Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Name Game

The Name GameLast week, Gary Wise posted a two-part article about online poker “tells” over on the ESPN Poker Club. In the first part, Wise talks to Justin “ZeeJustin” Bonomo, Isaac “philivey2694” Haxton, and Todd “DanDruff” Witteles about bet-sizing, timing tells (or “click tells”), and screen names. In the second part, Matt “DaProfessor” Hawrilenko and Mike “Schneids” Schneider also join in to say a bit more about bet-sizing and timing, and even speculate about the significance of a player’s city.

The issue of screen names and their significance is one that’s been discussed before. John Vorhaus wrote about screen names in his Killer Poker Online: Crushing the Internet Game (2003). There Vorhaus encouraged readers to choose neutral monickers that “give no hint as to your age, gender, geographical location, level of expertise, or philosophy of play.” As it happens, I think I have done just that with all of my screen names, although as an experiment I did specifically choose a female username for one site. “Over time your choice of screen name probably won’t make a huge money difference,” writes Vorhaus, “but why give anything away?” Others have written on the subject as well, including Dr. Pauly whose “Guide to Online Poker Screen Names” appeared in Poker Player last summer (although I think he wrote about it some time before that).

Anyhow, Haxton says he varies his play “radically” against an unknown based on a player’s screen name. He then lists a number of assumptions he tends to make about names. Says Haxton, someone with a name like “shipmonieslol” or the like “is probably under 30 and probably reads poker forums” and is thus to be regarded as at least a “winning amateur.” Players who choose names of cars, cigars, or drinks (like “laphroaig,” a kind of scotch) are probably over 30. Of such a player, says Haxton (betraying a bit of age-based prejudice, perhaps), “there is a higher than normal chance that he is a fish.”

Certain off-color handles (e.g., those that include crotch jokes) and/or names featuring wacky capitalization (e.g., “AcEsFuLL4346385”) connote aggression for Haxton. He says names including words like “gamble” or “fish” or “rock” are more often than not accurately self-descriptive.

Finally, while not exactly referring to screen names, Haxton believes “anyone who has a picture of their baby as their avatar is terrible at poker.” I suppose Haxton must play a lot on PokerStars, then, the site Wicked Chops dubbed “Best Online Poker Site if You Like Pictures of Children and Dogs” earlier this month.

Following Haxton’s catalogue, Bonomo chimes in to disagree. “A screen name is not a tell,” Bonomo insists, but rather just an occasional encouragement to “stereotype” players (rightly or wrongly). Says Bonomo, screen names are better described as “personality/play style indicators” than as tells.

If I had to choose, I’d lean toward Bonomo’s line here, although frankly I would say most screen names aren’t “indicators” of much at all, with a few exceptions, perhaps. I suppose names containing “1989” or “pimp” or “420” may well tell us something about the player which may or may not relate to how he or she plays poker. But generally I’m not going to fashion a strategy -- or vary my play “radically” -- based solely on the nick.

I will admit, however, that certain names do occasionally suggest something to me about the player’s level of education and/or intelligence. Have played several sessions of H.O.R.S.E. over the last few weeks with a guy named after a Dostoevsky character. A decent player, as far as I can tell, although I’d already been inclined to think he had something going on upstairs just from his name.

A couple of months ago I played with someone named “rhizome.” If I remember correctly, he asked me something about my avatar, and after a bit he and I ended up in a brief chat about the late Gilles Deleuze. Again, even before our chat I’d already suspected the guy might’ve picked up a book once in a while.

Not saying, of course, that if someone’s screen name happens to be a character from a Russian novel or a term used by a French philosopher that automatically means that person knows how to play poker. But I tend to assume these folks are thinkers, at least. And thinkers usually have a better chance at figuring out how to play poker than most.

Then again, there are certain things about which one can probably think too much.

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Blogger OhCaptain said...

It is usually a good predictor that someone whose screen name touts their drug and alcohol consumption and plays like a goofball, probably is a moron.

Just my humble observation.

Is my name neutral? Not even sure what my screen name means to people. Hopefully...fear me when I'm bluffing and doubt me when I have the nuts.

4/29/2008 10:10 AM  
Blogger Alan F said...

I do use the names and pictures as a starting point. Often in large tournaments, you may be moved and have very little chance to form an opinion before a key decision rolls around. In these cases, the 'appearance' of a player can offer a few clues. If the table is chatty, you can often back up these 'reads' quickly.

FWIT, Some general observations:
picture of a famous poker player - weak or new player
cartoon character - youth
one of several sample images found on windows PCs - less experienced, less technical
names with numbers - can indicate birth year
common phrases - the cleaner (less capitals, less numbers replacing letters) it is, the longer they have played.

4/29/2008 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shamus

After reading you other post on names and of course Dr Pauly's too I can't help but make assumptions about a player.

I was recently playing in a NL25 cash game and noticed a player with a name similar to "LOL!Donkaments", the phrase that is very famous on 2+2 as I'm sure you'll know. Straight away I assumed he was a 2+2 reader and therefore had half a brain and knew more than your average NL25 fish!

I'm not sure how my name is perceived at the tables as I have some number replacing letters and the fact most are a derivative of Yorkshire Pudding. One thing is for certain though, even Americans love Yorkshire Puddings, especially with gravy, if the chat box comments are to go by!

4/30/2008 8:07 AM  
Blogger My final out said...


I just stumbled across your blog and read your last few entrys. It is funny because I was the person you played heads up with at "Saturdays with Dr. Pauly." You played a good match. Just curious, what did you derive from my screen name while we were playing? (grouse14)

4/30/2008 9:42 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Haha, grouse . . . hey, congrats on the win!

You know I don't think I had any particular ideas based on yr name there . . . was more worried about that monster chip count listed under it, I think.

4/30/2008 10:28 AM  
Blogger My final out said...

It was a little lopsided. I got extremely lucky at that final table. I should have been out in 4th. I am glad I found your blog. I will put it on my list of blogs to read everyday.

4/30/2008 11:54 AM  

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