Whether you’re watching a rerun of the WSOP Final Table or going to the local casino cardroom for some $1/2 NL action, you’ll most likely encounter more than a few players hiding behind a pair of sunglasses. Upside down, right side up, designer-inspired, black as night, you name the type a player at the poker table is probably sporting it.
Many online poker players or those new to the game might wonder, “Is there some sort of wacky correlation between photosensitivity and gambling in chromosome x456? Why the heck are all these guys wearing sunglasses in a dimly lit poker room?” While many amateurs simply wear them to emulate their poker heroes, there are some tangible benefits to having shades available at the table. Let’s examine the pros and cons in this article.
Firstly, there are some textbook tells that can be deduced from the eyes. For example, if a player quickly looks at the flop, looks down at his chips, and quickly looks away, the flop most likely helped his cards. On the converse, if a player is intently studying the flop it probably didn’t help him and he’s trying to figure out some sort of straight combination to no avail. Some say they can tell if a player is bluffing by the dilation of his pupils but I doubt that anyone has the sort of eyesight or patience to study and compare the possible bluffer’s pupils across an entire session. Nevertheless, if a player covers his eyes his tablemates can’t deduce anything from where he’s looking.
Next, there is the intimidation factor. Have you ever seen Chris “Jesus” Ferguson staring down his opponent with dark black sunglasses, a black cowboy hat, and a scraggly beard that covers up the rest of his face? Pretty tough, isn’t he? Or perhaps think of the bizarre combination of goofiness and intimidation that Greg Raymer gives off with his signature holographic dinosaur glasses. They’re a novelty but somehow look menacing on his healthily padded face. Many players believe that they strike more fear into their opponents with the blank stare of tinted glasses. Unfortunately, most players don’t have the complete demeanor or physical appearance that Chris Ferguson or Greg Raymer have.
Interestingly, wearing sunglasses at the table can also help players feeling intimidated themselves. The screen over their eyes protects them against possible tells and reads by the professionals, but more importantly it allows them to hide at the table. If you’re covering up your face with sunglasses and a low hat, you can almost become invisible and anonymous at the table. This can have a calming effect on those playing their first tournament or new live players entering an intimidating major event filled with hawk-eyed professionals like the World Series of Poker Main Event.
However, there are also several negative aspects to wearing your favorite Oakleys (or cheap knockoffs) at the table. The biggest risk you run is misreading your hole cards because of the incredibly dark seeing environment you’re creating. Phil Ivey once commented in an interview that his wife bought him a $4,000 pair of sunglasses to try at the poker table. After losing a big pot because he misread his cards Ivey tossed the sunglasses in the garbage and never tried another pair. While there are some professionals who favor sunglasses such as Phil Hellmuth and Chris Ferguson, there is a longer list of big name players who skip them: Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, T.J. Cloutier, Johnny Chan, Dan Harrington, Erik Seidel, Ted Forrest, and a slew of others.
Besides making the cards tough to see, many old-time professionals feel like allowing poker players to wear sunglasses is against the spirit of the game. In some ways, it can create an unfair advantage – one that traditionally hasn’t been a part of poker on any level. I tend to agree with this stance as both a player and a spectator.
Finally, players choosing to expose their eyes show do have an intangible advantage: confidence in their appearance and their play. More than anything else, I personally feel that this reason keeps me from hiding behind anything at the table. Plus, it just seems a little silly to block your eyes at the beginner’s table at the local cardroom. Odds are that the other players at your table won’t even know what a tell is, much less how many millimeters your pupils dilate when you’re lying about your hand. The choice on whether to wear sunglasses is yours, but hopefully now you have a better understanding of what motivated your opponents’ decisions.