When the flop came both blinds checked to the player in seat three
who came out betting. Seat four folded, and the woman in seat five called
all-in. The players in seats six and eight called too, and both blinds
folded. Four players were contesting the pot: the bettor in seat three,
the woman in seat five who went all-in, and players who called from
seats six and eight. I folded before the flop, and was in good position
to witness what happened next.
The ensuing brouhaha was so interesting that I described it in a posting
to the Internet’s rec.gambling.poker newsgroup as soon as I got
home. It must have interested that audience, too, because of the number
of responses it generated. Some thought there was collusion along with
a breach of ethics. A few thought nothing wrong happened, while still
others agreed with my take on the situation: Although a clear breach
of ethics, no collusion took place.
Because of the number of responses and variety of opinions I received
on the Internet, I decided to give you, the reader, an opportunity to
assess your own poker ethics against this real-world occurrence.
I’ll set the stage for you. The all-in woman is an experienced,
solid player who usually plays $15-$30 or $20-$40 hold’em or stud.
She is not an “angle shooter,” and always well-mannered.
I don’t recall her ever causing even the slightest ruckus at the
table. The players in seats three, six and eight were less experienced,
and it showed in their play, demeanor, and table talk. I never saw them
before; they just seemed like recreational players out for a bit of
Friday night poker. It was also quite clear that none of these players
knew each other; they just happened to be at this particular table.
Before the dealer could deal the turn card, the last player to call
said: “Hey, why don’t we just check it all the way down?”
The player in seat six quickly agreed, and the original bettor in seat
three said: “Sure. Let’s do it.”
The all-in player objected, saying that “... agreeing to check
the hand down provides fewer chances to win. If someone bets the turn,”
she said, “and one or two of you fold, I would have to beat only
one or two opponents, instead of three, to win the pot.”
She was correct. Once all-in, she was unable to influence the action
of her opponents because she had no chips left with which to bet, call
Although she griped about the agreement to check down the hand, she
never asked the dealer to stop play and ask a floorperson to make a
ruling. The turn and river cards were dealt, and when all was said and
done, she made two pair and won a relatively small pot. As she gathered
in her chips she asked the dealer to call a floor supervisor.
When James, the floorman, arrived at the table, she related the facts,
then opined that: “...the other three players engaged in collusion
and unethical behavior.” Her three opponents said: “We never
colluded, don’t even know each other, and besides — she
won the pot.” Since there was “no harm, no foul,”
the player who initially suggested checking the hand said, “It’s
over. Let’s just play cards.”
James, whose experience, good judgment, and interpersonal skills, make
him a top-notch floorman, asked some of the others at the table to corroborate
the woman’s story. I told James that in my opinion, the other
three players’ behavior was unethical, but “...since it
was clear that the offending players were strangers to each other, no
collusion was involved.” James agreed, saying that “...agreeing
to check a hand down to the river when an all-in player is involved
is not ethical, even when done innocently and no collusion is involved.”
He admonished the offending players, telling them: “The spirit
of poker requires each person to play his own hand, and an agreement
to check to the river should never be made whenever there’s a
player who doesn’t have an opportunity to protect his own hand
by betting or raising.”
That ended the incident as far as the players at the table were concerned.
But it was just the beginning as far as the Internet’s poker aficionados
were concerned. At the bottom of my posted message describing this incident,
I asked readers to post their opinions — and post they did.
Some players took a hands-off approach, suggesting that “...all’s
fair in love, war, and poker.” Though in the minority, they tended
to be quite vehement in their views. Some even chastised the all-in
player for allowing herself to get so short-stacked that she could no
longer defend her hand.
Still others felt that there was collusion, since the other three players
did agree to check the hand down to the river. Whether there was any
intent to minimize the all-in player’s chances of winning was
not relevant to them. In their opinion, the act of agreeing to check
the hand down diminished the all-in player’s opportunities for
winning — and was collusion regardless of whether it was planned
or entirely inadvertent.
Most respondents took my point of view: It was unethical but not collusive.
To no one’s surprise, everyone agreed that this kind of behavior
in a tournament should definitely be verboten, and ought to result in
the offending player losing his interest in the pot — and maybe
a time suspension on top of that.
Frankly, I was surprised that this incident engendered so much controversy.
But it did, and one lesson I learned is that ethical concerns are of
more importance to most poker player than I ever suspected. Since I
seem to have started something, I’d like to stimulate even more
debate? What’s your take on all this? Who’s correct? Who’s
in the wrong? How important are ethics in poker? Send me your view and
opinion, or just think about the issue and see where you line up on
Just to give you a heads-up on the answers I’ve received, thus
far every respondent believes his or her viewpoint to be ethical. Not
one person answering my Internet posting suggested something that was
either devious, or an “angle shot.” It’s personally
rewarding to see that most poker players have a very strong ethical
sense about them. Poker, after all, is an endeavor where a person’s
word is his bond; where you can leave thousands of dollars on the table
with complete safety; and where most debts are repaid — even in
the face of laws that until quite recently held that gambling debts
could not be collected through the legal system.
Given poker’s history, it’s no secret that players, particularly
professional players, have developed a code of ethics that in many cases
is stronger than the law. Like Bob Dylan said many years ago: “To
live outside the law you must be honest.”