On the couch

Spotting the table captain is usually quite easy, stopping them less so

In poker you’ll hear the phrase ‘table captain’ quite regularly, more often than not when Tony G is playing, but it’s quite difficult to pin down exactly what the term means and involves. Traditionally a captain is appointed, though not always democratically, and has complete authority of those under him – he doesn’t usually appoint himself.

In poker, the opposite is true – a person by their very actions decides that they will try to take control of the table and thereby gain an advantage.

However, it’s debatable as to just how much of a benefit being the table captain is. In the animal world, being the leader of the pack affords you many advantages – first dibs at food and females for starters.

Occasionally you might be required to have a bit of a scrap with a rival that might result in the odd broken bone or two, but the gains are usually worth it (provided you’re not mortally wounded, of course!). But this alpha male situation doesn’t necessarily translate to the world of poker.

Traditionally, the table captain (which I’ll abbreviate to TC from hereon) is a trash- talker who attempts, either through verbal bullying (think Tony G) or deceptively friendly banter (think Daniel Negreanu), to put you in a state of mind that makes you more vulnerable to giving your chips away. On rare occasions you get the silent assassin TC (think Surinder Sunar) who says nothing, but bullies through their actions, such as constantly raising pots.

In psychological terms, all are attempting to take on the role of autocratic leader. They dictate the terms and conditions of the situation to all around them. However, history has shown us that ultimately, autocratic leaders are not terribly successful.

What comes naturally
Now you might argue that given the success of the three players mentioned, becoming a table captain is advantageous, but this is not necessarily the case. For the most part, the successful table captains are just doing what comes naturally to them: Tony G is a natural extrovert, Daniel Negreanu a natural socialite, and Surinder Sunar a studious introvert. But it would probably be a psychological disaster if Surinder decided to adopt Tony’s approach.

It is likely that much of his attention capacity would be expended in overriding his natural instinct, leaving him with limited resources to devote to his poker playing. This disaster would likely be magnified tenfold for someone with even less skill.

It’s a questionable tactic as to whether you should want to become TC because you’re attracting attention to yourself, and, if you’re too aggressive, effectively begging someone to take a shot at you. And while a few of the early bullets might miss, there’s probably one out there with your name on it.

The only time this might not be true is if you’re seated at a table of absolute rocks, which doesn’t happen too often. Psychologically speaking, if it’s not your natural way of playing the game, don’t attempt to take on the role of TC.

So what do you do if you are faced with a wannabe TC at your table? If they’re a verbal bully, iPod and earphones might help, though you may miss out on a lot of useful information from other players at the table. So perhaps following these psychologically sound tips for combatting different types of TC would be more profitable.

1. Closely scrutinise the players at your table and identify if there is a TC and what style they’re employing. Some are quicker and easier to spot than others. Simply understanding that one is present can help you adjust your game to combat them.

2. Unless your style is similar to theirs, i.e. you like to talk at the table and the TC is a socialite, don’t be sucked into their way of playing the game as you’ll spend too much of your precious mental resources adjusting. This increases the chance that you will not be playing your ‘A’ game. It can be difficult to avoid because human instinct is to want to be liked by others, and resisting their style will make you feel uncomfortable. Recognise this, and be comfortable being uncomfortable. Don’t let Daniel become your friend!

If you’re going to ‘take on’ the TC, make sure where possible that you have the goods. It’s obvious, but don’t try and out-bluff a verbal bully: if you get caught, your situation will be 10 times worse, and you’ll never hear the end of it. It’s far better to grit your teeth – try some relaxation techniques – and bide your time. Be sustained by a mental picture of the smile being wiped off their face when you do eventually take them down.

And remember this final thought – if the TC gets too out of hand you can always create a mutiny! The chances are other players are suffering too. A simple phrase such as, ‘Is anyone else getting fed up with X’ may just do the trick and rein them in.

Pin It

Comments are closed.