After Andrew Robl had posted a note on Twitter asking proposing that poker bans sunglasses I reached out to the likes of Phil Hellmuth, Ben Wilinofsky, and Pascal Lefrancois to find out if Robl had a point?
Nobody wore sunglasses during my local home game. I mean, why would they? We were indoors, and the lights were on. And then one day, one of the lads turned up at the game wearing sunglasses, a hoodie, and he spent most of the night listening to music on his phone and singing rather annoyingly loud.
I thought he looked like a right dick.
It wasn’t coincidental that he had been watching the highlights of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) on DVD for the past few weeks.
So why did I think he looked like a dick?
And why was he wearing them?
I think narcissism rises to the fore when I consider these questions. My friend had seen people wearing them on TV, and they looked cool. He wanted to look cool so he copied them. I, on the other hand, have always thought that sunglasses are a conceited accessory. You have to understand I live in South Wales, so I hardly see the sunshine, and am well aware had I grown up in California my feelings may be different, but there is a little bit of Hollywood at the core of my views on sunglasses. I associate them with wealth and the entertainment industry – models, singers, and actors. And that’s why I would never wear them.
The rest of the lads took the piss out of him all night.
He never wore them again.
He may have thought he looked cool, but what his friends thought of him mattered most.
There was a time when I was younger when I would wear sunglasses on the beach so I could leer at women in bikinis. I knew they couldn’t see me looking at them, and that gave me the confidence to become a pervert.
I can’t stare at anyone when I am playing poker. It makes me uncomfortable. I pick a spot on the flop, and I stare at it until the hand ends. If I wore sunglasses, I would comfortably stare at my opponent in an attempt to gain a read because I know he or she cannot see my eyes. My game would improve. But I am a narcissist. I won’t wear them because I think people who do look stupid and I would rather lose a poker game than look stupid which makes me decidedly stupid.
Andrew Robl isn’t stupid.
The high stakes poker pro recently sent this tweet out to the universe.
Every major poker tournament should ban sunglasses. Bad for tv/promotion of the game, and an advantage to players who wear them.
— Andrew Robl (@Andrew_Robl) July 11, 2016
Robl gives two reasons for his proposed sunglasses ban:
1. They are bad for TV/promotional reasons
2. They provide an edge to the wearer
They Are Bad For TV/Promotional Reasons
I couldn’t see his point of view on this one. If I’m watching a poker TV show why would sunglasses affect the viewing experience?
The former European Poker Tour (EPT) Champion Ben Wilinofsky hit the nail on the head when he asked:
“Did anyone bother to ask some people in the target market for growing the game if sunglasses make it better or worse on TV?”
I don’t have the answer to this question, but I would assume fans of the game would like to see a few players wearing sunglasses. While I think it makes people look like a dick, I can see how some people might believe that it makes a character look cool, especially on a poker show.
Mark Radoja and Philipp Gruissem disagree with me:
“Sunglasses detract from the fun social landscape of poker.” Said the former World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, Mark Radoja.
“Yes, ban them, who wants to talk to someone wearing sunglasses?” Said the Raising For Effective Giving (REG) founder, Philipp Gruissem
Phil Hellmuth wears sunglasses occasionally, and although he isn’t against banning sunglasses on poker TV shows, he believes a total ban would be a bad idea:
“Banning sunglasses is not a very good idea. I think it a break even idea at best. If everyone wore them, then I could see a potential issue, but not everyone wears them. To each his own. I’m not against banning them for television tourneys, especially ones where the sponsors add money, but to ban them now is to take a tool out of many players tool boxes when we have allowed them to use that tool for 50 years and that’s not fair.”
They Give an Edge to The Wearer
I do believe Robl is right when he says they provide an advantage to a player wearing them. They not only conceal your eyes, and therefore hide a potential tell, but they also allow people to feel more confident. Phil Hellmuth agrees:
“Do I believe that it would help Daniel Negreanu and a few others (probably even me!) if we banned sunglasses? Yes, I do.”
And is this a bad thing?
Professional poker players learn to control their body to avoid tells, surely it’s the recreational players who benefit more from wearing sunglasses, and that has to be a good thing for the game right?
