Joe McKeehen Hits Snooze

Poker is a unique community, and as such, the pressures within and without which form it are somewhat different from its seemingly parallel worlds. Even the beautiful tools of understanding cultures and societies are put to the test when explaining poker. It is in fact scarcely a “community,” drawing a high number of loners, gambling n’er do wells, and schemers who smile and draw each other in only in order to better take their money in an unessential economic act. It’s an adult game which borders on a ritual or cultural artifact, and so doesn’t correspond exactly with sports, which rehearse, inspire and prepare our young for public and private life. While arguably a “mind sport” and certainly an edifying and challenging pastime, it is subject to gambling legalities and correctly frowned upon by most systems of natural and moral law, as it is a distraction and secondary to the formation of the just city. So there should be room, is room, and always will be room in our game for troublemakers, charlatans, and criminals.

Poker, even as glamorous as it has ever been, with television and media coverage more sparkling than the floor of slots we players despise, is on the down low.

joe mckSo when I heard about Joe McKeehen’s objection to a bitterly early new start time for some donkament somewhere, how could I help but smile? Joe McKeehen is a great poker player. He played well and ran well and is a deserving champion of the WSOP. Like Dan Colman, another notorious objector to what we might call Winner’s Decorum, he doesn’t actually owe anything to poker in a mechanical way. He paid for all his tournament entries or was staked, so that someone was paying. He’s free to speak his mind. I don’t really know his story and wish him well. Yet with the world on fire from terrorist extremism abroad and core liberties being threatened on every front by the most unhistorically imaginative and uninformed consensus yet to inhabit the public life of our country, our game’s champion is, even if he has a point, going to come off as a little immature. That’s just his dealio to own.

The more interesting question is, why does no one like it when the victor dismisses the competition of his triumph? The answer is right in the grammar. A surprising thing in life is that people really do end up needing heroes and role models. There is a purpose in keeping our sports clean, for instance. The position that whatever it takes to create the best human accomplishment in games is not a good one, because essentially, all games are rehearsals for public and private life. It may yield us a faster Tour de France or a quicker 100 meters if we find ways to enhance our performance, but the measure of our society will never be made in these fields. Sports are recreation, and we find our purpose and practice for the future in them. It follows that we want the best in our characters to come out, ironically, in activities that don’t necessarily matter. We can purify our recreations much more easily than we can purify our politics, for example.

Poker players on the whole, in other words, want to want to be Joe McKeehen or Dan Colman. That is the natural place of the joe mckeehenVictor in the hierarchy: to be emulated. Their purpose is bound up in this, whether they know it or not. It’s like a scarcely visible robe they put on at the moment of their triumph, so discreet they forget that it’s on their body. Players see this Victor’s Robe and instinctively feel the need for these champions, these luminaries to behave like, well, luminaries: lights that guide and inspire. When Joe or Dan speak their mind, they are completely in their prerogative to do so but they have a new weight shifting upon them, the burden of which they may not have yet learned to manage or feel out.

And there’s the trouble. What do we make of the poker community, then, when it’s all seemingly heterogeneous troublemakers who won’t submit to the rules and play nice? Who forms the leadership when the leaders won’t lead? What do we do when our champion tells us not to play or comes off, even meaning well or exaggerating, as a whining prick? First off, we recognize that poker is still a community, but one that is merely more amorphous than most. In fact, the desperate need for communal space is highly reflected in what the players do, even absent a governing structure that makes any sense. After all, it makes absolutely no sense for poker players to wear poker gear, essentially paying for the advertising of their betters and cracking the age old dictum about tapping the glass, but they love to do it. Crave it. They want to belong. Look at the frighteningly bottomless forums, if you dare, of poker. Get deep inside the BBV4Life black hole, and you will find the intractable pull of the need for society in an anti-community community.

So outrage over Dan Colman or Joe McKeehen is going to be completely natural. These two start by disappointing the need for role models, outraging those who see themselves in their champion, and then finish by trashing the room from the inside by not taking part in their hierarchy’s betterment.

What do we do? Actually, we breathe a sigh of relief.

Because, all this means poker is in great shape. You see, the community’s outrage over their behaviors is a sign of its vibrancy. There is no “community” if there is no anger over this breaking of the unstated bond of the heroes.  In a “community” of too much antithesis, too many troublemakers, in other words, the rabble rules, as it must. Poker leaders will be rare, and indeed, look around – who would you call one? Maybe Daniel Negreanu – he might actually be the entire list!  Poker’s dead the moment no one cares about breaking these bonds of hierarchy, and then, after much chicken littling, the afterglow of the Poker Boom, which we are still enjoying, truly does go cold. When Dan Colman and Joe McKeehen can’t make the news, the game goes underground for real. The tournament scene dies.

