn or river. These are all shameful displays of bad poker etiquette that happens way too often in tournaments, cash games, and poker leagues.  

My poker buddies believe that  these outbursts are the personal property of amateur poker players; a tell-tale sign that certain players just haven’t experienced enough poker hands in their lives to contain their emotional attachment to one single runout.  I happen to agree and disagree. I think the behavior stems from something far more profound than the totality of a player’s particular hand histories over the course of his or her life.

In my eyes, it’s more about ego than experience.  There’s something much deeper than poker hands at play when it motivates fully grown adults to throw temper tantrums like toddlers.  With the invention of poker on television, YouTube, Twitch, and poker apps, I’m inclined to believe that modern day poker players are beginning to see themselves as above the game, above the rules, almost as though they are mini-celebrities who get to operate beyond the realm of common decency.   You will see average players berate others for making a big bet that caused them to fold a winning hand, as though this isn’t the very essence of poker itself: getting better hands to fold and weaker hands to call. These egocentric maniacs feel more than a sense of entitlement at the table, they act as though there are a dozen ESPN cameras recording their every move.  These guys will take two or three minutes to consider folding 7/2 off-suit when facing a 4-bet shove, mostly because they imagine themselves to be the center of attention at all times, in every single hand. They have to show their hands to others, even when they are obviously folding, because they imagine themselves to be so great that even an obvious fold has to be underneath a glaring spotlight.  They want everyone to know that they folded the winning hand because ego has them convinced that they are always the most important factor at the table, even when they are no longer legally part of the action.

In my mind, ego is the root of the problem, not career hand counts.   Consider the following examples, and take note of the message each action sends to the poker table:

Example 1:  Chapman is in the small blind with an average chip stack, early in the tournament.  He’s facing a raise, re-raise, and an all-in shove. He looks down at pocket 5s (Fives) and begins moaning out loud about how difficult his fold will be.  He turns to the player to his right, the button, who has already folded, and shows him the pocket pair, all the while shaking his head. Finally, after wasting everyone’s time at the table, he whispers to his neighbor as he folds, “Watch this, I bet you it hits.”   

Here is what I believe Chapman is really saying to the table with his actions:  “I know I’m going to fold, but I want all the attention on me as I fake like I’m deliberating on a tough decision.  If the runout of the community board doesn’t hit a five, I get to pretend like I’m a great poker player because I folded a losing hand without investing more chips.  If a five does come, I get to swim in a sea of pity from my neighbor because I folded what would have been a winning hand. This way, no matter what happens, I get to be at the center of everything, telling people after the hand that I folded a pocket pair that would have won the pot.  It’s all about me.”

Example 2:  Chapman has pocket kings.  He’s in a pot with three other players.  The flop comes k72 rainbow. He’s facing a bet and a call on the flop.  He tilts his cards upwards so that his neighbors can see that he has top set.  He tilts his hole cards up higher so that a person who’s not playing, a person on the rail, can see his hand as well.

Chapman doesn’t care about the rules of poker or the integrity of the game.  It’s all about him in this moment. This is what his actions are saying to the other participants:  “I’m the man.  Make sure you see me.  Know how great I am. All eyes on me.  I’m no longer playing poker, I’m playing a game called Feed My Ego.  I want everyone to see how great I am. There should be cameras recording me because I’m the most amazing poker player to ever live.  I need every ounce of attention I can squeeze out of this moment; forget the rules. Watch me. Never stop watching me. Because I am great.”

Example 3:  Chapman folds A/6 suited preflop when 2 players call a huge raise preflop.  On the flop, the runout is three suited cards, which would’ve given Chapman the nut flush had he stayed in.  Chapman slams his fist on the table, frustrated, upset. He stands up, pissed. He mumbles “Man, ya’ll lucky!” and begins shaking his head at the pot size.

Chapman doesn’t care that his outburst could potentially influence the action of players still in the hand.  It doesn’t matter to him that by signalling a folded hand range that likely flopped a flush or a set it could alter the natural course of future action.  What he is actually saying to the table is: “I don’t care about no one else at this table, nor do I care about the game itself.  I have no respect for the rules or common decency or poker etiquette or anything else because all that matters in this world to me is the image I see every day in the mirror.  I need everyone to know that I am the one that everyone should be focused on, even when I’m not in the hand or a part of the action. I will find a way to tell everyone what I folded, during the hand and after the hand, because I am the god of poker and you should have no other poker gods before me.  I must always be the center of attention. Before the hand. During the hand. After the hand. I must always be the star of the show.”

Ego in poker makes for truly obnoxious players in the amateur ranks.  It’s like a cancer that eats away at your personality and character. Ego, when left unchecked, can turn a genuinely nice person into an intolerant and miserable human being to play with at the poker table.  Don’t ever be that person. Respect the game at all times. And remember, no one is above the rules.

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