Railbirds.  They come in all different varieties, and we’ve all had the occasion to be amongst them.  For those newer to the game who may not yet be familiar with the term, a “railbird” is simply one who watches a game from the “rail” (a term which comes from live poker)… not seated at the table playing.  This could be watching the table of a friend who is playing, or having just busted out of a tournament but still watching the table, for example.    

Most players spend their rail birding time in non-productive ways.  I think the most common are the friend rail and the ranter.  

The friend rail is fairly common, and it’s a nice way to offer support to your friend or socialize with a group.  If this is all you’re doing however, it is only a social activity, and a waste of poker time.  There’s nothing wrong with being social or supporting a friend of course, but if you could make dual use of this time to not only be social but also strengthen your poker skills, would you?  If you like the sound of that, what could you do?  Quite a few things actually.  Try working on hand reading and ranging players while you observe.  Take notice of betting patterns.  Observe what people show down and think about how they played their hand… perhaps even adding notes actively for your own future use.  Think about how you would play similar spots and hand strengths, identify leaks and weaknesses in the players at the table and think about how to adjust to exploit them, etc.  There’s so much you can do with this time that’s productive beyond just socializing, make use of it!

The ranter is totally non-productive.  We’ve all seen one before, and perhaps even been one.   You know, we just got taken out of a tournament by some donkey making some donkey play, and we just have to stick around and tell them about how big a donkey they are.  This sort of thing is not only non-productive, it’s destructive and really bad for the game.  First of all, it makes the ranter look like, well, the other word for donkey.  But beyond that, even IF the player did make a poor play, why would you want to educate them about that fact?  You might put them off to making future bad plays, or even cause them to learn something.   Opponents making mistakes is GOOD for you, but you have to accept that part and parcel with that is the fact that sometimes a bad play gets lucky.  The truth is that bad players lose, pretty heavily, over time… they don’t win over the long run despite the occasional lucky catch.  The fact that a bad player will make a lucky hand against you specifically sometimes is part of the price of doing business, part of the cost for all the times they pay you off, get their money in bad and don’t suck out, or otherwise punt their stack to you.  While it will usually be bad players that “get lucky” against you, it is those same bad players from which most of your profit comes from over time.  We make money from our opponent’s mistakes, and good players don’t make nearly as many of those as bad ones do.

Not only that, being a ranter is a sign of weakness imo.   One of the most difficult skills to master in poker is emotional control, and the ranter has lost that battle.   They’ve allowed their emotions to take charge, to go on tilt, and there’s no good that comes of being on full blown tilt.  “But it feels good to vent my frustration” you might say.  If you really need to have an emotional release, do it away from the tables.  Don’t let your opponents see your weakness, and don’t run the risk of alienating or educating them.   Unfortunately, I see no productive way to be a ranter, so just don’t do it.

Another productive way to spend your railbird time is to rail or shadow a very good player, someone who’s game you know is solid (and perhaps even a different style than yours), and observe what they do.  If you’re an MTT player, spend some time on a Sunday pulling up a few tables to rail.  Pick out some known strong MTT players or Red Spades to watch, and think about what you observe them doing.  What kinds of hands are they playing, and how do they play them?    Do they seem to be targeting any one at the table In particular?  Why?  How is that player being exploited?   One of the ways to success in any endeavor is to find others who are already successful and learn what it is they do.  This is a great way to provide food for thought and to expand your knowledge of the game.

I hope this blog has also given you some food for thought, and that the next time you find yourself with occasion to be on the rail of a table, you’ll put the time to good use.