The View From Inside the Aquarium



I looked up “tapping the glass” online and the first two definitions I saw were both good. From

“In poker, the saying ‘Tap the glass’ refers to telling weaker players at the table about their bad play, to vent, and to educate them in the process.”

And from “Tapping the Glass is a common term for telling the fish at your table how bad they’re playing.”

Both sites immediately stated in strong terms that tapping the glass is bad for business and in poor taste. What I want to talk about is the view from the other side of the aquarium. The inside.

You’re minding your own business, swimming around in your tank, checking out the rocks and plants, when some instigator comes along, and for no reason that’s helpful to anyone, he starts flicking his finger on the glass. Flick flick flick. Tap, tap, tap. So annoying.

“Keep playing like that, go ahead, just keep playing like that and I’ll have all your money before the night’s over.” That’s a typical glass tapper comment. “How could you make such a terrible call?” is another.

Some people cannot walk by an aquarium without tapping on the glass, and some poker players cannot play poker without berating their opponents. And sometimes that opponent is you. Or, as in my case, me. I have been berated thousands of times. But to be fair, for my first ten years of poker, I didn’t just tap on the glass, I pounded on it. And I played bad. So yeah, I took my share of heat.

Turns out that getting my game in line and going pro didn’t provide any shielding. I think that’s because sometimes I make really good plays that look really bad, and sometimes I still make plays that are just plain bad, but mostly it’s because losing sucks and people bitch about it.

I used to enjoy replying to comments that were intended to belittle my play, and over time I developed a small repertoire of retorts.

GLASS TAPPER: “Keep playing like that, ::: snort snort, huff puff :::”

ME: “Would you be happier if I played better?”

GLASS TAPPER: “How could you make such a terrible call?”

ME: “I’m double parked.”

Glass tapping does have some art to it, and I’m an artist appreciator. I have derived much pleasure from listening to clever insults crafted by master tappers, even when they are aimed at me…

THE SETTING: The Bellagio poker room, 1998, before the no-limit boom. Back then, the main games in casinos were limit hold’em and seven-card stud. Few players played both games, and both camps believed their game was the superior test of skill.

THE GAME: $30/60 limit hold’em.

THE ACTION: I won a pot by playing a bad hand poorly and getting lucky as hell. Then I did it again. And then came the question…

“What do you do for a living?”

My inquisitor was an obvious pro, and his tone and timing left no doubt as to his meaning, which was, “What could an idiot like you possibly do for a living that pays so well that you can afford to play so bad?”

“I play stud,” I said.

But those days are long gone. The days of stupid answers to insipid questions. Don’t get me wrong. I still make loopy-looking plays. And I still draw fire for making them. But now the words and expressions I hear and see are harmless sounds and movements, like wind through the trees.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but needles never hurt me.

I achieved this feat by training myself in the ways of shamelessness. And stillness. And non-competition. And not looking players in the eye. Unless of course I am using my Jedi powers to control their thoughts.

Here’s the thing. Until they take the pain out of poker, until they do away with all the disappointment and frustration, there will always be berated fish, and berated experts. So it doesn’t matter where you land on the scale between novice and ninja. Someone will tap your glass. The only question I have is: Will it annoy you? Will it cause you to perform sub-optimally?

Okay. That was two questions.

And here’s another.

Why are glass tappers annoying?

It’s because you care. It’s because you care about what people think about you and your poker. It’s because you have opinions. Opinions about what’s right and what isn’t. In other words, annoyances annoy you because you’re a normal human bean.

But what if you wanted to make yourself abnormal? What if you wanted to stop caring so much about what other people do and think? What could you do to make yourself content, inside the aquarium, while it’s being tapped?

Two things: apply bandaids, and apply mindfulness.

Band-aids are things like taking a break to cool off, and realizing that the guy isn’t really pestering you, because if it wasn’t you it would be someone else. Another Band-Aid would be to listen to music you love on headphones while being grateful for something in your life that doesn’t suck.

Thoughts and actions like that go a long way, but I’d feel like I was short-changing you if I didn’t mention mindfulness as an additional form of thought and action that also ends annoyances and dissatisfactions, sometimes for one second, and sometimes forever.

To define that term, let’s turn to Merriam Webster:

“Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Mindfulness can work like an anesthetic. It can ease the pain. Bad beat pain, or glass tapper pain. And it can bring all sorts of other welcomed improvements. Don’t take my word on it. Do a web search for Mindfulness and Creativity, or Mindfulness and The Brain, or Mindfulness and Wall Street, or Mindfulness and Focus.

But don’t bother searching for Mindfulness and Glass Tapping. There’s nothing on the web about that. Until now!