It has always surprised me how poker players have been allowed to get away with wearing sunglasses at major poker tournaments.
One of the most exciting things about live poker is trying to read your opponent; working out their tells. Or even trying to double bluff your opponent by effecting fake tells.
It’s the main reason I got into poker in the first place. Actually, that’s not true. Playing strip poker with fifth-form girls from Tonbridge Grammar was the main reason I got into poker in the first place. But the thing is, we all know that at the very highest level any poker pro worth his salt has got every last hand probability hardwired into his grey matter.
So once the maths is locked down poker comes down to skill. And an intrinsic part of poker skill is bluffing. If the game was just about luck, then we all know we wouldn’t get the same players finishing at the top of the poker rankings every year, although try telling that to the US judges.
So bluffing is key. And an intrinsic part of bluffing is acting. Some guys try trash-talking, some guys go silent, but either way the eyes can tell you everything if you’re a good enough reader of people. On the other hand the eyes can completely mislead you into thinking what you want to think. This is why women are so good at poker. They can have you at their beck and call with the slightest arch of an eyebrow.
So Daniel Negreanu is so right to call for a ban on shadeas. If you’re going to deceive your opponent it should be able to do so by being a bare-faced liar, not by hiding behind a darkened shield. If you want to hide behind a screen, play online poker – which is great but online poker doesn’t require nearly the same ability to stare your opponent down across the felts or lure them into a false move.
Which is probably why PokerStars’ TV show ‘The Big Game’ has banned shades from their programme. As Negranu says, “Poker wouldn’t be on TV if everyone wore hoodies and sunglasses to hide their eyes.” You wouldn’t watch a film, if all the actors wore sunglasses all the time, would you?
I suspect though, that Negreanu’s concerns about pros in specs are for more sinister reasons. By wearing tinted glasses, colluding players using body signals are harder to detect if you can’t read their furtive glances. “Banning sunglasses helps to protect the integrity of the game against cheating,” says the World No2.
Taking it to the next level, who’s to say the bifocals players equip themselves with nowadays aren’t capable of x-ray vision? That’s all well and good if you just want to see if your opponents are tooled up – like James Bond in The World Is Not Enough – or even if you just want to check out a woman’s bare-faced cheek. But at the poker tables, it ain’t right.
As Negreanu has pointed out in the past, very few of the best players wear shades. The likes of Phil Ivey and Tom ‘Durr’ Dwan have produced some of the sickest bluffs of all time for our televisual delectation without seeing the need to hide their face. They’d just see it as a weakness. So, for the good of the game, leaves the shades at home – or stay in play online.