I am ashamed of myself.
I was in what should have been a perfectly fine no-limit hold’em game at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. There was the usual cast of characters, most unmemorable. But as I spent more time at the table, I noticed a weird dynamic taking place.
In seat #5 was a middle-aged white male. He wasn’t a very good player, but he was sufficiently aggressive to mitigate that a bit – he was raising and betting enough to win some pots without showing his hand. I’ll call this guy Bob.
On his right, seat #4, was a well-dressed woman, maybe 60 years old. She, like Bob, is obviously a regular at TSR. She knows the other regs and the dealers; they know her. She’s not a pro, maybe not a winning player – I don’t know. She seems like the sort who is financially comfortable, and likes a good game of cards, i.e. somebody who has a perfectly great reason to be in a poker game. She plays passively, but hey, she paid for her chips – it’s not anybody else’s business how she plays her cards. Her name here is Alice.
Bob is a miserable guy. His opening monologue when he got to our table was a bad beat story, and it just continued from there. A non-stop litany of poor luck, bad river cards, and misfortune at the hands of “inferior” players.
But Alice was a special target. For instance…
Alice limps in. Bob raises. It folds back around to Alice, who thinks briefly, and calls.
Bob: “Here we go again.”
Bob: “You’re going to get there and beat me. Just like you did yesterday with that f*****g flush.”
Alice: “I had the best hand before the…”
Bob: “No, you hit the flush on the f*****g river.”
Dealer: “Sir, the f-bombs. Please.”
It was worse because they were sitting literally next to each other – the verbal assaults were at close quarters. Ten minutes later:
Bob: “There’s no point in me betting. I had the best hand before the flop, but you’re going to beat me anyway. You never fold. I check.”
Alice: <awkward laugh>
This went on for at least three hours while I was at the table. A friend of mine who stayed there after I left said it continued well past my departure.
Alice: “I call.”
Bob <not even in the hand> : “Don’t you ever fold?”
Was I misreading it?
Good old tit-for-tat sparring?
No. Look, I’ve been at a poker table or two. I’ve seen way more than my share of banter between two players. It’s typically between two players of equal station – two pros, two bad regs, two recreational players. And, almost always, between two men – women don’t usually get caught up in the verbal jousting. That was not the dynamic here.
Was she purposely tilting him off his game?
I’ve seen that play before, though it’s far rarer. But no, Alice wasn’t playing some deep game of wrapping Bob around the axle. Nothing about her personality, demeanor, or behavior suggested that she was on that level.
Alice didn’t want the trouble.
Maybe Bob treats everybody like that
This is the crux of the matter. Most of Bob’s whining and complaining was directed at the universe in general for its poor treatment of him. His only targeted verbal assaults were aimed at Alice. And Alice was the only woman at the table.
She would kind of laugh it off, and generally deflect. That’s what women her age have had to do for generations – it’s a survival adaptation in a world where men get to do that sh*t and there’s very little women can do about it.
And sadly, nobody – nobody, including me – spoke up. A couple of dealers admonished Bob multiple times about his constant f-bombs, to little avail. But not once did a dealer, or another player, say anything to him about his verbal abuse of Alice.
What could I do?
In retrospect, there were a number of possibilities. First, I could have asked the dealer to shush Bob. In my opinion, confronting such jerks directly serves no purpose, because we as players carry no more weight than the bad actor. Further, guys like Bob are usually happy to have a foil with whom to spar.
And you know, I say that… but suppose I had gone after Bob? Would he have redirected his bile at me? That would have been far preferable, in that it’s a level playing field – two old privileged white guys taunting each other. I wish I had thought of that.
But what if I had asked the dealer to cool Bob’s jets? It’s quite possible that they would do nothing. Dealers are at the bottom of the power structure in a poker room – they are subservient to both management and the players. This is particularly true if the dealer is a woman, who, again, is adapted and socialized not to get into conflict over these situations. Well, then bring in the floor. Bring in the shift manager. But for the love of God, do something.
I don’t blame myself for not knowing exactly what to do. The insidious aspect of this problem is that it is baked into our society, and I haven’t read the playbook for fighting back. Had I spoken up, I would have been the one making a scene. But tough – even if I’m not sure what to do, that doesn’t make it okay to do nothing. Start by doing something, then improvise.
Behavior such as this is completely unacceptable, and please don’t tell me that I don’t have a stake in the matter – if I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem.
I hope that the silver lining of this whole mess is that now I’m thinking about how to properly react in the future. That doesn’t mean I’ll get everything right, but again, I’ll be doing something. I’ll figure out the details as I go.
At least I won’t be ashamed of myself.