No one complains about Joe McKeehen if he says what he said in 1979.

(Now, we can participate in the public shaming of these two while knowing it’s all theater. We’re a part of the structure. We know they have the right to speak their mind, and should do so. We, being good poker players, know we have to keep contradictory ideas in our mind some times without tripping over our feet.)

Which brings us to the money and the details. Tournaments are competitions. They are going to draw together the most enthusiastic and there has to be some rules. Poker players who want to play in a mass organized event will be subject to more onerous regulations than in a smaller one. The truth is, if it’s not earlier starting hours, it’s going to be something else. The “slavery” – his word, not mine – is built in. If you are tournament player, you are like the woman who is queried by the man at the dinner party. He asks her if she would spend the night with a stranger for a million dollars, and she says yes. Then he offers her $20. She says, “What kind of woman do you think I am?” “I know exactly what kind of woman you are,” he replies, “now we’re just bickering over the price.”

In other words, David Bass is right without Joe McKeehen being exactly wrong. Of course there are strictures. Of course it’s painful, but you gave up control when you decided to become a tournament circus animal, parading about for some pretty awesome peanuts. No one forced you to do this. As a cash game player, I can only say, ELEVEN? Who the hell plays poker at NOON? Get some sun, you dingbats. Then come see me later.

More rules doesn’t equal more money, of course, but cooperation with multiple powerful parties is a sign that something is being leveraged. More is being accomplished. The media is as guided by money as any other industry. More capital being diverted into poker? Seems like a good fight to take up, right?

It might be, and go do your best. Getting poker players a share of the media money is certainly a reasonable idea and Mr. Bass offers a compelling argument.  The possible future of a quasi “unionized” game is intriguing and will certainly have the effect, if that’s what you want, of straightening out and punishing dissenters such as Dan and Joe.

However, Joe’s not there with you yet.  That’s because the real translation of the Joe McKeehen’s commentary is that he doesn’t need more money. He’s not your ally here. Strange to you, but he doesn’t want your million dollars, and he’s definitely not taking your $20 bill. That’s his right, he’s earned it, this freedom. It’s not the a.m. hour that is at the heart of his objection, it’s his wish to create some distance between himself and the game. That’s the translation of his unwillingness, a natural obstinacy well suited to him and other Made Poker Dudes. You see them in the Victor’s Robe, and you want them to want more money, because that’s good for the game and the “community.”

Bad news: Joe doesn’t owe you that, because he’s at the top of a very loose pyramid scheme where we respect the individual a little more than elsewhere. He’s happy where he’s at. Don’t confuse his interests with the interests of poker itself, and don’t confuse our “community” with a more normal one. If there is a weakness in Mr. Bass’ plan, it’s that his vision of poker is just not based in the real poker scene as we know it, here deep in the down low of competitive gambling. As cleaned up and shaved as the tournament scene is these days, at heart it’s still got a lot of Joe McKeehen in it. The Olympics? Seriously?

So give Joe some time, and talk to him in a few years: I bet he changes his tune, faced with the need to wake up early and join a much bigger, more important community: life, family, politics, responsibility..  you know, the future.

Meanwhile, enjoy our strange little club called Poker. Have a seat. Our current President should be here, uh, soon, to greet you, maybe.


Thanks to David Bass. -P.


  1. The poker world needs Gargamel to be the next main event champ. Enough of these recent clowns, though, I too hate waking up early with all of my being.

  2. You’d dress better, no one can argue with that. I’ve been dipping into Joe’s territory for a while, time to clean up.

  3. Nice post. Thanks for the shout out. Maybe the Olympics are a stretch, but I would never refer to the tournament poker scene as “competitive gambling.” Not while we keep arguing that it’s more skill than chance, in trying to get online poker fully back in the U.S. “Competitive gambling” sounds like a slots tournament, which I imagine to be about as much fun as a back waxing. But I digress. If the poker community, unorganized as it is, wants to argue for recognition as a game of skill, and the media/corporate world is throwing money at the tournament organizers, they should evolve the model in the same direction as other grown-up, major sports and games competition. If WSOP doesn’t… someone else will.

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The OOP Lexicon is a user-developed poker glossary.

Absolute Position
Being last to act (e.g. closest to the button) postflop.

Advancing Leverage
Aggressive actions intended to shift the leverage point closer to the current street.

A bluff or value hand which is a natural candidate for balancing another hand because of their shared qualities, such as AA and AK; usually helps planning range splitting and line construction.

