September 29, 2010

On a Slow-Roll

Recently, F-Train had a thoughtful post on slow-rolling, the rude and rather unsporting practice of keeping your cards hidden from your opponent at showdown, when you have a strong or even nut hand.  Frankly, it's rather reminiscent of a cat playing with a mouse—giving the poor victim what appears to be a chance at survival, when their doom is, in fact, sealed.  Now, cats do what they do out of instincts hard-wired by evolution; none of us think of cats "choosing" what they do, at least in a morally culpable sense of "choice".  But people do make choices, including whether to be a jerk or not.  As F-Train put it:
I've been slow-rolled before, of course.  Play the game long enough and it will happen at some point (although being flat-out lied to on top of that was a new one to me).  My question: what possesses people to act like that?  Are their lives so miserable that the only way they can get any joy is by trying to give others a false sense of hope, just so that they can watch those other people deflate?  Are they so insecure that they can only find any self-worth by tearing down the people around them so that they feel better about themselves?
Consider these two scenarios I've recently encountered, and debate whether the player slow-rolled or not:
  • During a recent eventful session at the Meadows ATM, I'm in the small blind, UTG player raises, couple of callers, so I call with JTs, and the big blind calls.  Flop is J-7-3 rainbow, I check, UTG bets, I check-raise, BB and UTG call.  Turn is a Ten.  Donkey Kong!  I bet, both players call.  River is an 8, with no flush possible.  I bet, BB calls, UTG raises!  This perplexes me, since I put him on top pair good kicker or an overpair.  I figure he would have played a set faster.  There was a four-card straight on board, but I couldn't figure him for a 9, unless maybe 99.  Finally, I call.  Then, the BB snap-calls, which confuses me.  We all sat there for a few seconds, and even though it wasn't my place to show first, I fear heat death so I finally shrug and say, "Top two" and roll over my hand.  BB pauses, then shows 97o for the straight.  UTG pauses a bit longer, looks at both of our hands, then finally rolls over ... Q9s for the nuts!  I say something snarky like, "Wow, you weren't sure if a straight was good?" and mentally debate which of various medieval torture devices to use on the both of them.  Anyway, the situation was rather annoying, and it has me rethinking my practice of showing first even if I don't have to in order to keep the game moving; being a nice guy isn't always the right play at the table.
  • During a recent session at Riverside Poker Emporium & Donk-A-Rama, I found myself in a hand with a maniac who was playing literally any two cards, and doing some good-natured trash-talking.  I had AA in the blinds, and 3-bet his usual button-raise; he came back over the top, and we got it all-in right there.  Now, I usually don't show my hand on a preflop all-in, though it's not a hard and fast rule, and if someone else shows their hand and it's been a friendly game, I may roll mine as well so the table can sweat the hand.  So, first question—is it wrong not to immediately roll over AA/KK in a preflop all-in?  In any event, because this kid had been running like god, I didn't roll my hand.  The flop came down A-Q-T with two to a suit.  Yahtzee!  I said, "That can't be good," half in jest, and half certain in a fatalistic way that the kid had KJ.  The turn completed the flush.  I looked at the kid and said, "That really is bad for me."  Kid was silent, but looked at his cards.  The river was an innocuous small card.  I rolled over my hand as I said, "I doubt these are good."  Kid looks at my hand and mucks, then asks, "Your hand was no good, huh?"  Second question—Since I showed in turn and without delay on the river, was this a slow roll?  Third question—Was my joking about not liking the flop or being behind out of line?
Now consider this scenario from the IMOP Tournament of Champions, when I found myself in a hand against buddy Santa Claus playing 1/2 NLHE at the Venetian.  Here's Santa's official version of the hand:
I am in BB with 73off and get to check my option.  Flop comes 3-5-9.  One small bet and Grange and I both call. Turn is 7 for my two pair and I lead out for $25.  Grange comes along with a flat call that doesn’t feel right.  Turn is a paint card, no flush.  I think for a few moments knowing that Grange will raise a bet here whether he has it or not.  I decide pot control and check to him.  He bets $65.  I sit and ponder, mumbling nonsense that he makes fun of.  I decide he’s got either nothing at all or 7/5s for two pair.  I call and say, “Do you have two pair?”  He replies, “No…” and before I can let him finish I proclaim, "Well I do!" and flip up my hand.  He then grins and finishes his sentence, “…no, I don’t have two pair.  I have a straight,”  And flips his cards over one at a time showing 6/4s.

