Worse than a bad loser: A bad winner

poker table

I have always been somewhat circumspect about repeated calls for there to be more “personalities” in poker, principally because I’ve never been been sure what people really mean by the word. At the risk of coming across as a misanthrope beyond redemption (a risk I have admittedly taken before) I worry that poker players inclined to exaggerate their personalities have the kinds of characters we would sooner see fewer of. Do we want personality at all costs, even if it is bordering on the loathsome?

It would be cruel to use words quite that strong about the man who prompted this particular piece of navel gazing. I didn’t get to know Andre Lettau on any level during his successful campaign to become the champion of the 100th European Poker Tour Μain Εvent in Barcelona last month, so cannot be quite so dismissive. But it is safe to say that Lettau did not endear himself to many at the EPT’s landmark festival. He certainly had some kind of personality, but it seemed for the most part to be boorish and disrespectful.

Lettau was fortunate enough in Barcelona to have a decent number of his friends present on the rail, much like Jack Salter had a hardy band of Brits at the Grand Final in Monaco in May. Again like the Salter posse, Lettau’s supporters also stuck by their man even as last night ticked deeply into tomorrow morning and hours of revelry took their toll.

The problem is that Lettau’s mates best resembled a gaggle of high school students on their first trip abroad without their parents. If they got on the same train carriage as you, you would move. They roared support of their man, but didn’t know the limits and Lettau, who obviously had his hands full winning the biggest tournament the EPT has ever seen, showed little willingness to control them. If anything, his own actions, particularly during the early stages of the final table as he ran noisy rings around the room in celebration of opponents’ eliminations, egged them on.

If this is personality, you can keep it.

Earlier during the final — and, indeed, on the day before — another player’s transgressions had caused a bit of a stir. Ji Zhang, an amateur player also from Germany, pulled off two pretty obvious slowrolls, ie, taking longer than necessary to call two other players’ bets while holding aces, in the first instance, and queens in the second. Nobody likes a slow-roller and the opprobrium sluiced out from the usual channels. But I think there is something a little wonky about everybody’s moral compass: Ji became more of a villain for his honest, beginner’s mistake than Lettau, who is a pro player, did for his more egregious behaviour.

It reminded me a little of some of the discussions in football, which also sometimes has a peculiar order of values. Luis Suarez is the game’s comic book villain, earned for his bizarre habit of biting people — and nobody is going to try to defend Count Suarez of Transylvania. But nobody is going to be injured by Suarez’s nibbles either, and so they seem to me to be far less of a crime than some of the lunging tackles that can break a player’s leg or potentially end a career. Yet Suarez is now among the world leaders in bans accrued, while the hatchet men play on and pick up the occasional yellow card.

Similarly, players known to be divers get a far worse reputation than the hackers, when their indiscretions are, I think, less serious. Diving is cheating, that much is true, but I think it’s irritating when people get carried away with the idea of draconian punishment, when the game is full of far more serious foul play.

Etiquette blunders in poker, such as that of Ji in Barcelona, are unfortunate but are not going to ruin anything for anyone. However I can imagine plenty of people turning off from the game at the sight of people like Lettau and his posse becoming graceless millionaires.