Honey and Vinegar
Sept 07, 2005  
by Jason Kirk  

In a recent low-level online limit hold'em session I managed to find myself at a pretty juicy table. There were usually a minimum of three people seeing every flop, and everyone was fond of raising with hands that were far from the nuts. If your hand held when you got involved, chances were you would take down a good-sized pot. While most of the table was pretty soft, my target of choice was sitting in the 6-seat. He was a player who saw every other flop, called down to the river with any draw or piece of the flop and never raised unless he'd hit two pair or better - or as I like to refer to him, an ATM. Any time I had a chance to get in a hand with him I could almost feel the chips in my hands. A funny thing happened on the way to stacking those chips, though - the 6-seat won several hands. His A-7 beat my A-Q, his A-8 rivered my J-J - somehow, despite me being a favorite every time, he found a way to win. I took the beats in stride without saying a word - in the long run, the way that the 6-seat plays is going to cost him most (if not all) of his money.

The player on my right - let's call him Trigger - didn't accept the 6-seat's winning hands so easily. Somewhere along the way, after a pretty pedestrian beat,Trigger started calling the 6-seat a "retard." Every time the 6-seat got lucky enough to win a hand Trigger told him "you suck." The real trouble started when the 6-seat won a pot from Trigger with 8-4 suited, rivering a flush that cracked top pair. Trigger typed into the chat box, "I wouldn't be too proud showing that hand down," and went on a rant about bad players. It seemed obvious to me that the 6-seat wasn't the player who had a problem with pride.

For someone who played the part of Resident Poker Expert and criticized the loose-passive player at the table, Trigger played pretty loosely himself. He saw one of every three flops and raised any time he entered the pot regardless of his cards. He frequently refused to read the signs his opponents gave him when he was beaten, called to the river with unimproved ace-high hands, regularly bluffed with tiny pairs on overcard-filled boards, and felt compelled to show these feats of poker mastery to the table. He was far from the definition of a solid player - in fact, he was the kind of guy that a patient player wants to find himself up against. But I didn't tell Trigger any of this. Why spill my secret to a man who was oblivious to his own weaknesses?

There's an old saying that goes, "You draw more flies with honey than with vinegar." The basic idea is that being nice is much more likely to get you what you want than being rude. When you find yourself at a table with a player like the 6-seat, how do you react? Do you sigh and wonder how someone could play those garbage hands over and over - and then let them know how horribly they've played? Or do you realize that poker is a game of short-term luck and long-term skill, and give the 6-seat the pots with a smile today because your patience will pay off down the road when he's broke? Do you know that he is the best player you could ask to be up against? There are only two proper reactions to a player of the 6-seat's caliber when he wins a pot: tell him "nice hand" and move on, or don't say anything at all. If you react like Trigger did, you're trying to draw flies with vinegar.

I got lucky after a while and once more found myself up against the 6-seat. I got him to bet into me when I flopped trips, and again when I turned the case jack for four of a kind. Incidentally, the other player who kept raising him (and doing my work for me) was none other than the resident poker expert, Trigger. At the end of the hand, Trigger launched into a speech about how stupid the 6-seat was for thinking his aces were good - never mind that Trigger himself had only folded his third-best hand, pocket kings, on the river. His tirade had an effect: after another orbit the 6-seat left the table. A little honey in this situation would have had all of of us profiting all night as our ATM kept reloading. Instead, I was the only one with the chance to make a withdrawal.

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