Just for some background, Santa and I have this running joke where we imitate Sammy Farha, saying, "I have ... straight" in a dramatic tone with a bad accent.  So, I was using that line when the showdown occurred.  Also, I'm certain Santa was mentally preparing some taunt against me as he stacked the chips from the pot he was sure he had won.  Oh yeah, he's a good friend.

So, where do you draw the line for what's ethically acceptable and unacceptable practice at the table?  Consider these ethical questions:
  • Does a player with the nuts need to show immediately at showdown, without regard for the order of showdown (thereby forfeiting his right to see his opponents' cards)?  Or does slowrolling only occur if a player delays when it is his turn to show? 
  • Can a player with a strong hand pause to "read" his opponents' cards?  What if he has the nuts; does he still get a moment to read his opponents' cards to see how they played the hand? 
  • Does the size of the pot matter; should a player get more leeway with a big pot while we are more strict with small pots? 
  • Is it OK to slow-roll for dramatic effect, as with quads or a straight flush, or with some kind of improbable winning hand? 
  • Is slow-rolling acceptable when the opponent has been a jerk in this hand?  Prior hands?  Has slow-rolled you?  Has slow-rolled another player? 
  • Is it slow-rolling if another player asks if you have a certain hand (e.g., "You got an ace?" when an Ace is on board and he is clearly indicating a pair of aces is good), and you do not show that hand, even when you have it or a stronger hand (say, middle set)?
  • Is slow-rolling OK if it tilts a player?  After all it's not against the rules, and isn't poker about getting opponents to play poorly?
 So, to put it another way, a slow-roll is neither slow nor a roll.  Discuss!

3 comments:

  1. If I have the nuts or the near-nuts, I just turn mine over. I don't worry about finding out what he has or anything else.

    All in pre-flop, I usually say, "Do you want to turn them over? It's more fun." and let them decide what to do.

    I've had this happen which is as annoying as a slow roll. Another guy and I are all in. After the river, he shows and I pitch my cards to the dealer. Before the dealer can rake them into the much, a bozo, who wasn't even in the hand, says, "Can I see those cards?" meaning my two cards. It's never acceptable to ask for that unless you suspect collusion.

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  2. Answers from my perspective:

    1. The person who went all-in and got called should show first at showdown. Any other player is free to wait, whether they have the nuts or not.

    2. I don't have a problem with this.

    3. Size of the pot shouldn't matter. But the bigger the pot, the bigger the fit someone will throw afterward.

    4. Absolutely not. Unless ESPN cameras and/or Norman Chad are nearby.

    5. I think giving someone a taste of his own medicine is perfectly fine. But I can be an asshole about these things.

    6. Borderline. A player holding top pair once accused me of slow-rolling him at Bellagio when he asked me, after we were all-in, if I had two pair, and I said no. (I actually had a set, which I kept hidden until all streets were dealt. So my answer was sort of a half-truth.) I probably shouldn't have done it and haven't since.

    7. Nah. There are lots of ways to tilt a player. (Hell, Grange, I used your beloved Spanish Inquisition to do it just last week!) Probably best to pick a better method.

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  3. The majority of my poker experience is in home games, mostly with my relatives over the years, and we played a lot of poker. Until I starting looking at playing in a casino, I went through and started checking out etiquette. I came across slow rolling. I can't tell you how many times my father performed this and put my brother and myself on tilt. Now mind you, my father has no idea what slow rolling is and he's definitely not the type of person you'd typically associate it with.

    I guess what I'm saying, is while I hate the act, I don't find myself looking at it differently then many other things in life. Some do it on purpose and are just assholes. Others probably don't know better, and some do it even when they don't mean too, because essentially it's the receiver's perception that matters here.

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