This is a “Retro Blog” from 8/6/2010. While the topic of “sunglasses” has died down quite a bit, with the total legality of sunglasses eventually prevailing, I want to let you know why I think they are good for the game and why I wear them in every major poker tournament I play.
Should they be allowed?
There has been a lot of talk over the last two weeks because a few players on High Stakes Poker think sunglasses should be banned from the poker table. I will be the first person to tell you that I think, if anything, sunglasses are excellent for the game. If they are banned, I would not be surprised to see field sizes, especially in high stakes tournaments, drastically decrease.
The first, and main, reason sunglasses are good for poker is because they give new players the confidence to hop into games they normally wouldn’t play. Being stared down by Phil Ivey is stressful, even with sunglasses on. Believe it or not, the last time I played with Phil, I had A-A on an A-7-4-A-2 board. I was extremely nervous. I even had my sunglasses on! Of course, I was nervous he would fold, but that isn’t the point. If I had to choose between playing with Phil without glasses and not playing at all, I simply would not play. This is how countless sunglass wearing amateurs feel when they decide to gamble in a high stakes tournament that is out of their comfort zone. Sunglasses make them confident and comfortable.
In addition to boosting confidence, sunglasses help players reduce, but not eliminate, their physical tells. Some players think poker is about staring a guy down and getting a read on him while others view it as primarily a math and logic game. The “math” guys tend to prefer sunglasses because they don’t rely too heavily on tells to narrow their opponent’s range. The “feel” guys complain about sunglasses because they cut down on their main edge, as most of them lack the mathematical fundamentals. I am all for giving the amateur players a decent chance for success. If the amateurs never win, they will stop playing, killing the game.
Luckily, I am a mix of both player types and I recognize that both math and reads are important to the game. That being said, there is much more to a poker player than his eyes. If you pay attention to your opponent’s mannerisms, which are often quite difficult to consciously conceal, you will discover enlightening patterns that indicate either extreme strength or weakness, allowing you to adjust accordingly.
Given that sunglasses are currently completely legal at the poker table, it only makes sense to wear them. Since there is no downside at all to wearing them other than perhaps being perceived by some “pros” as being scared of giving off tells, wearing sunglasses is a purely +EV freeroll. The possibility of not giving off tells to a “feel” player makes me giddy. Simply because the “feel” players realize that sunglasses cut down their edge does not mean that they should be banned.
Another benefit to wearing sunglasses is that they allow you to observe your opponents without them noticing you. When looking for tells, you do not want to make it obvious to your opponents that they are being scrutinized. If anything, you want them to think you are oblivious, staring out into space. You will find most players actually look at the wrong person when they are not involved in a hand. You usually want to be looking at the guy who is facing the bet, not the guy who is betting. This is because the guy who is facing the bet is often really hoping their opponent either bets or doesn’t bet. If you can figure out a guy’s patterns, you can adjust and make excellent betting decisions. However, given most people don’t look at the person facing the bet, wearing sunglasses allows you to look at that player without anyone noticing.
Lots of players, especially older players, complain that sunglasses hurt their eyes because they are so dark. Fortunately, we live in a world where sunglasses don’t have to be dark. You can buy a pair that you will be able to see through clearly from various online retailers.
Another major gripe I have with the possible banning of sunglasses is that it would set a precedent that allows for the banning of other reasonable things deemed “unacceptable” by a small percentage of the player pool. Maybe next year you won’t be able to order drinks to the table because some people spill them on a regular basis. Perhaps you will be forced to wear a formal suit because the people in charge want the game to become more reputable. Taking away the players’ rights to do whatever they want, within reason, is rarely a good thing.
Some players want sunglasses banned because they could possibly be used for cheating. If someone is dumb enough to use invisible ink to mark the cards that can only be seen with special glasses in a casino, where the penalty is jail time, they likely have significant mental problems and will almost certainly get caught. If you think someone is cheating with glasses, ask to try them on. If they refuse, call the floor man. While I have heard of cheating in home games using special decks of cards and special contact lenses, as far as I know, I have never been cheated in a reputable casino, which is the only place I play. The penalty for getting caught is simply too high.
Another reason some people want sunglasses banned is because they think they are perhaps bad for TV. I think this simply is not true. Weak players participate in televised events because they want a chance to prove themselves on a large stage. If weak players stop making final tables because they have blatant eye tells, the idea that anyone can win a tournament will drastically diminish. If you want the general public to watch and play poker, you have to allow the general public to make, and occasionally win, a final table.
In my mind, anything that is good for the amateur player, as long as it allows excellent professionals to still make a profit in the long run, is good for the game.
That’s all of the thoughts I have for now. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to let me know. Thank you for reading.