Auto profit threshold (APT)
A bluff made with positive expectation resulting from the opponent under defending vis-a-vis bet sizing. The inverse of MDF.

Choosing to support either value bets or bluffs with their converse.

A bet is a proposition.  It’s the first offer on the pot with regard to the outcome of the game. Each player, in turn, has the opportunity to lay or change the price on the pot to the rest of the players. “The language of poker.” The bet, as opposed to the raise, is most often and most easily allied to the merged pricing construction.

To remove combinations of hands from a range based on cards in your hand or on the board.

Cards which influence our combinatorial assumptions. Ex: We face resistance on T76ss while we hold As7d. Both our cards act as blockers. Our ace of spades blocks (limits) a number of flush draws our opponent could hold, while our seven blocks a number of two pair and sets our opponent could hold. *See also Block and Unblock

Blocker Bet
A small bet made by an out-of-position player.

Board Texture
The available community cards and the set of conditions which inform its relationship to a logical range.

The worst hands in a betting range.  Depending on context this could be the worst hand in a value bet range or the bluffing section of polarized range.

A range descriptor indicating a range shape with a specific high or low boundary.  A range bounded high won't contain some number of the best linear hands ranked from the top down.  This is equivalent to a "capped" range.  A range bounded low won't contain some number of the worst linear hands ranked from the bottom up.  This is often useful to describe a range that doesn't include any air or very weak hands.

A strategic mode in which a player is attempting to deny their opponent(s) equity share of the pot through aggression. Often referred to as “denying equity” or “buying up equity”.

A range is capped when it represents little to no nutted combinations as confirmed by prior action.

A continuation bet. A bet made by the player with initiative as a continuation of their initiative on a prior street.

The ability to accurately range an opponent based on all available information at a decision point.  An understanding of your hands exact equity.

Closing Action
Acting last where no subsequent action is possible behind you.  For example calling a UTG raise in the BB or calling in position postflop with no players behind.

Cold Call/Cold Bet
An action is considered “cold” when it comes from a player entering into the pot has not previously put chips voluntarily in the pot. Ex: the UTG opens, the BTN 3bets. If the SB were to call or raise, it would be a cold-call or a cold-4bet.

The branch of mathematics the deals with finite number sets. Used in poker in determining the amount of combinations of certain hands in a range.

When a blind that is not the biggest blind calls the amount of the biggest blind. Ex: At $2/$5, action folds around to the SB and the SB completes. Meaning they just call. The BB can complete when there is a straddle.

A capped range that contains only middling value hands. A range without the polarized portion.

Logical advancement of combinations across streets.

Dark Side of the Deck
The large swath of hands, often off-suit, that fall outside of conventional playable recommendations. Counter-equity hands.

Dead Money
Money in the pot that is not being fought for.  A passive player creates dead money when they call a bet preflop and looking to play fit-or-fold postflop. Dead Money is often confused with the money in the pot.

Delayed Cbet
A cbet made on the turn by the preflop raiser when the flop checked through.

Delaying Leverage
Passive actions intended to maintain a likely late street leverage point, or possibly to avoid a leverage point entirely.

A strategic break from one’s standard construction as an exploit of a particular player’s profile or construction.

Diminishing Medium Value Category
A Seidman concept in which when one’s middling value hand range is too small and transparent to our opponent and thus either that range should be shifted into the top of a polarized range or the nutted portion should be shifted into the medium value range. Ex: AQo or TT being 3bet preflop.

A cbet that is less than the preflop raise. Ex: BTN opens to $25, we 3bet to $90 from the SB, BTN calls. On the flop we cbet $70.

Dry Board
A board texture that yields relatively few logical hands value. Often containing one medium or high card and disconnected low cards. Ex: Q53r, T622r.

Dual Mentalities
A Seidman concept in which when we decide to go postflop with a weak hand against a nutted range, we should either be looking to out flop it or steal the pot away. We base our decision against the player type we are up against and never go post with both mentalities at once.

Dynamic Board
A flop texture in which the runout is very likely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: 954tt, 742r.

Effective Stack
The smallest stack to VPIP in a given hand. Their stack decides the amount of money that can be played for or threatened before an all-in.

Effective nuts
A value hand that can be played for stacks as if it were the actual nuts.  This is a relative hand ranking based on range assumptions and opponent type.

A measure of how well the equity of a hand is deployed. Efficiency can also be used as a measure of what is risked vs what is gained for a given bet size.

Either/Or Philosophy
A Seidman concept in which a particular street can be a very good spot for value, meaning our opponent is never folding, or a very good spot to bluff, meaning our opponent is never calling, but that those spots cannot be concurrent.

