The sunglasses effect

They might be the most famous sunglasses in poker -- those green, lizard-eye specs that Greg Raymer bought at Disney World and wore right into winning $5 million and the World Series of Poker championship in 2004.

Funny thing is, they were just supposed to be a joke. A one-time thing at the 2002 main event. Put them on, people would laugh, the tension would break.

"But the first time I put them on,'' Raymer explains, "a guy kind of freaked out. 'What the hell's going on?' And he threw his hand away. I'd raised him, and while he was thinking, I put the glasses on. He jumped out of his chair when he saw them.

"At that point, I said there's a little something to these glasses other than a one-time joke. I continued to wear them when I played a hand. I've always found there are several opponents who are very uncomfortable. They don't want to play against you when you're wearing glasses.''

Well, no. Not everyone.

"There's never been a winning high-stakes player, a good high-stakes player, that's ever worn sunglasses, so we don't even face that,'' Barry Greenstein says. "It's just for tournament goofballs.''

Urgent clarification before everyone starts talk of a Greenstein-Raymer hissing contest: Greenstein was not talking about Raymer specifically; he was simply addressing my question a couple months back about players wearing sunglasses at the table.

"It's like little kids wearing sunglasses to act like they're cool,'' Greenstein continued. "It's for people who are afraid of their own shadow, so they wear sunglasses because they think people will see right through them. I've never seen a good player wear sunglasses ever. Only in tournaments will you see that. If you watch our [cash] games, no one would ever wear sunglasses.''

Funny thing was, as Greenstein was going off on sunglasses-wearing players and comparing them to big-time cash game players, there was Chip Reese, a big-time cash game player, for sure, sitting at a tournament table in the Bellagio wearing, you betcha, blue-tinted sunglasses.

"He just took them off when I said that,'' Greenstein says. "He was just wearing them to look nice. He's just wearing them to look pretty for the girls.''

The sunglasses argument has been going on for a while, and will be going on for a while more. At least.

Are they unfair? Raymer's first opponent in 2002 might think so.

Should they be banned? Hey, smoking has been banned at tournaments, and as recently as several years ago, who thought that would ever happen? Cell phones were pretty much banned at the World Series of Poker tables this year. So, don't kid yourself, the anti-sunglasses lobby might be mobilizing as you read this.

"I think they're hokey and a lot of guys wear them,'' says Barry Shulman, Card Player magazine chairman and regular tour pro. "But as long as they're legal, I have no problem with the people who wear them. I also think that people who claim it's an unfair advantage ought to take advantage of it.

"Older guys like me, I couldn't wear them if I wanted to because I can't see the cards. I have enough trouble telling the red cards from the black cards without them, and I'm sure there are other guys my same age who have that issue.''

And let's be honest, if tournaments ever tried to implement a ban on sunglasses, you'd see an awful lot of players suddenly claiming a light sensitivity and showing up with $10,000 and a note from the doctor.

"I know plenty of doctors,'' Chip Jett says with a laugh.

Many players wear sunglasses to hide the involuntary dilation of the pupils that occurs when a player's eyes see something big -- pocket aces, big flop, bigger river card. Jett, on the other hand, says he wears them so opponents can't tell when he's looking at them.

"You have to look at people a lot, and if people don't know you're necessarily looking at them, they're less likely to try to mask whatever they're showing,'' Jett explains. "It's a small tool, but if it helps you once a month, the benefits can be huge.''

But wait. There's more.

"It also gives a chance for sponsorship,'' Jett says. "There are a lot of sunglasses companies out there.''

No. 1 rule in poker -- and life: Follow the money. Right?

So, does money go to sunglasses?

Phil Hellmuth and Scott Fischman wear them. Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey don't. Phil "The Unabomber'' Laak and Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari wear them. Annie Duke and Kathy Liebert and Jennifer Harman don't. Scotty Nguyen, yes. Howard Lederer, no. All of them have won something big, so sunglasses don't seem to bring some kind of magic, which makes it mostly a taste issue, seems to me.

"I look at it from a TV standpoint,'' says Lyle Berman, a longtime pro and the financial force behind the World Poker Tour. "If there's maybe one player with sunglasses, it's OK. But it really takes away a lot of the drama because the drama's in the eyes, the drama's in the faces.

"I mean, if we had a final table and all six people were wearing sunglasses, I don't think we'd produce it. I don't think it would be any good. I think we'd cancel that one. I think we'd tell everybody at the table to take their sunglasses off or we're not going to have a game.

"Most of the people at the final table all are trying to become famous. You don't become famous wearing sunglasses if you want recognition.''

Shulman has a different reason for being against sunglasses, a view fostered by his decidedly vested interested in the greater growth of pokerpalooza.

"We're working hard to make poker very friendly and invite people into our environment, and I think sunglasses are very standoffish,'' Shulman says. "It's easier to be friendly when you can see a person's eyes.''

Funny thing about Shulman's last point: One of the most compelling covers of Card Player last year featured David Williams, runner-up to Raymer, with big, black shades blasting back at people.

And now, Williams has dropped that signature look.

"I found it's more valuable to get the face time on TV and be recognized,'' Williams said. A lot of people don't recognize me with the glasses on. I'm so pretty, I have to make sure people see me.''

Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback, check out his mailbag.