Friday, July 21, 2006

Poker isn't a team sport

Poker isn't a team sport
Soft playing your friends is a form of collusion
Home News Tribune Online 07/21/06
If you want to do your friends a favor, don't do it at the poker table. Take them out for a beer if you win the tournament. In fact, buy them dinner. What you can't do, though, is give anybody a break — ever.

Yes, it's true. I would check-raise my own mother if it meant that I could beat her for all of her chips. The same holds true for my brother, my wife, and any professional poker player friends of mine.

Frankly, that's the only way to act at the poker table.

At the World Series of Poker, players are randomly seated at one of many tables. In past years, though, exceptions were made in special circumstances. For example, if a husband and wife were seated at the same table, one of the two would be moved to another table.

However, if both players happened to make the final table, then obviously they'd have to play there, which can make for an unpleasant situation. Along these lines, there is one form of cheating that you may not be aware of. In fact, you might be doing it yourself.

Have you ever been in a poker tournament and decided to take it easy on a buddy who was down on his luck? Let's say, you had the absolute nut hand, but checked to him because you didn't want to beat him. That's cheating. That may sound harsh, but it's the truth. Even though you might not see any harm in it, and your intentions are all well and good, soft playing your friends is a form of collusion. It's called team play.

Soft playing really is a big deal. If you're caught doing it in a tournament, whether it was intentional or not, you might receive a penalty. Tournament officials can put you in the penalty box for an allotted amount time or even disqualify you from the tournament. More often than not, the offending player doesn't feel like he's cheating. He just doesn't understand why it's wrong to take it easy on somebody.

Tournaments generally pay 10 percent of the field. Survival is critical; the longer you're alive in a tournament, the closer you get to cashing in on a payday. By slow playing and not betting your strong hands against a friend, you're hurting every remaining player's chance of cashing in.

Let's look at an extreme example to help illustrate why this practice has no place in poker.

It's a No Limit Hold'em tournament where the top 27 players are in the money; there are currently 28 remaining. The next player eliminated gets nothing at all — the infamous bubble. Now, suppose you're the chip leader, in the big blind, and have a huge stack. The blinds are at $500 to $1,000. Your buddy, conversely, is the shortest stack with just $1,500 in chips. He decides to go all-in, raising you a measly $500 more. You look down at your cards and see A-K.

With your big slick, it's very likely you'll eliminate your buddy if you call. In fact, even if you were dealt 2-7 offsuit, it would still be correct to call, based on pot odds.

However, let's say you decide to be a nice guy and let him have the $1,500 in blinds, allowing him to double his chips to 3,000. Well, you've just cheated all the other players in the tournament.

If your pal now happens to make it into the money, he'll be taking a spot that likely should have been someone else's. Sure, giving the pot away didn't hurt you much, but by letting your buddy have it, you've made a world of difference to his stack, and to the integrity of the game.

Poker isn't a team sport. It's every player for himself, and it simply has to be that way. I realize that it can be uncomfortable to knock out your friends, but the alternative is flat out cheating. It's your responsibility to play hard against all of your opponents, even if you have a relationship with them.

If you want to do your friends a favor, don't do it at the poker table. Take them out for a beer if you win the tournament. In fact, buy them dinner. What you can't do, though, is give anybody a break — ever.

Visit to submit your questions and comments to poker champion Daniel Negreanu.

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