Go in any casino or watch poker on television and you will undoubtedly see at least a couple of people donning sunglasses at every table. Being an online poker player, I have often wondered why this practice is so prevalent. So I did a bit of research into the phenomenon and here are my findings.

Why do poker players wear sunglasses?

  1. To hide physical tells that they might give away with their eyes
  2. For comfort and confidence when playing with strangers
  3. To put them in the right mindset when playing a poker hand
  4. For fashion reasons or to look cool

Now that we have some idea why players might wear shades, let’s go through each reason in detail.

1. Wearing Sunglasses to Hide Physical Tells

There are a few very well known poker tells that involve the eyes. In fact, several of the tells listed by Mike Caro in his book of poker tells talk about the eyes.

Where a person looks (or does not look) during a poker hand can give away a lot of information. Here is a video that will highlight the importance of the eyes in using physical tells against your opponents.

It’s been well-documented that the eyes convey just about every emotion a person might be feeling. Happiness, joy, pain, and concern are all emotions that can be revealed by the eyes. This just happens to be information that you would prefer your opponents not have.

Wearing Sunglasses to Hide the Fact That You Might Be Gathering Tells

In order to obtain tells from opponents you have to actually stare at them for extended periods of time. Some people might feel uncomfortable doing this.

After all, mama said that staring is rude. The best solution? Wear sunglasses and then just shift your eyes side-to-side. No one will ever know if you are staring them down.

2. Using Shades for Comfort and Confidence

Due to the poker boom that started back in 2003, there are a lot of players who are either new to poker or new to live poker. Since a lot of the rise in the popularity of poker occurred online, there are a lot of players who are not used to playing around other people.

In that sense, sunglasses act as a sort of security blanket for shy or uncomfortable players. Some people just are not comfortable staring at other individuals, which is necessary sometimes during a poker hand.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of sunglasses is the ability to hide in plain sight or avoid conversation. Players not looking to socialize at the table can use sunglasses to deter would-be Chatty Cathies from chewing their ears off.

Man, Those Lights Are Bright

Another reason to wear sunglasses is to actually use them for what they are intended. I am not talking about playing poker outdoors, but if you have ever been in a casino you understand that some of those lights in there are really bright.

Personally, I had laser eye surgery several years ago and have had a sensitivity to light ever since. I could definitely see someone putting sunglasses on to help remedy this issue when they play under the bright lights of the poker table.

3. Getting in a Certain Midset by Wearing Sunglasses

If you have ever seen the movie “Over The Top” with Sylvester Stallone, you might remember that he would always turn his ball cap backwards right before a big arm wrestling match. He did this to turn a switch in his mind and get in the right mindset to do battle.

Many poker players do this as well and only wear their sunglasses while involved in a hand. It’s a great way to witch on your “killer instinct” at the table at the right times and still keep your friendly personality while not involved in a hand.

4. Wearing Sunglasses for image or fashion reasons

There is no doubt that a large percentage of shade-wearing poker players wear them for non-strategic reasons, no matter what they might claim. I do agree that projecting an image or intimidating them in some way is part of the game.

What is more intimidating than some guy that looks like the terminator staring you down.

Photo by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunglasses have always been used as some kind of fashion statement or to look cool. This is especially true among young people who are more concerned about their image than an older counterpart might be. Next time you are in a poker room, don’t be surprised if you see every single under-30 male at your table wearing either a hat, sunglasses, headphones, or all three.

Can Sunglasses Be Used to Cheat?

There are some poker players who fear that sunglasses could be used for nefarious purposes. One of those ways is through marking cards and then using UV sunglasses to cheat. In fact, there is actually a deck of marked cards sold along with the matching cheater sunglasses available on Amazon. (Click the link to see the Amazon product)

Even though this technology exists, I would not be overly concerned that someone is using it at your local casino. However, if you are ever worried about such a phenomenon, it is your right to ask for a new deck of cards to be brought into play at any time. I also wouldn’t hesitate to discretely ask the floor person to check out a suspected cheater who has suspicious sunglasses.

Documented Cases of Sunglasses Being Used to Cheat

It was difficult to find any documented cases of cheating by using sunglasses. I am guessing that it has happened from time to time but casinos have kept it quite, likely due to embarrassment. If this is occurring, its much more likely to happen in a home game.

While I am sure there are plenty of unscrupulous players who would do anything to win, it is highly unlikely that this type of cheating is rampant in casinos. It would take an inside person, who physically marked the card, to pull off such a cheat. With the high security measures and the still penalties if you get caught, it’s hard to see this happening often.

What about contact lenses?

In 2011, a poker player and 2 casino workers were involved in a cheating scandal that used marked cards and contact lenses to cheat the casino out of nearly €90,000. A man named Stefano Ampollini was sentenced to two years in prison for the offense.

Opponents of Sunglasses and Pushes to Ban the Practice

There are several poker pros who have advocated against the use of sunglasses at the poker table. One of the biggest critics is Daniel Negreanu who feels that the integrity of the game is at stake. He believes that even the smallest chance that someone could be cheating is enough reason for them to be outlawed in poker.

I have been on the fence about this subject for some time. While I feel it is important to be able to look someone in the eyes while playing live, I do understand that it helps shy people cope in an otherwise uncomfortable situation.

Whether or not sunglasses violate the spirit of the game or whether the potential for cheating to occur is enough to warrant a ban, is still up for debate.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the reasons why some poker players choose to wear sunglasses, you can use this information to your advantage at the table. How do you feel about people wearing shades? Is there any other reason people might wear them? Be sure to let me know in the comments.

Related Questions

Why do poker players wear visors? Poker players might wear a visor for a couple of reasons. 1. They want to reduce the glare from overhead lights. 2. They can easily hide their eyes whenever they want without having to resort to much-maligned sunglasses.

Why do poker players wear hoodies or scarves? Many poker players wear hoodies or scarves just because it is in fashion. Others wear them because it is known to get really cold inside some casinos. Those that wear them for strategic reasons do so to hide physical tells.

Can you wear a mask in poker? While most casinos frown upon players wearing masks due to security reasons, you are actually allowed to wear them during the World Series of Poker. The entertainment value outweighs the security risks in that case.

Jim James

Jim James is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker. He has over 15 years of experience playing poker professionally, has written extensively on the topic, and is the author of the best-selling poker strategy book Automatic Poker.

Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker tables. His innovative simple poker charts make the game easier for everyone willing to learn. Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.