Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Passive Collusion - Hollywood Park Update

A few weeks ago, upon my return from Las Vegas, I wrote about how much better it was to play poker there. For the two weeks before that, there were four or five excellent players that I would play against every day in the $400 buy in game at Hollywood Park. These players were reasonably friendly with me, but overly friendly with each other. There seemed to be a tacit agreement between a few of them that they were not going to take money from one another. When the pot became heads up between two of them, they'd show each other their hands and check it down to the river, with the winning player often giving back a significant portion of the pot. Once or twice they just split the pot in half. Technically, it's against the rules to transfer chips to another player at the table, although it's rather common for a player to give a player $5 or less for tips or friendly side bets. With such small transfers, there is no practical effect on the game, nor any implicit collusion between players. The regular players egregiously abused the leniency that had developed concerning this rule. In fact, they were quite clearly engaging in behavior that the rule is there to prevent: impure motives on the part of individual players. By "impure motives" I mean motives that are not entirely selfish. A large part of playing poker successfully involves deducing your opponents hands based on their actions, and it is generally assumed that players have only their own financial best-interests at heart. In my opinion, this individualistic aspect of poker is fundamental to the game. Although I don't think any of these players were consciously colluding to cheat the players they didn't know, they were destroying the purity of the game. Since this is a rather subtle distinction, I never felt comfortable speaking up against this behavior since I knew it would be construed as an accusation of explicit cheating.

When I got back from Las Vegas, almost all of these formerly regular players had mysteriously vanished from Hollywood Park, having been replaced by players who are much more willing to gamble. Not only has this loosened up the games and made them more profitable, but the disappearance of these unscrupulous players has also made the game much more enjoyable for me, as I primarily play poker for the strategic aspect. With the purity of the play reestablished, I'm enjoying LA poker in a lot more than I when I wrote that post on Las Vegas. I still think that Vegas poker is much better, though.

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