Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Poker Ethics

There was a doozy of an ethical dilemma last week at the poker table. I think I probably should have acted differently, but it's not entirely clear.

There are lots of rather subtle ethical dilemmas that come up in poker, and I am comfortable coming down on the side of keeping the game as pure as possible. Sometimes two players will collude, and this can run the gamut from the very subtle to blatant cheating. As an example of very subtle collusion, two friends at a table might agree to check whenever they are the only two left in a hand. This might seem harmless, but in some cases, one player might have a hand that he wants checked down and thus he might try to knock a third player out of the pot (or vice-versa, trying to keep a player in the pot). In the high-low stud game at the Bike, there is at least one player who takes advantage of one of his "friends" by doing this. Even if the players don't alter their decisions before the hand becomes heads-up, checking the hand down denies the other players the opportunity to gather information about how their opponents play. This isn't fair. I avoid even the subtlest collusion, but there are several players in my regular games who do this. I choose not to complain unless the collusion is at least slightly more egregious.

"One man to a hand" is a pretty well-known poker rule, but it is occasionally broken in subtle ways. Sometimes a player will show his hand to the guy sitting next to him. If this player then comments on the hand, saying, "that's an easy call," or something, this seems like a pretty clear violation of the rule, but it is very unlikely the hand would be called dead. I would still call the floorman over to make a decision. Then, if it happened a second time, maybe the hand would be called dead. Technically, nobody should be making any comment about someone's hand until it is face up on the table at showdown. Once the hand is revealed, anyone at the table can help the player and dealer to read it. Occasionally, I will notice a dealer mistake at showdown and point it out. I feel this is discretionary, but my default tends to be to point it out.

Last week, two players went all-in for about $600 each. One player, a regular who I know pretty well, had AQs and made a flush on a K7666 board. He put his hand face-up at showdown. The other player, new to the game, sat looking at his cards and the board in disgust for about 30 seconds before tossing his cards, face up, into the muck. He had AK for a full house. Although he clearly intended to concede the pot, he is technically the winner in this situation. However, the dealer immediately turned his cards face down and pushed the $1200 pot to the player with AQs. The player with AK remains oblivious to the fact that he had the best hand.

If the AK had belonged to a friend of mine, I would have called the floorman over, and most likely the player with AK would have been awarded the pot. Shouldn't I give a stranger the same courtesy? Certainly, my acquaintance with the AQs would have been disgusted with me, but, ethically, that should probably not be a concern of mine.

Monday, July 05, 2010


It turns out that having a baby can distract me from some of my other projects, including blogging. Here are some things I've been meaning to mention for various periods of time.

In the "Asian Games" part of the Los Angeles casinos (which is where they have Pai Gao, Pan 9, Blackjack, and all the other non-poker games), since the casinos are not allowed to gamble against the players, one player plays as the "house," taking other players' bets like a Las Vegas casino would. The LA casinos simply take $5 or so each hand, as they do in poker. Instead of actual customers playing the role of "house," however, there is always an employee of a corporation. (The one at the Bike is run by the notorious "Corporation" Mike, among others.) You might think this sounds like an egregious exploitation of a loophole in the law, but I heard something even more remarkable: supposedly the corporations that work at Commerce Casino and Hawaiian Gardens are run by Hawaiian Gardens and Commerce, respectively. I'll try to get some verification on this, but in the meantime I will enjoy the idea that it might be true.

There is an episode of the TV show SportsNight in which many of the characters play poker. (Spoiler alert!) In the course of the game, the character Jeremy is winning big, while his girlfriend Natalie is losing. On the last hand, Jeremy bets big on the river, and tells Natalie something like, "I have you beat. If you trust me, you'll fold." Natalie calls and loses, and Jeremy feels like the relationship is on thin ice because of the lack of trust. Natalie apologizes. As a poker purist, I was disgusted by this. Here is how I saw it. First, Jeremy attempted to convince Natalie that he is willing to collude with her in the poker game. Trusting that her righteous boyfriend wouldn't be likely to stoop to that level (and that he wouldn't try testing her trust in such a crude way), Natalie disregarded his comment and called. Jeremy then took Natalie's money and received an apology. I don't get it. Jeremy was the one who was in the wrong!

The Bike employs "chip runners" to get chips for players at the table. To encourage tips, they make a point of telling players "good luck" when they give out the chips. One of the chip runners is a nervous old Asian woman who can be rather cloying in her attempts to make a good impression. I had to laugh when a player called her over with "Hey! Bad-Luck-Chip-Lady!"

Speaking of chips: As of May 1, casinos in Los Angeles will no longer accept chips from other casinos. Accepting competitors' chips had been standard practice, but supposedly there have been some counterfeit chips recently.

Speaking of counterfeits: Two popped up in our $500 NL game last month. A player used them to pay off a $200 river bet. The winning player was alerted by others at the table that the bills didn't look right, and he had them checked at the cage; the losing player then gave him another $200. Since then I've stopped keeping bills on the table, and I immediately change any bills I win.

Johnny Moss was the king of poker before Doyle Brunson. According to one of my colleagues at the Bike, he was also a cheater. Please take this with a grain of salt, but the story I heard from another prop goes as follows:
In those days, players used to take turns dealing, and several of the players in Johnny Moss's game were working together. We were playing hi-lo seven-card-stud, and the deuce of clubs opened. By the end of the hand, I had made three of a kind and a six for low. The other guy was drawing to a wheel. At the end, I showed my hand, and the other guy showed a wheel, but he had the deuce of clubs as one of his hole cards (the dealer had obviously slipped the previously folded card to him). I said, "How about I take this pot, and you guys can have the rest." The dealer simply pushed me the pot, and I left.

My June results through the 20th were fantastic, already a personal record for a single month. However, I lost a couple thousand in the last ten days.