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PUI: Poker Under the Influence

PUI: Poker Under the Influence
by Daniel Johnson of

A straggler stumbles into the poker room at midnight, crashes down into an empty seat, looks with bewilderment at the dealer and asks for a "cack of threefundred lips".

After translating, the dealer slides over a stack of $300 and the other players start to lick their lips. They stare like a pack of hungry wolves that has just spotted an easy dinner. Before this drunken mess had come into the room, there had been utter silence and action as slow as cars in a traffic jam. Now things were just about to get interesting again.

Drinking and poker have always gone well together, like peanut butter and jelly, and hookers and STDS. There's even the famous double entendre: "Liquor in the front and poker in the rear" exemplifying the obvious connection. I mean come on; casinos even offer free drinks! But drinking and playing poker can't possibly be a good strategy; can it?

For some that just want to gamble, drinking while playing poker certainly will make the game fun, but for those that are trying to make money, taking advantage of these drunken buffoons is a must. The pursuit to take their leftover bar money can also be as entertaining as it can be profitable.

I was playing in a $1-2 NLHE game at the El Dorado in Reno about two years ago when I encountered a few friends who had a few too many at the table. By the time sat down, they were already in full party mode, ordering shot after shot of Jagermeister. One of the drunken friends sat directly to my right and implemented a unique and fun way of betting that kept the entire table laughing the whole night. He would almost act out of turn, then after being scolded by the dealer, would grab a random collection of chip denominations and launch them everywhere over the felt. It almost looked like if he had been eating his chips and was vomiting them up, with chips spewing in every direction. "This much!" he would say with glee. The result was a massive and colorful mess in the pot and some of his "bet" didn't even make it across the pass line.


I was the next player in line, so I had the task of waiting about five minutes every time before I acted, because the dealer had to sort out what exactly his bet was, which always ended up being a random funny number. The dealer rolled his eyes as he made sense of the splashed pot. "Okay," he would say, "It's $27 to go."

I, like most of the table, was amused at this, but I kept thinking about how I should go about playing against him? It was obvious I had the upper hand, being sober and thinking rationally, but what strategy is best against drunk players?

There's one school of thought that says against this type of player you should jump in lots of pots; you want to play as much as you can against drunkards or players making lots of mistakes in general. I, however, took the more conservative route, waiting for a spot where I knew I had him absolutely crushed and could send him to his hotel bedroom. (or the next bar!)

It's not surprising that other players also agree with me. A player going under the name "Bangkok Poker Player" says on his blog at that you should be patient and selective when playing hands against drunken players. "Be careful so as not to go heads up with the drunken man just because you think he is weak. Wait for your time to come and be sure to cash in when you get the opportunity," says the "Bangkok Poker Player" in his blog post titled, "Dealing with Drunken Players while Playing Poker."

As alcohol is known to affect a person's overall judgment, it also affects a person's poker judgment as well. Since poker is a game built around being able to make solid and well-timed decisions, you can imagine how distorted judgment might not be a good thing for a poker player.

Drunken players are thus known to make errors dealing with poor judgment. They rarely fold and tend to be fast and loose with their chips. All the factors that normally go into making a rational poker decision, like your cards, your opponents' possible holdings, the size of the pot, etc., are not carefully measured by a drunken player. Because of this, most good advice tells you to not try anything tricky or fancy against these guys. The main reason being is that they just don't care.

"When playing a drunk, keep in mind that they get tunnel vision. They're not thinking about you at all. They don't care what you have. This is not the place for the fancy check-raise bluff you're so proud of," says professional poker player Ephriam Rosenbaum in his article titled "Poker Personalities: Identifying and Beating Maniacs."

This "abc" style of simple poker worked well for me in this instance. I waited for good spots against my inebriated foes and eventually walked away with over $300 more than I sat down with. The key hand, in which I doubled up, ended up involving the random bettor to my right. I flopped top pair and simply check called him on all three streets. He shoved me all-in on the river and after I called with my top pair of kings, he mucked his hand and slurred "Nice hand." It was the quietest he had been all night. I'm sure it was a nice ride for him and fun while it lasted. Hell, it was fun for me too, but it was also profitable.

So the next time you think about heading down to the poker room after you've already hit the bottle hard, you might want to stop and ask yourself if you really want to be issued a PUI.


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