To speak or not to speak, that is the question

To speak or not to speak, that is the question

There are a number of reasons why people might use the chat function in online poker. There are also a number of different ways to categorise these motives, but I have chosen three: frustration, conversation, and strategy.

Frustration

From my experience, this is the most common use of the chat function. Frustrated players like to vent after being outdrawn on the river by that annoying 2 outer or a backdoor flush. They proceed to tell the pot winner how lucky they were and how bad a call they made. It can get worse from there, and you may find out how good the filters are.

If you have read some of the other articles on this website, you already know that this is a bad idea. There are two likely outcomes from abusing someone for making a mathematically poor call:

- make the bad players leave or, at best, play smarter ('Please don't scare the fish')
- tip off more observant players that you know how to play, but can't control your emotions.

Neither outcome is good for your profitability.

Conversation

The second most common reason to talk is just that: to talk. Human beings are a social species, and just like in the 'real world', some poker players like to chat about sport, music, politics, religion and anything else you could imagine.

To speak or not to speak, that is the question

The more important question is whether to join in. And if your goal at the table is profit, the answer is probably not. Even if it won't do any harm to your bottom line, it probably won't do any good. Actively participating in a conversation may distract you from concentrating on all the things you should be watching: pot odds, position, who's betting or raising, betting patterns of different players and so on. This is especially true if, like many people, you're playing on more than one table at the same time.

So if you want to discuss world events or the chances of your favourite sporting team, find a chat room. If you want to make the highest profit you can out of playing poker, concentrate on getting all the information you can about the game, or games, you're in.

Poker Strategy

Talking for strategic reasons is probably the least common, but the most important. This section looks at whether or when to chat strategically, then discusses some of the objectives and methods.

When should you do it? In principle, whenever it will increase your profitability. In practice, I apply the same rule to talking for strategic advantage as I do to showing my cards: If in doubt, don't. You should have a clear idea about what you are trying to achieve, what are the potential benefits and risks, and your chances of success.

A good reason to talk is to help your table image. The objective is not to win more money in the current hand, but to make more money in the next 10 to 20 hands. The biggest risk is that it won't work, but you will have lost nothing. Your probability of success depends on the people at the table, including you: how convincing can you be?

If you like to play tight, you want to give the impression of being loose. If they believe you, more people will call when you hit your big hands. You might say, "Are there any aces left in this deck?" despite having folded A-3 to A-8 four times in the last 10 hands.

To speak or not to speak, that is the question

If you're playing a lot of hands, you want people to think it's because you're running hot. And unless you are running extremely hot, hitting every flop, you probably want to encourage some folds. Recently I was playing in a brick and mortar poker room, and almost every time this particular player was in the big blind, I raised. He eventually complained (which is, of course, terribly weak don't complain, fight back) and I protested my innocence: "I'm just playing the cards. I'm only raising because I have good cards." And one of the few times I did have something decent, I showed AQ suited and said "see, just playing the cards."

Trying to affect the current hand can be very difficult, such as making someone fold or call when you want them to. Saying things like "you should call" or "I'd fold if I was you" is a pointless guessing game. It could be reverse psychology, 'reverse reverse' psychology or something else again. I always ignore such comments, and I don't bother making them. When people say, "I have Kings" or "they are rags", it is the same story.

But sometimes you can get a read. Ignore people when they claim either of the extremes (such as Kings or rags), but think harder when someone claims a middle position. It probably means they are strong. They aren't trying to scare you off with a monster, but want you to call confidently with top pair. For example, I was playing in a one on one tournament, I had K-J, and the flop was K-5-2. I bet out for 200 (I had 1200, he had 700, 100 in the pot) and he went all in. Just after I hit the call button, the chat came through "I have a 5" and I knew I was in trouble. If he had said it two seconds earlier I would have folded. I figured him for two pair or trips. The turn and river came blank, blank, he showed K-2, and I was down to 25% of the chips.

To speak or not to speak, that is the question

This can work for you. If you are strong and want to encourage a call, don't feign weakness (unless they really are a fish). Perhaps say something like "I hope you don't outdraw me" or "even if he has two over cards, I'm still ahead". As always, you have to pick your moment and your player, but if you can weasel out a few bad calls, or scare people out of the occasional pot, it can make a big difference at the end of the session.

In summary, there is only one good reason to chat in review poker online: to increase your profitability. So don't complain about the bad beat, forget the weather, and only talk strategically when you are confident that the benefits outweigh the risks. If you never, ever use the chat function again, you won't lose out on much, and you will be well ahead of those that scare the fish or get distracted.