The Big Issue: Should sunglasses be banned at the poker table?

You’re not allowed to wear them on the football pitch… Should we stop players wearing them at the poker table?

Ask the man on the street to describe a poker player and you’ll probably get: young, male, wearing a hoodie, sunglasses and headphones.

Long gone are the days when cowboy boots and a Stetson were the accessories of choice. As big a part of the game as they are though, a number of high profile pros have been calling for sunglasses to be banned recently.

It’s a debate that’s been had before but it reared up again in the early stages of the 2015 WSOP when allegations of cheating were made by Connor Drinan and others during the $10k Heads-Up Championship. Accurate details are sketchy, but one theory was the alleged cheat was marking cards with ink that would only show up through a special pair of sunglasses. It was never proven and despite a WSOP investigation, we’ve heard nothing since.

As you’d expect, Daniel Negreanu was particularly vocal on Twitter:

It’s been a consistent view from Negreanu who said the following on his blog: ‘You should always be uncomfortable playing high stakes poker against someone wearing sunglasses… Banning sunglasses helps to protect the integrity of the game against cheating.’

It’s absolutely true that what Negreanu is talking about is possible. And with technology getting ever more advanced, and wearable tech the next big thing, it’s a problem that’s only going to get bigger.

But banning them? It seems like a drastic move when there’s no proof that it would actually stop cheating in any meaningful way.

Pro’s edge

But it’s an issue that has split the poker world down the middle. Phil Hellmuth still wears sunglasses when he’s playing today and he hates the idea of a ban, saying it would hurt the game where it really matters. He estimates that the game might lose 20% of its amateur base if sunglasses were banned.

Another pro Jonathan Little agrees with Hellmuth, saying ‘If I had to choose between playing with Phil [Ivey] without glasses and not playing at all, I simply would not play. This is how countless sunglass wearing amateurs feel when they decide to play a high stakes tournament that is out of their comfort zone.’

Lots of players wear sunglasses to feel more comfortable and being comfortable at the table is crucial. You might not need sunglasses at your home game when you’re playing with your mates, but what about if you get moved to a TV table in a big money tournament? How comfortable would you be? Probably a lot less comfortable than the pro enjoying his 20th final table and hoping to add to his $20m in tournament winnings.

Sunglasses can also help you to eliminate physical tells and disguise when you’re studying other players. We think it’s beyond doubt that banning sunglasses would give even more of an edge to the pro players, and that’s something the game can ill afford.

And what next? Surely if you ban sunglasses, you have to ban headphones and all electronic devices? Yes, a table full of players with headphones and sunglasses on isn’t going to create the most sociable environment. But poker is a game where you pay your money and have the right to act how you want – within common rules of etiquette. If you don’t want to talk and interact that’s your right. And if TV producers want to ban sunglasses on their shows that’s their right too. That’s not going to hurt the amateur player anyway. A blanket ban would and for that reason we’re firmly in the Hellmuth and Little camp. Hands off our sunnies!

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