Challenge James - Sunglasses

James Atkin

Recently there has been a lot of talk of whether sunglasses should be allowed at the poker table, following the topic being discussed on one of the episodes of High Stakes Poker Season 6.

It seemed most of the HSP players were vehemently behind a ban on sunglasses, except for Elky who kept quiet because he was wearing a pair at the time! Tom Dwan suggested he wouldn’t want to play in any non-televised game with a player wearing sunglasses because of his fears of them cheating, as it is purportedly easier to see marked cards through sunglasses.

Perhaps the most vociferous player on the subject was Daniel Negreanu, who has followed this up by posting his views on his blog on a couple of different occasions. He almost seems to suggest that not wearing sunglasses contained some element of skill, pointing towards the fact that “the majority of best players in the world do not wear sunglasses.”

From my perspective it seemed that Negreanu’s views largely stemmed from the fact that he chooses not to wear sunglasses himself, and therefore doesn’t want anybody else to have that advantage. He even goes so far as to compare sunglasses to performance enhancing drugs in professional sport, as a ban on them both would “level the playing field”. Personally, I think that comparison is a “bridge too far”. Sunglasses are hardly an illegal substance. I would suggest that wearing sunglasses is more like drinking Lucozade in the middle of a sports event. You can choose to drink it because you think it might give you some slight advantage, but then again you can always just drink water.

Nevertheless, the new PokerStars show “The Big Game” (an interesting new concept for a show as it features a ‘Loose Cannon’ who is effectively free-rolling in the game), has banned it’s participants from wearing sunglasses. Perhaps Negreanu’s PokerStars Pro status and involvement on the show gave him some influence on this decision, which is interesting as he is also a part of the WSOP Players Advisory Committee. It will be interesting to see if he tries to instigate a ban on sunglasses in the WSOP in the future, although certainly nothing like that is in place for the upcoming World Series.

However, two-time WPT champion Jonathan Little voiced the opposite side of the argument in his blog. He made the point that it's -EV not to wear sunglasses if it has a shot at reducing your live tells, and that it allows amateur players to feel more comfortable at the tables, and no professional should want to see amateurs discouraged from playing.

Certainly if I see I player I don't know at the table wearing sunglasses, I will generally stereotype them as not being very good until proven otherwise. Perhaps that's because I play mostly medium buy-in events, and I’ve always though it as being a little silly that people are treating it like a main event final table. However, you could argue that you should play every poker table like it's that important.

Challenge James - Sunglasses 101

I've never really worn sunglasses at the poker table, the main reason for this being the strain it puts on your eyes wearing them indoors. For some reason Little's blog prompted me to type "poker sunglasses" into Google, and inevitably resulted in me buying some of these "Poker Sunglasses" on eBay. They darken the room much less than sunglasses, therefore eliminating the main reason for me not giving sunglasses a whirl.

I took them with me to the recent GUKPT in Coventry. However, it seemed that every table I was put on, there was someone that I knew sat there, and I was essentially too embarrassed to put them on because of the aforementioned ‘donk’ stigma attached to them. Also, very few people around the room were wearing them and I didn’t want to look silly! It wasn’t until Day Two, where two people at the table I was redrawn on were wearing sunglasses, that I bit the bullet and tried them out. Unfortunately I was unable to test them for very long as I was soon busto (I blame the sunglasses, obv).

Comparing that short time period with all the times I haven’t worn sunglasses, I deduced that I’m not really worried about giving off my own tells, I think my “poker face” is pretty decent, and friends observing me play have never told me anything they have noticed (although admittedly they might keep this kind of information to themselves, there are no friends at the poker table after all!). However, part of my attempt to not give off tells mean I often go into “stare at the table” mode whenever I make a bet, to try and stay consistent. Sometimes I feel I miss out on information my opponents may be giving off when facing this bet, and so the distinct advantage I noticed from wearing sunglasses is that you can observe the players around the table without them realising you are watching them intently.

So now I just have to go and decipher what the information I gain from looking at them actually means! Maybe I should give Mike Caro’s Book of Poker Tells another chance, I stopped reading it mid-way through last time because the pictures taken in the 1970’s, especially of the guy with the moustache, tilted me too much.

Anyway, personally I think players should choose whether they wear sunglasses or not. I mean, has Negreanu never had a hangover?!...

What do you think?

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