Any time I think I’ve seen everything at a poker table, something happens that proves me wrong.

I was playing at the Bicycle Casino in a Los Angeles suburb last weekend, and picked up a tell on a guy at the other end who bit his fingernails whenever he was bluffing or didn’t have a very strong hand. He was a very active player, and I’d seen him do it several times over the course of a couple of hours. He showed his cards each time, confirming what I suspected. Unfortunately, I never got involved in a hand against him where I could take advantage of that knowledge.

Then a new dealer came to the table (they rotate every half hour), and on the first hand she dealt, she saw the nail biter stick his finger in his mouth. When the hand was over, she firmly told him to stop doing that because it was unhygienic and disgusting, especially during COVID. Then she instructed him to go to the bathroom to wash his hands. The guy, a little shocked, did as he was told.

The player on my left thought what the dealer had said was great, so he tipped her with a $5 chip. That led to a discussion of how clean any of this could be, considering we were all touching the cards and chips. Yeah, I said, but it’s different when bodily fluids are involved.

I remembered one instance years ago when a player suddenly sneezed all over his own chips. Didn’t even bother to raise his hand to his face or stick his nose in his elbow. Ah-choo, sprayed right into his stack. The dealer called a floor supervisor who closed our table immediately and had us move to an adjacent one, while Sneezy’s chips were picked up (by another employee wearing gloves) then taken away to who knows where while he, too, was told to go wash his hands¬†and face.

He protested mightily, but hygiene won the day. When he returned, he was given new chips in the same amount and allowed to return to the game. The even better news for the rest of us was he became so upset by this commotion that he went on tilt, played badly, and lost his entire stack over the course of the next 30 minutes (including a substantial amount to me, which is why I remember it so well!).

In the case of the finger-biter, he eventually came back and continued to play, too, but kept all body parts away from his lips and teeth from then on. It’s too bad he no longer had that obvious tell, though it didn’t matter since we never got involved in any big pots.

However — probably because I was thinking too much about all of this — I started feeling an itch on my nose. Glancing at the dealer (who was still there), I fought the urge to scratch it. Then the inside of my right ear itched. Don’t touch it, I kept telling myself. Eventually, I was driving myself so crazy that I got up, went to the bathroom, scratched and touched all the orifices on my head, washed my hands, sat back down at the table, got past that odd psychosomatic moment, and continued to play poker without another fidget the rest of the night.

But just telling you this story is making me itch again. At least I’m not biting my nails.