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Table talk has been a hot topic lately in poker thanks to the recent episode of the World Series of Poker featuring William Kassouf. If you are not familiar with what I am referring to, check out my piece about whether or not his penalty was justified.

In a similar vane, many believe that Jack Effel went too far with his penalty and Kassouf merely was executing proper strategy. Some believe that what he was doing is great for the game. Let’s take a look at table talk and whether or not it truly is “good for poker.”

Table Talk Livens Up the Game and Makes for Great TV Drama

I think most of us will agree that a lively player at the poker table can increase one’s overall enjoyment of the game. When you have a crazy personality a la Daniel Negreanu, Mike Matusow or Humberto Brenes, the game is more fun almost immediately.

These types of players are ones that TV poker producers drool over because they bring personality and flair to the game. Even those players that may rub others the wrong way are also considered great for TV because they bring added drama to the table. ESPN recently dedicated a whole episode to lively players and William Kassouf is now a household name due to his table talk.

There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way

There’s a right way and a wrong way to perform table talk at the tables. Players like Negreanu are always sought after because of their overall positive image and the fact that their table talk is rarely “confrontational.”

Some players go overboard with their table talk and start pushing the boundaries of abuse. In the first couple of years of the ESPN WSOP broadcasts, we would see some players push those limits and there were some memorable players whose antics and celebrations forced rule changes. We can all thank Hevad Khan for the lack of crazy celebratory antics on TV nowadays.

How Far is Too Far?

Where’s the line where table talk goes to far? If you go strictly by the rules, that line is crossed when someone is taunting or abusing another player, dealer or casino staff member. I think everyone can agree that taunting or abuse is out of line and should not be tolerated at the poker table.

However, what about a player that is so talkative or has gotten on the nerves of everyone at the table to the point where they are no longer enjoying the game? Some of you are going, “Big deal! They need to get over it.” It’s all just a part of game strategy right?

Maybe so, but when players stop enjoying their time at the table, they tend to quit playing. Some players will just quit playing for that session while others may quit frequenting the card room where the “talkative” player frequents.

Something else that happens is the “talkative” player starts to get a reputation. In the case of William Kassouf, there are many people that think what he did was perfectly fine. However, there are a number of players that were there that day that played with him long before the tapes were rolling and they are painting a different picture. As such, Kassouf has two public images – one as a keen player with strong table talk and another that portrays him as an ass.

Is Table Talk Good for the Game? It Depends

You can’t make a blanket statement claiming that “table talk is good for poker” nor can you claim that it is “bad for poker.” Like everything else in our game, it is relative.

When you have players such as Negreanu that know how to temper their table talk and keep things fun for players, it is generally a good thing. With that said, table talk is generally a good thing in terms of promoting the game of poker on TV.

Players that see talkative players having fun will often want to try the same activity out and experience the same level of fun. That is a good thing not just for poker, but also for everyday life.

However, when you have someone whose table talk borders on abuse (intentional or not), this is not good for the game in my view. Players that feel like they have to endure verbal abuse against a player every time they are in a hand will often not enjoy the game. Stacy Matuson surely didn’t look like she was enjoying herself and many of the other players looked more uncomfortable than anything during that confrontation.

Imagine having to play like that every time you’re in a hand against a particular player? Some of you will not be having a fun day. Now imagine if you’re a new or novice poker player and your first experience in a casino or in a major tournament is at a table with this player. What type of impression will that give to that player on the game in general?

I’m not saying that we should get rid of table talk. That silly. Instead, I believe that players should learn a way to use table talk that achieves their desired objective but leaves everyone still having a good time overall. Table talk, when done right, enhances the overall experience for all players while giving the “talker” valuable information to increase his or her earnings.

After all, happy players will often keep coming back to try again. Miserable players will go play blackjack, slots or go bet on DFS.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.

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