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Tommy Angelo Presents: Writhing Over Rules

House Rules

Poker player and coach Tommy Angelo is the author of two well regarded poker books, Elements of Poker and A Rubber Band Story and Other Poker Tales, as well as numerous poker articles for various outlets. Angelo is known in particular for helping players deal with the mental challenges poker provides, including overcoming tilt. Today Angelo addresses how important it is for new players not to become discouraged when learning poker’s many rules.

“Where do they come up with these crazy rules for live poker?” said Charlie Archer. “Online is so much better. So much simpler.”

“And no one knocks over your drink,” I said. “So, tell me about last night. It was your first time playing live, right?”

“Yep. I’ve been playing about 300,000 hands per year online ever since high school, and last night was the first time I stepped foot inside a brick-and-mortar poker room.”


“And it’s even slower than I imagined in my nightmares.”

“Why the sudden change-up?”

“I decided to start playing live tournaments.”

“Not enough pain in your life?”


“How’d it go last night?”

“Horridly,” he said. “The first hand I played, I got confused at the showdown about whether I was supposed to turn my hand over or not, so I paused oh so briefly to see what the other guy was going to do, and…”

“Uh oh.”

“No kidding. The dealer and practically the whole table was instantly on my case to turn my cards over. I felt like an idiot. I don’t like feeling like an idiot. In fact I distinctly despise feeling like an idiot. And then, on the very next hand, I got pocket aces…”

“Uh oh.”

“Wait ‘til you hear this brutality. The game was $2/$5 no-limit hold’em.”

“And you have aces.”

“On the button no less. One guy limped and I made it $25. Everyone else folded and he called. We both had about $500.

“The flop came {J-}{3-}{2-} rainbow. He bet out $40. I just called, planning to raise the turn if he bet again. And that’s almost what happened. The turn paired the deuce and he bet out $100. I intended to call the $100 and raise $200 more, except that when I put my $100 call out and came back to my stack to get chips to raise with, the whole table was up my ass again, even worse than the first time. ‘String! String! You can’t raise! You can only call!’ And I was like you can’t be serious. You’re telling me I can’t raise?”

“And again you felt like an idiot,” I said.

“Not really,” said Charlie. “All I could think about was the very wide range of hands my opponent could have where not raising was a statistical disaster.”

“The river was a six, making the final board {J-}{3-}{2-}{2-}{6-}. He fired a third barrel, even though I had obviously wanted to raise him on the turn. I had no idea what was going on with the hand anymore so I just called his $200 bet. Have you figured out what he had?”

“Pocket sixes,” I said.

“Yep. He filled up on the river to slay the mighty aces. Sick two-outer.”

“Is there some other kind?”

“Actually, there is,” he said. “The kind that pays to get there. There’s no way in hell this guy would have called $200 more on the turn, but instead of having to fold, he effectively got a free card, and it cost me five hundred and thirty bucks.”

“That sounds a little high.”

“There’s the $365 I actually lost, plus the $165 I didn’t win. All because of some stupid rule.”

“Let me ask you something,” I said. “If a non-six had come on the river and you had won the pot, would it still be a stupid rule? Would I even be hearing this story?”

“Do you have a point?”

“Two, actually. One about being results oriented, which I just made. And one about rules, which I’m about to.”

I took a drink of water with two hands and cleared my throat. This was Charlie’s cue that a lecture was on the way.

“Everyone tilts over rules at live poker at some point,” I said. “Beginners tilt because they don’t know enough, and veterans tilt because they know too much.”

“As a beginner at live poker, you have a chance to steer your course. Are you going to develop into someone who is always looking for a reason to get upset over rules and rulings, or someone who sees rules as merely one of the many shifting winds of poker? Is it better to judge the wind? Or ride it?”

“That sounds like total BS to me,” said Charlie. “But keep going.”

“To take the pain out of rules and rulings, step outside of your concerns as a player, and try to figure out why the rule exists. Most rules will make a lot of sense after this analysis, such as the ancient string raise rule, and the recent rule upgrades as to who shows first at the showdown.

“Some rules will make no sense from any perspective. Long ago I played at a poker room in Iowa and they had a rule against asking questions during a hand. This was the craziest rule I’d ever seen and I let this fact be known. They told me it’s called Brian’s rule. Apparently old man Brian was underhanded and underloved, and they came up with this rule to silence his annoying patter. I say ‘was’ because Brian had been dead for a year when I played there, yet his rule lived on.

“Hilarious,” said Charlie.

“But when I encounter an absurd rule or a terrible ruling now, it doesn’t fluster me even a teenie little bit. And I have to tell you, poker is a lot easier this way.”

Charlie said, “But what if I have a legitimately good idea for a rule change?”

“Then by all means adopt a cooperative posture and enter the politics of the room and make your case to the people in power. But while you are playing, don’t complain, don’t sneer, and don’t rate the rules and the enforcers. That’s all just noise in your head. All it can do is cost you money.

“Instead, exploit every rule as it stands, honestly, for your own profit. A flush beats a straight. That’s a rule that no one gets upset about. Try to take that attitude toward every rule you come across, and you can set the stage now for a lifetime of immunity to rules tilt.”

“Tiltless exploitation. Sounds good to me.”

“Pays good, too.”

* * * * *

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