One of the Strangest Things I’ve Seen at the Poker Table

I’m at the card room sitting in a $1/$3 game while I wait for a seat in the $1/$3/$6 when the player on my left mutters, “What the fuck?” and turns to stare at the entrance to the poker room, where a slander Asian man clad all in black and wearing dark sunglasses and standing. The guy on my left calls to his friend at the next table over, “Look who just showed up. It’s China Paul, man!”

“Oh yeah, I heard his ban was up.”

I was curious to ask who this guy was, but about that time, my seat was called. I left the table and didn’t think much more about it.

The $1/$3/$6 was in rare form, with no fewer than four players imbibing heavily. After about an hour, one of them begins speaking angrily to the floorman. “Don’t fucking bring him over here. I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck. Just don’t seat him here.” A few others nod in agreement. I have a feeling I know what this is about, but I don’t ask, and another half hour goes by.

Here comes the part I’ve never seen: a seat opens up at the table, and the floor announces “Paul for 1-3-6”.

“If he sits down, I’m out,” declares the angry guy. He’s been drinking, and he’s always angry, so I don’t make too much of that. But then the table joins in with a chorus of agreement.

“Me neither.”

“I’m leaving if he sits.”

Paul takes his seat, and no fewer than seven people rack up their chips. They’re asking me and the one other guy who didn’ t leave, “Are you leaving? Are you going to play with him?”

I’m all for collective action as a means of enforcing the social norms of the largely governless poker world, but I’d like to at least know what I’m shunning the guy for, and no one will tell me. They keep telling me he’s annoying to have at the table, but this game is full of antisocial personalities, and I’ve never seen a reaction like this. As @DougLeePoker responded when I tweeted about this incident, “meanwhile @howardhlederer is eating lobster tail in bobby’s room, laughing it up with the boys.”

Paul refuses to play three-handed, so we’re left without a game. Finally he goes back to his $1/$3 seat and our game fills back up. It’s mostly new faces and all the big drinkers are gone, so it’s not half the game it used to be.

While we’re waiting to restart, I finally corner one of the regulars and drill him for information. “What is it about this guy?”

“He’s just really annoying to have at the table.”

“There’s gotta be more to it than that. Plenty of people are annoying, but I’ve never seen a whole game break up like that. What does he do?”

“Anything a guy can do to be annoying in a poker game.”

“Does he cheat?”

“No it’s not that. He just like… like he takes a really long time to act, he leaves the table constantly, etc.”

“That’s it.”

“Well, like… OK one time he shit his pants at the table. Like on purpose.”


“Yeah, stuff like that.”

The game was starting back up, so I didn’t have time to follow up on what other behavior exactly could be considered comparable to that. I never learned why China Paul was banned from the casino either, but I’m guessing it involved abuse of staff because no one from floorpeople to dealers to waitresses seems to like him. Now that he’s back, maybe I’ll have the chance to find out for myself. Or maybe he’ll never be able to play in the big game again.

4 thoughts on “One of the Strangest Things I’ve Seen at the Poker Table

  1. “I’m all for collective action as a means of enforcing the social norms of the largely governless poker world,”

    Just because an activity lacks a central govering body does not mean it is governless. Within the arena, players, dealers, and casino personnel govern the game. Outside the arena, organizations such as 2+2, subject:poker, and the media provide additional governance.

    We can disagree on whether central governance would be an improvement over the current decentralized governance, but I think it is incorrect to claim the game is governless.

    Separately, I applaud your independence in this situation. Sometimes when you give folks the benefit of the doubt, you end up sitting with a pants shitter.

    • I guess that’s my point. Most of the institutions you cite lack any formal authority. They govern behavior only to the extent that they provide the means for collective action by players, either spreading information about violations of social norms (role of the media, though most poker media fails miserably at this most of the time) or providing a platform for establishing norms and organizing responses to violations (2+2).

  2. Holy shit! You play at Rivers? Since when? Oh man I heard about that day, when everybody left the game. I’ve got lots of China Paul stories, I think all the regulars do. He even had an article written about him in Card Player, you should check it out. It’s called King Of The Lonely Ironbutts. I forget what month it was in, July maybe. I personally have never had any problems with him and have always gotten on fairly well, but I’ve seen him getting in fights with other players plenty of times.

    I had no idea you played there. If I see you down there I’ll say hey.

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