Borrowed from economics, a measure of the sensitivity of a range or hand relative to the price offered.  Ranges (or hands) described as elastic will narrow, sometimes quickly, in response to increases in price.  Those described as inelastic will not.

The percent pot share of a holding or range on any given street if the hand were to go to showdown with no further betting action.

Equity Pusher
A analytic approach to the game in which a player views the correct actions only through the lens of their hands equity vs. their opponent’s range. Often this player type has a lack of understanding of overall strategy and plays their range face up with few bluffs.

Expected Value
The mathematical formula for how much a player’s action is expected to make with their hand vs. their opponent’s range. EV = ($towin * %ofwin) - ($tolose * %ofloss)

Face Up
A player is playing their range “face up” when their actions directly correspond with their desired outcome. Ex: A player bets half-pot three streets with a range that has no bluffs. A player 3bets to 7x with JJ.

False Polarization
Otherwise known as Faux-Po; a polarizing action taken with a merged range.

The result of losing your entire table stakes. All the way down to the felt.

A call of a cbet with a weak holding with the likely intention of taking the pot away when the opponent shuts down. Often done by an in position preflop caller.

The convergence of positions, stack depths, and preceding actions at a given decision point.

A mathematical formula developed by Phil Galfond for calculating the expected value of one’s range construction vs. an opponent’s holding.

A computer programming term that means "garbage in, garbage out" which also applies to poker forums when a poster seeks an in-depth conversation about a hand, but fail to provide pertinent information such as stack sizes, bets sizes, table dynamics and player tendencies.

Game Theory
The applied science of combining mathematical models with logic to craft winning poker strategies.

Game Theory Optimal
A set of strategies is GTO if no player can unilaterally deviate and increase his average profit. ~ Will Tipton.  GTO does not mean best possible response, highest EV, or maximally exploitative play.

Implied Odds
Additional value likely to be accrued if you make your hand on a later street.

Sometimes referred to as the betting lead, a common situation in which the passive player yields to the aggressive player postflop, or the last aggressor continues betting on subsequent streets.

A bet or raise intended to force out the rest of the field in order to play heads up against a weaker opponent who has entered the pot through limping, raising, or posting the blinds.

Loose aggressive player type. Generally overused and inaccurate.

A bet made from out of position after a passive action. Often referred to as a donk bet on the flop.

He knows that I know that he knows I know.

A bet or raise that signals the hand will be played for stacks.  Within reason, it is accomplished by betting with a sizing that will create RSP equal to 1 on the following street.

Limp First In

A consecutive range of hands decreasing in strength from top to bottom; generally meaning value hands. Equivalent to "merged."

Lockdown Board
A board on which the nuts have often already been made.  More prevalent in PLO but sometimes useful in no-limit, for example on monotone flops and boards with available common straights e.g. JT9, T98, 987, etc.

1) A range of hands that includes both strong and medium value; 2) in reference to medium value; 3) the merged construction describes the natural representation of a wide range through a bet.

Mini Stop-N-Go
A Seidman concept, a line taken by a OOP PFR where flop is check/called and turn is lead.

Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF)
The necessary defending (calling/raising) frequency to prevent an opponent from auto-profiting.  The inverse of APT.

Natural Action
A check, bet, or raise which is exactly suited to a player's range and situation (e.g. a pfr's continuation bet on AK2r).

A player who will not put chips into the pot without a very strong and sometimes only nutted hand.

The best possible hand.

Nuts-To-Air Ratio (NAR)
In a polarized betting line, the ratio of value to bluff.  As used by Seidman, not limited to polarization but sometimes used to label general opponent tendency of value to bluff.

Old Man Coffee. Typically an older, retired player that likes to play bingo with ATC, but will only continue with the nuts.

The first voluntary action. The first action or bet to voluntarily enter the pot.

A bet that is more than the size of the pot.

Perceived Range
Refers to the range of hands that your opponent thinks you could have in a certain playing situation. This can be interpreted and thus misinterpreted from your playing style and position at the table.

A range consisting of very strong and very weak hands.

Post Oak Bluff
A small bluff on a late street that has little chance of winning the pot.  Generally interpreted as “gutless” in the past but now fulfilling certain functions as betting efficiencies are understood.

Positional Protection
When the strength of a range is perceived to be capped or uncapped based on which position an action is taken from.

When an action or player is perceived to have strong hands in its range.

Protection Bet
A wager which denies equity to hands which will only give action if they significantly improve; "a value bet which does not want a call."

The rejection of the offered price and the laying of a new higher price.  Raises represent a more narrow range of hands and trend towards polarization.

