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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's a tough one, because you could make the argument that reading your hand and the opponent's hand at showdown is part of the game, albeit minor. Overall, though, I agree with you that the right thing to do is point out the rightful winner. I remember when I was new to the game and found the atmosphere intimidating, and it would be nice if you could be confident that your cards will speak for themselves and that you don't have to be your own lawyer at the poker table. So, I agree with you, but my hunch is that most players would disagree. I remember that Richard, the old grumpy guy at HP once stuck up for me, and I was so impressed. I had asked my opponent how much he had, he said 600, I went all in, he called, and I won. He had honestly forgotten about $200 more he had, so he actually had $800, and I covered him, and my opponent pushed $600 toward me and said "Oh, I forgot about that." I paused and said "What happens here?" and Richard immediately and vociferously said "All in is all in." He then turned to me and said, "If he had won, you can be sure they would have played."