Online poker behavior: Safety behind a monitor?

After writing about poker forums and the behavior of their denizens a couple of weeks ago, I thought I might have reached the end of the subject of online poker etiquette. Alas, whether I had forgotten about it previously or just happened to notice it again after playing recently, I've seen that the same abysmal conduct seen in the forums can be found in the poker rooms while you play.

You know the particular players I am talking about. It's the people who, after taking a bad beat (or bemoaning their own bad play), blast you as an ignoramus for the play that you made. If you're lucky, that's as far as it goes. Otherwise, they'll detail how far behind you were in the hand, and even occasionally pursue you to your next table in a multi-table tournament to continue the harassment.

To be honest, though, these are probably among the more innocuous behaviors I've seen on the virtual felt.

Most of the time, poker sites are pretty good about putting in the software that will either redact obscenity with a convenient "xxxx" in its place or, on some sites, will not even allow you to enter your statement.

These are nice steps but, as you well know, some of our more creative opponents will dodge these maneuvers by simply putting spaces in the middle of expletives, getting their point across while not running afoul of the sites' "language police."

I will confess, when I first started playing online poker, I wasn't above making a snide comment against an opponent. It does have a cathartic effect, allowing you to blow off some steam and, if you're still in the tournament, alleviate the tilt that comes along with it.

That is, however, a poor excuse for doing it. It wasn't until I actually thought about my conduct at the tables that I eliminated such repartee from my online poker room conversations.

Playing poker online should be looked at as similar to playing in a live arena. In a live cardroom or casino, all players are expected to abide by certain etiquette guidelines. These include not cursing audibly, harassing your opponents or issuing verbal threats against someone who cracked your pocket aces with 7-2.

If you do these things, there are normally very efficient floor staff, managers and even security (and you don't want to run into those folks) that will inform you that your behavior is offensive and, if it continues, quickly and quietly escort you to the exit.

Perhaps it is the lack of this type of oversight on the Web that allows abusive behavior to run rampant. Yes, you can get in touch with the support staff to flag obnoxious players, but it could be some time before your e-mail is acted on. In general on the Internet, the ability to hide behind a keyboard and a monitor creates some of the worst monsters that you can imagine, and the online poker world isn't immune to their incursions.

But there are things you can do to combat these players.

One approach that I have found sometimes works is self-deprecation. On occasion, when I've drawn out on an opponent, I immediately try to defuse the situation by telling them they were the best on that hand and that I just got lucky.

This takes the wind out of the sails of an online assailant most of the time and you can avoid verbal battles.

Ignoring those who accost you is a little more difficult, especially if you like to have your chat operational, but it can be done. By concentrating on the game at hand, you should be able to lessen the brunt of the diatribes coursing across the chat screen.

This is also beneficial for your play as, let's face it, we all play better when we aren't attempting to be the social director for the table.

There are situations, however, that call for more drastic measures. Most online poker rooms will have a mute switch in which you can turn off the chat for a particular player. That way, if they attempt to pursue you throughout an event, the mute control will keep them from appearing in your chat as a railbird.

Finally, when it's necessary to act with extreme prejudice, you can actually fire that e-mail off to the support staff on your favorite site. Moderators can go back over the table conversations and see who was abusing their privileges. If warranted, they will impose some sort of punishment on the offending party.

Although it's nice to think we all aim to be on our best behavior, whether in a public poker room or in an online one, we'll probably always have to contend with juvenile mentalities badgering players as a form of ill-thought-out table psychology (probably one of the worst excuses I've heard for that behavior).

Always try to avoid these altercations because it does nothing to improve your play and, in most cases, can actually be a detriment. Maybe eventually we won't have to worry about these issues and can play the genteel game of poker without outrageous comments, threats or language.

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