“Recreational players love wearing sunglasses when they play. It helps them feel comfortable, and a little ‘protected’ against pros who they feel are better at reading than they are. Anything that makes people feel more comfortable hopping in games with the pros is a positive.” Said Wilinofsky.
He wasn’t alone in his thinking:
“I never use shades and very few top professionals, or high rollers do,” Said high stakes poker player and hedge fund manager, Talal Shakerchi, “They just seem like a 1970’s cliché. Sunglasses can be an advantage for some inexperienced live players because they hide potential tells and allow the wearer to observe others covertly. However, those benefits become marginal among experienced live players. I prefer if players don’t use them, but a ban might be a step too far as it might deter recreational players who feel protected by wearing them. These types of players can be present in tournaments at any level. Also, as a practical matter, disputes might arise around degree of shading and/or medical needs.”
Sam Chartier has a different point of view:
“I have never been a fan of sunglasses; I don’t think players should be able to hide behind them. To me, it’s ridiculous.”
If you ban sunglasses because they provide you with an edge where do you draw the line? You would have to ban scarves, hoodies, and any manner of clothing that covers your face. Ronit Chamani makes an excellent point when she asks questions about what a sunglass ban might mean for online poker:
“Sure you can look at it as an advantage. It’s like the advantage online players have when using stats against players who don’t use stats – I wonder if Robl uses stats and thinks it offers him an unfair advantage? I feel that if a player feels he or she is more comfortable playing with sunglasses and that it helps him or her stay more focused and in their head and game, why not? And if Robl and the likes feel it is such an advantage then go buy yourself a pair.”
“Does anyone believe that someone who thinks it is an advantage wearing sunglasses then decides not to wear them? I mean, c’mon, we are playing for millions of dollars at some of these final tables. Thus, some players believe it an advantage to wear them, and others do not.”
Andrew Robl hasn’t convinced me that banning sunglasses for the reasons he gave is a bright idea and the feedback from Phil Hellmuth, Ben Wilinofsky, Talal Shakerchi, and Ronit Chamani has solidified my view. While I think people look stupid wearing sunglasses, they seem to be a part of poker in the same way a deck of cards is. The obviousness that anyone can wear them to gain an edge nullifies the complaint that they provide an edge. And if recreational players like to use them then let them.
However, there is one reason to ban sunglasses and one I support.
Here’s the former World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, Pascal Lefrancois, to explain:
“I think they should ban sunglasses just because it’s easier to cheat if you’re wearing them. Example: the old guy who was clearly marking cards in the 10k heads up. I think it was WSOP 2015. Unfortunately, they did not find enough evidence to ban him.”
Fellow bracelet winner, Mark Radoja, concurs:
“They are a massive threat to fair gaming and have been used as cheating devices on several occasions. The fact that they haven’t banned tinted lenses yet is baffling and inexcusable.”
The player that Lefrancois is referring to is Valeriu Coca who finished fifth after beating Matt Marafioti, Pratyush Buddiga, Aaron Mermelstein, Connor Drinan, and Byron Kaverman, before eventually losing to Keith Lehr. All of Coca’s defeated players felt like he knew what cards they were holding. Coca was never found guilty of any wrongdoing. He wore sunglasses in all of his matches.
I wonder if Daniel Negreanu was referring to Coca when he replied to Robl’s Tweet:
“They HAVE been used as a cheating device.”
I do think there is a need to ban sunglasses from poker but not for the reasons that Robl outlines in his initial complaint. The ability to use specially adapted sunglasses to cheat in a game of cards is already evident and has been for some time. It’s irresponsible for poker operators to wait for a scandal before taking action. They know they present a risk, and one of the solutions is to ban them.
I do believe they provide an edge, but that edge is available to everyone. It’s not a HUD that needs countless hours of work to figure it out. Sunglasses are sunglasses, and I think Hellmuth’s point is perfect, the top professionals who are playing for millions of dollars will take any edge they can find.
I also fail to understand how they can be a bad thing for TV shows, and although recreational players may feel more confident wearing them, I don’t think they will stop playing if they no longer can.
I would like to thank Andrew Robl, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Ben Wilinofsky, Sam Chartier, Philipp Gruissem, Mark Radoja, Talal Shakerchi, Pascal Lefrancois, and Ronit Chamani for their input with this article.