The field had shrunk down to under 90 players from the 592 who started, and Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier was among those at the feature table. Not long after I tuned in, a hand arose in which a shorter-stacked opponent found himself all in and at risk against ElkY -- Joseph El Khoury, sitting to Grospellier’s left.
The hand was mildly interesting with Grospellier starting out behind with K-J versus El Khoury’s K-Q, then flopping a jack to grab the lead. The turn was a second jack, but a nine on board also gave El Khoury a gutshot, and when a 10 dropped on the river, he survived with a king-high straight.
As the board was dealt, commentators Matt Broughton and Joe Stapleton discussed how El Khoury rose from his seat to stand behind his chair as the community cards were being delivered.
“We were just talking about this move,” said Stapleton of El Khoury’s standing up. “We don’t like this move when you’re ahead.”
Broughton picked up on possible superstitions involved with standing while a mathematical favorite. “The thing is you’re asking for trouble, because now if you do get sucked out on [others are] going to go ‘Well, you did stand up.’” But Stapleton suggested there could be a slight etiquette problem involved, too.
“I don’t know, it’s almost kind of poor sportsmanship, I think,” speculated Stapes. “You’re ahead... [it’s] a needle, you know what I mean?”
Broughton noted how El Khoury’s being at risk probably was enough to absolve him from such a charge. “I guess his [El Khoury’s] tournament is the one that’s on the line, so there’s a bit of anxiety and you can go ‘Okay, okay’” and forgive standing while ahead.
While the etiquette question is certainly applicable in similar situations, I think most of us would file the standing up and even going for the jacket under the heading of “reverse jinx” behaviors, if we assign any meaning to them at all. That is to say, we’d look at the actions as those of a person who has accepted his fate (or is trying to appear as if he had). But his readying for that eventuality also serves to lessen expectations the reverse will occur, with the superstitious among us viewing the latter as somehow helping to elicit the hoped-for friendly card.
As poker players, our minds often instantly focus on negative outcomes such as when all in and at risk in a tournament. Even in non-poker situations, it can be hard (if you’re human) not to let our thoughts seize upon potential misfortunes. Whether we’ve “got it in good” or not, we focus on the bad cards that will hurt us rather than the others that will not. Standing and backing away in such situations would almost constitute a “tell,” if it weren’t already beyond the point of tells having strategic significance.
I myself tend not to stand from my chair in all-in situations, whether ahead or behind, at risk or not. But I think I can understand standing.