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Swimming With Fish Part 1: Tapping the Glass
This is the first part of a two-part article about keeping your table's fish happy.
You're going to lose pots to ridiculous hands; deal with it.
Do Not Tap the Glass
This is a very simple concept. Tapping the glass upsets the fish. The majority of the money you are going to make in the game will come from the fish. A happy fish will be much more inclined to stay a fish than an unhappy one. If you make the fish feel inferior, they will want to evolve.
If you make someone uncomfortable, they're not going to be having fun in the game. If it's not fun for them, they're not going to play. There are lots of fish out there who don't care about the money, and are happy to give it away in the name of a good time.
In the words of Mike Caro, The Mad Genius of Poker (taken from Super/System 2):
"You shouldn't even care whether you win a pot. You should only care about making the correct decisions. Making quality decisions is the only thing you get paid for in poker."
Every time you make the correct choice you're making money in the long term, regardless of what happens in that pot. This also works in reverse. Every time your opponents make a mistake, you make money.
This is the only way you make money at poker. If you and your opponents all play the exact same perfect game together for an infinity, you will all end with the same amount of chips that you started with.
Making mistakes costs you money. As a poker player you have to accept this; it's how the game works. On the other hand, if you lose money because you blow up after losing a pot, well that's not cool.
Again, Do Not Tap the Glass!
When a fish makes a mistake, it is a far bigger mistake on your part to inform them of this. If a fish calls off his whole stack on a two-outer and spikes the river, be happy for the call; tell him "nice hand."
If you blow up, if you call him a donkey, if you type nasty things to him, if you do anything negative, he's going to feel bad, inexperienced and dumb. This will make him do everything in his power to not get himself into this situation again, and there is a good chance it will make him leave the game.
Keep a handle on your anger: if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all. You want to reinforce the mistakes fish make by feeding them feel-good lines:
"Wow, with the pot that big you really had no choice but to call."
"Too bad you didn't hit man! That would have been a huge pot for you. You got unlucky!"
"Unlucky man, I hit that exact same draw yesterday, it was sweet."
"Nice pot dude, that's one of my favorite hands."
Notice that we try to enforce the idea that the only reason they lost was because they were unlucky. You want to make fish believe that their every win is skill, and every loss is just rotten luck. A fish never makes a mistake - make them believe it.
Also notice that we never mention anything that comes close to advanced, good poker. We don't say words like odds, outs or EV or mention the price they were getting laid in the hand. If the fish doesn't know the poker term you use, then they will naturally feel in-superior at the table. Remember, they win because of skill; they lose because of luck.
I empathize with the pure rage that results from a ridiculous beat. I've been there, but if you can't keep your anger under your hat walk away from the table. Not only will you say things you shouldn't, but even the self-proclaimed "un-tiltable" players will not be at the top of their game while angry. Any extreme emotion will negatively affect your game.
How to Deal with a Glass Tapper
When you encounter someone making these mistakes on a table, you can politely mention for them not to tap the glass, and then change the subject to something non-poker related. I've gone as far as to ask the person to step off the table to chat with me, where I can politely request they stop tapping, and explain the reasons out of earshot of the fish.
(The simplest way to get someone to leave the table, without it seeming odd to anyone, is just stand up and ask them "Hey man, can I ask you a quick question?")
If you have someone being belligerent, and he won't cease the assault on the fish, try to befriend the fish - make her feel good again by taking her side.
"Wow, that guy's being a jerk. He's just a sore loser because you have all his money."
Then feed them a feel good line from before, make them feel good about the win. They won because of skill, and that other guy's just a sore loser.
Remember, poker is not by any means a noble game. It is your job to lie, trick and steal as much money from everyone else as you can. At the same time, it is a game of respect.
Without respect for the other players, the dealer, the rules and the room, poker will not function. Almost all of your money comes from the fish, so they truly deserve the most respect on and off the table.
In Part 2 of this series we'll discuss Table Talk and Faulty Logic. Check back for it soon!
More strategy articles from Sean Lind: