Playing with Friends Again

This subject recently came up while I was playing poker in a live game and I was asked for my opinion. I will take the time to write a quick story and share a couple of examples. First and foremost I would say playing at the table with friends is probably a bad idea and yet it inevitably happens. In a tournament with hundreds of players I often end up seated at the same table as the only guy in the tournament that I know. I guess this is just another example of Murphy’s Law.

My advice is to play everyone the same and do everything in your power to win every pot. To this end, I have check-raised my own wife on many occasions. The advice is meant for every game but is particularly poignant in tournaments when any hint of collusion is grounds for disqualification. The most flagrant abuse of this I witness on a regular basis is when two friends check a hand down when it becomes heads up. This is unethical and cheating and you could be punished for such behavior. Simply asking another “Do you want to check it down” is enough to cross the line and be considered collusion. However harsh, that is my opinion.

An interesting topic came up in a recent tournament when a player went all-in and was called by a shorter stack. The player moving all-in was bluffing and tried to kill his hand. I pointed out that in a tournament you can’t kill your hand if a player is all-in. The hand has to be turned up. The player claimed if he was successful at getting his cards to touch the muck that his hand was dead. Period. End of Story. “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” I replied. In fact the dealer will not and cannot allow you to muck the hand. Any attempt to do so should be grounds for picking your chips up and disqualification from the tournament. I took it a step further and said if the hand is recoverable and the dealer can clearly identify the two cards whether they touched the muck or not he will pull them from the muck and turn them face up next to the board with the other hand and award the pot to the best hand after the river card has been revealed. Any all-in tournament situation requires both hands be turned up and exposed and the best to receive the chips. This opinion did not sit well with many of the youngsters. I think they have been told something by an overly zealous floor man and now believe anything in the muck is dead.

A second example came up in a tournament a few years back when there were a number of side pots in an Omaha game and a dealer mucked a hand that had been turned face up by a player. The player with the mucked hand was entitled to one of the side pots. The opponent tried to claim that the mucked hand was dead and could not be awarded the pot. Once again, I weighed in and prevailed that the dealer made an error but the hand was recoverable and the player was entitled to the pot because he had turned the hand face up. In the muck is not dead.

When it comes to checking a hand down you are certainly in a much greyer area of strategy and collusion. The classic example I remember was a no-limit hand when an older cagey professional player asked a youngster if he wanted to check the hand down. After the youngster agreed the older guy made the call on the flop. Both players checked the turn and on the river when the third heart hit the board the old guy said, “Now I have to bet”. The old guy made a large bet and the youngster was forced to fold. This example was a legitimate poker play. You are allowed to say anything during a poker hand to try to win the pot. You are not allowed to make agreements with other players to play them differently than anyone else. The grey area is in a tournament when two players will check a hand down in an effort to eliminate the all-in player. This is not collusion and is a similar strategy being employed by two players in an effort to win a tournament. The unwritten rule here has always been, do not bluff into a non-existent side pot. Betting a legitimate hand is proper and expected.

In tournaments it is not uncommon for players to trade or buy shares in each other. This situation can create some really difficult moments in tournaments. For the most part, I see examples of soft play when players own a piece of each other. A hand that should have eliminated one of the players is soft played allowing the loser to still have chips and remain in the tournament. This is cheating and absolutely should not be allowed.

Poker has a really questionable reputation based on its history and deservedly so. As poker tries to move into the mainstream every possible means should be used to clean the game up and leave behind the lying cheating and stealing of the past. To this end I would encourage all players to play everyone the same. This is my opinion and if you have different ideas I would encourage you to share them.

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