Range Advantage
Implementation or study tool that refers to 1) most basically, equity measurement of one range against another; 2) or also including a combination of further factors including availability of nutted hands, the nuances of the runout, and positional protection.

Range Manipulation
Deliberate line work/bet sizing made to narrow a range or keep a range wide.

Range Switch
A deliberate change in range composition made to thwart a player who is reading our range too accurately in any spot.  Reduces transparency, fights assumptions, and wins the leveling war if implemented correctly.

Ratio of Stack To Pot
RSP. The stack to pot ratio at any point in a hand, generally used post-flop as opposed to Stack to Pot Ratio.

Taking a hand to showdown and realizing its full equity.  Generally used with regard to passive actions.

The mutual exchange of chips resulting from similar play and ideas.  Reciprocity is a common bi-product of group-think.  A true edge by definition cannot be reciprocal.

Relative Position
A player’s position measured against the aggressor's position.  Generally this is used going to the flop.  For example, if UTG raises and several players call behind, calling in the big blind would give you the best relative position.  You will act after seeing how the field responds to a likely continuation from the preflop aggressor.  In the same scenario calling immediately after the preflop aggressor results in the worst relative position.  You will have to act immediately after a continuation without seeing how the remaining players will respond.  Strong relative position confers an information edge.

The ability of hand to maintain equity across streets against a betting range or as part of a betting range.

Reverse Implied Odds (RIO)
Hands that often win small pots or lose large pots suffer from reverse implied odds.

Popularized by Mathew Janda, a descriptor for how well a hand retains equity over streets of play.  Hands described as robust have equity that does not suffer as an opponent's range becomes stronger.  Often these hands are currently both strong and invulnerable, or have the ability to become very strong by the river, relative to the opponent's range.

Fourth and Fifth Street cards following a given flop texture.

Scale of Protection
Poker theorem which states that the more protected or strong an opponent's range is, the higher the degree of denial or retention a counter will require.

Sklansky Bucks
Dollars won (or lost) in expected value regardless of actual hand result.

Any one of many possible poker archetypes found at low stakes games.

A reraise made after a player has raised and one or more players has called in-between.

Static Board
A flop texture in which the runout is unlikely to change the order of top ranking hands. Ex: AK7r, KK4r.

A passive action followed by an aggressive action, out of position.  For example, a call followed by a lead on the next street.

Streets of Value
A crude shorthand measurement for how much betting a hand can tolerate and still be best at showdown more often than not.

Tight aggressive opponent type. Generally overused and misapplied.

TAG's Dilemma
The paradox created by having a top-heavy range played so aggressively that it misuses equity vis-à-vis position and holding.

The Great Range Fantasy
The common idea that we know our opponent’s range and frequencies precisely; most commonly seen in post-hoc analysis to justify microedge decisions.

Thin Value
A bet that is only slightly more likely to be called by worse than by better. Associated with the merged pricing construction and bet-fold lines.

Three Fundamentals
The most fundamental variables for decision making: position, stack size, and community cards.

The best hands in a given range.

Two-Way Bet
A bet that expects calls from worse hands and incorrect folds at the same time, a simultaneous value bet and bluff line.

The psychological effect of feeling like you’re losing because your stack size isn’t as large as it once was during a session, even though it’s more than what you’re in the game for.

(e.g. You bought in for $100, ran it up $450, but now only have $175 in front of you.)

A hand that has no negative card removal effects on the target range.  Bottom set, for example, unblocks top pair top kicker.

A range that is perceived to contain the nuts in any given line.  Capped ranges may become uncapped during transitions for example from preflop to flop, or flop to turn.

A turned nut straight after raising flop with a gutter.

Value Owning
Making value bets with a hand that has less than 50% equity when called.

Voluntarily Put Money In Pot (VPIP)
The frequency at which a player limps, calls, or raises preflop.

Volatile Board
A flop texture where equities will often shift on the turn and river.  See “dynamic”.

An illusory cooler where one player makes a massive mistake equity mistake and loses his stack with a strong but second best hand; also known as a Jam Basket.

Wet Board
A board texture that allows for a lot of logical hands to continue. Often made up of medium rank connected cards. Ex: KT9tt, Tc8c6s-7c-Ac.

“Walk In, Fuck Shit Up, Walk Out” a hashtag used by instagram poker players.

Winning Player
A forum poster who offers reciprocal advice under the guise of questionable positive low stakes results. A weak player or fish, in general.

Young Man Coffee. Is very much an OMC, but younger.  They usually only continue with the nuts, often under the illusion of playing a GTO style.