To See or Not to See: The Great Poker Glasses Debate

Posted by Charles Dwain, November 11, 2014

Though popular conception would have you believe that poker is a game of luck, experienced players know that it’s all about skill. Still, there’s nothing wrong with trying to give yourself a leg up on the competition - within the rules, of course - and one of the most common and controversial of these efforts is wearing sunglasses at the table.

poker glasses

From Chris “Jesus” Ferguson to Phil Hellmuth, some of the biggest names in the game have been known to don shades when they hit the table, yet other pros - notably “Kid Poker” Daniel Negreanu - have come out against the practice. While poker rooms and casinos around the world still allow players to wear their sunglasses at the table, it continues to be a hot button of controversy among serious players.

What Have You Got to Hide?
Whether in poker tournaments or cash games, a player must always be mindful of any physical tells they may have when playing live. Though you can hide your nervous shaking or wandering eyes behind your computer screen, everyone can see them at the casino - and more experienced poker players may able to read your hand by just seeing one of these tics.

A lot of these tells actually center around the eyes. Everything from a sideways glance to an enlarged pupil tells a story and betrays the strength of your hand. Though many players are able to control these involuntary reactions through practice - and most players won’t even notice - that slight chink in the armor may be enough to cost players a big hand. As such, many players seek to hide themselves in the folds of their clothes, pulling the hood up on their sweater, tugging down the brim of their cap or throwing on reflective shades like Greg Raymer.

Terminator at the Table
Although it sounds a little silly to say, sunglasses are also a great way to intimidate the other players at the table. This is a strategy employed by everyone from law enforcement agents to Hollywood costume designers, as dark, emotionless eyes tend to stir a sense of unease in the average person. This little bit of psychology can come in handy for players bluffing on a draw while posturing a strong overpair, or hoping to steal some blinds with rags.

This can also boost a player’s confidence in his game, something that could be a double-edged sword. On one hand, a sure hand helps eliminate other tells that may result from nerves and improve one’s stakes at the table. Unfortunately, false confidence can inspire you to play recklessly. If you are experimenting with poker glasses during live play, be careful that you don’t let it loosen your hand selection. Even the Terminator can go down if he makes stupid plays.

poker sunglasses

Genuine Risks
Of course, there is a reason not every player wears shades at the table, and it may be enough to scare you away from trying. The most obvious risk is misreading your hole cards due to the dark frames. Before you commit to a look, be sure that you aren’t handicapping yourself in an attempt to be sly - after all, if you can’t see, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.

Furthermore, players whose style may tend toward aviator sunglasses or other reflective styles may run the risk of exposing part or all of their hole cards. While being able to read the reflection of both cards off of someone’s glasses isn’t likely, something as simple as a flash of color can give away a lot about the strength of one’s draw and potentially cost them a lot of money.

The Case Against
A small but vocal cross section has taken umbrage at the inclusion of sunglasses in accepted poker players’ attire at the table. Chief among them is four-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, Daniel Negreanu, who took to his blog in 2010 to rally against non-prescription eyewear, claiming that glasses make it easier for players to cheat at the table. The idea is that players might use the shades to either signal other players or the dealer, or possibly conceal electronic devices that could allow them to gain information on their opponents.

“No other sport organization would allow competitors a device that makes it easier for them to get away with cheating” said Kid Poker on his blog. “You should always feel uncomfortable playing high stakes poker against someone wearing sunglasses.”

He followed up his comments by challenging glasses-wearing players to “man up and take those silly things off.”

poker glasses

A Vocal Retort
Naturally, this view has been met with much opposition since it first gained footing in the poker community. Many players feel there is no weight to the arguments put forth by Negreanu and his ilk, with long time pro Roy Winston calling it a slippery slope argument.

“Where do you draw the line if you do ban sunglasses?” Winston wrote on his blog. “Before you open a can of worms you really need to think about the ramifications. Comparing sunglasses to performance enhancing drugs or outright cheating is nothing short of ridiculous.”

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