One frequent topic of debate in the world of poker strategy is how much information you can glean about a player’s probable style just from who they are and what they look like. There’s always a risk involved with putting too much faith in a stereotype, but anyone who’s played much in a live environment knows that it actually is pretty often the case that the table full of sixty-something white guys is going to be a rock garden, while the young Asian kid who just sat down is probably either going to have everyone’s chips or be out within an orbit or two.
But what if – bear with me here – your opponent isn’t a person at all, but is in fact a horse? This sounds crazy, I know, but I have it on good authority that unbeknownst to the average player, pretty much every poker tournament which runs has numerous horses registering for it. Not only is this happening with the knowledge of poker insiders, but it seems a lot of well-known (human) players have entire stables of horses that they help sneak into tournaments.
@apokerplayer I imagine it would be weird to discover that someone you've known for years was actually a horse all along.
— Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) March 16, 2016
I’ve looked over the rules for all the major poker tours, the World Series of Poker, and so on, and shockingly, it doesn’t seem that anyone has thought to include any species-related registration requirements, stipulate a maximum number of legs per player, or anything of the sort. There’s therefore little we can do about the problem directly, but it’s important to be aware of the possibility of a mare or stallion at your table. Horses can be dangerous opponents; they’ll make hay of your mistakes and always seem to have the best equinity when the cards are turned over.
But how can you tell? If this is news to you, as it was to me, then you know they’ve just about mastered the art of passing for human. Fortunately, as poker players, we’ve honed our senses to pick up on the slightest tells in our opponents, and their disguises are not perfect. To help you protect yourself at the tables, I’ve assembled a list of subtle signs you can watch out for if you suspect the “person” on the other side of the table is actually a horse.
That’s all I’ve got for now, but I hope it helps you stay safe at the tables. Like Zach Elwood always says, keep in mind that the absence of a tell doesn’t automatically mean the opposite; all of the above are signs that your opponent is a horse, but a player who fails to exhibit any of those tendencies isn’t necessarily human. They could still be a horse, just one who’s learned to conceal his tells, and we don’t know at this point who else could be playing. There was a guy at my table the other day who I’m 80% sure was actually a manatee.
Have you spotted a horse at your table? What were the giveaways? If you’ve got any horse-tells of your own or advice on playing against a known horse, let us know.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Inspiration for some jokes in this article came from Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) and Zach Elwood (@apokerplayer).
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