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Poker Ego and the Story of "Ship It, Fish!" - Ship It, Fish!

About Poker Ego and the Story of "Ship It, Fish!"
Previous Entry Poker Ego and the Story of "Ship It, Fish!" Wednesday 15 June 2005 @ 15:49 Next Entry

I always thought that "The Poker Journal of Bradley", as a name for an online journal, sounded a bit stogy. Lots of people come up with cool names for their journals. I've always liked the idea of that, as long as the name wasn't egregiously cute, or silly, or obscure. I hope my journal name is none of those things, but I do think it needs a bit of explanation, anyway. So, there's now a link at the top of my journal to explain why I've named my journal, "Ship It, Fish!"

On the surface, that phrase has a very negative and insulting connotation. Telling an inexperienced player: "Give me the pot!" (*) is a slap in the face. I didn't originate the phrase, though, as I find it negative and insulting, except when used in irony -- the irony of which I explain a bit later. I assure you I use this phrase with deep irony, and even a taste of humility.

But first, how I encountered this quip. Adam, a regular player at Greg's game, mentioned to me that Pokerroom had very good short handed high limit games. One day, out of curiosity, I opened a 5-handed $50/$100 limit HE game. Adam was right, it was an action game. Most hands were three-bet preflop, usually with at least three players seeing the flop. There was one player who was particularly aggressive. I don't remember his username; I wasn't actually watching that closely, since I didn't plan to play the game myself. All I remember is that he had that martini-drinking business guy avatar on Pokerroom.

A hand developed where it was three-bet preflop, then it was capped on the flop. Then on the turn. Then on the river, too. The flop had been King high, and the turn was a King, completing a possible spade flush, and the river was a 5. Mr. Hyper-Aggressive actually check-raised the river, and got the fourth bet in. The pot was huge; this is $50/$100, after all. There was at least $1,500 out there.

The showdown came, and the software shows Mr. Hyper-Aggressive's K5o. As if he'd typed it before the last bet went in and waited for the showdown to hit return, the chat window screamed: "Ship It, Fish!"

The other player, though, was pretty tight. I am sure he had no worse than AK, and he may have even turned the flush. He mucked, and since I wasn't dealt into the hand, I wasn't permitted to use the hand history to see the mucked cards. I'll never know what the other player had.

What struck me so deeply was that I felt strongly that Mr. Hyper-Aggressive had rivered the other player. In my mind, there is no way this other player was losing on the turn when the cap went in. Sure, he should have slowed down and saved at least one big-bet on the river, but who was the real fish here? After a week of thought, I realized I didn't know.

What I realized is that, depending on the day, the game conditions, our mood, our concentration level, our luck and our skill, any one of us can be the shark or the fish. These aren't special categories, wherein we someday walk up to the Poker Academic Council and receive our Certificate of Sharkdom. It's not like the end of School House Rock!'s "I'm Just a Bill", where a big fat Poker Congressman comes and says: "We've certified you, Fish, now you're a Shark!" It's more fluid, and it's not always clear when we're favorites to a game and when we're underdogs.

But, Mr. Hyper-Aggressive, with his martini-drinking avatar, couldn't think about that. It's about his ego. It's about his thought that he had the best hand the whole way, even when he likely didn't. He's never going to think, "Wow, I made a narrow escape, perhaps I should start thinking about making better reads on the turn." And, he'll probably go broke. But then again, maybe he won't. Maybe I saw him on an off-day, when he was on a rush and was really outplaying his opponents. Maybe my read on the other guy was off, and he had overplayed pocket queens the whole way down! The point: no one can really be sure if someone else is a "fish" or a "shark". We shouldn't make judgments, we should play our best games and get out if we begin to suspect we're an underdog.

We all know when we are totally beat by a game. The over-quoted Rounders line about spotting the sucker at the table told us that. But poker is never really that simple. Usually, we can tell we are outplaying someone at the table. But is it enough? Are we just holding the money for a few hands on behalf of the even better players?

That phrase, "Ship It, Fish!", passes though my head almost every time I see a pot moving. Who is the fish? Is it me? Is it them? Is it all of us -- maybe the rake is beating all of us at that particular table? Sometimes, when poker is not going well, I feel like I'm the biggest fish at any table, and that the phrase was exclusively invented to refer to me alone.

So, I suggest we all keep the irony in mind. If you ever find yourself wanting to look at that "sucker", and tell him that, think back about how you sometimes are the fish shipping it off to a better player. And, if that doesn't help, at least realize that the last thing you want to do is berate someone, who is playing the fool for the day, into playing their best game and come back to say the same to you.

Finally, I should note that the phrase, "Ship It, Fish!", worked its way into the standard lexicon of Greg's game back in Boston. The players there, in part thanks to my introduction of the phrase and its backstory, now use that phrase regularly as a taunt and needle at opportune moments. I can only hope that they all read this entry, and find the same humility buried in the irony of the insult that I do. See you all at the tables. Ship It, Fish!

(*) Footnote: For those who aren't poker players, this phrase has some jargon to it. The verb "to ship", in poker parlance, means "to award the pot to the winning player by pushing the pot towards him". Unlike home games, in casino and basically any poker with a dedicated dealer, the player never reaches out himself to scoop in the chips she's won; rather, the dealer sends those chips very close to the player, and the player can then quickly get it stacked out of the way for the next hand.

"Fish" is a noun used in poker-speak to refer to a very poor player who makes lots of mistakes, and tends to give away money to better players. Some theorize that this term came into common usage for weak players after the term "shark" (a shortened form of "card shark", which is in mainstream USA English) became common to refer to strong players. Sharks eat fish --- hence the term.

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