Being Friendly, Good Business or Just Plain Old Cheating?
By Keith 'The Camel' Hawkins / October 2004
We have reached the era of the mega buyin poker tournament. When I first started playing a £1000 event was a rarity, now they are commonplace. Casinos are competing with each other to put on bigger and more exclusive tournaments all the time.
Recently the Victoria held a £3000 buyin no limit poker tournament. I am not running great, and I wanted to play so I sold some of my action. I would guess I wasn't alone. I estimate at least 25% of players were either backed or put in this tournament. Almost all the other players would have swapped a small percentage of their action with friends, so they could have an interest even after they had been knocked out.
I would be surprised if less than 90% of the players had a vested interest in at least one other player.
At the Vic something happened which had never occurred to me in any other major event I've ever played. As I have sold part of my action several times recently it was just a matter of time, I suppose, until one of my backers had a huge conflict of interest.
I made the last four tables at the Vic. I was in pretty good shape until my QQ ran into Chris Singh's KK. With blinds of 1000-2000 and a running ante of 100 I had about 10,000 remaining. At this moment I got moved as the big blind to another table. I was seated to the immediate right of a player who had bought 15% of me prior to the tournament starting. Now 15% may not sound like a huge amount. But, when you consider first prize was £200,000, you can see he had quite an ethical dilemma.
He had a very healthy stack at this stage, about 100,000 and was one of the chip leaders. Although obviously winning the first prize was his aim, I could be perceived as a nice little insurance policy if he busted out. When I put my big blind of 2,000 in, he was the small blind. Everyone passed to him. He hestitated for a second and then set me allin. Now, the temptation for him to let me win the blinds must have been massive. I don't want an advantage, if I am to win, I want to win properly.
But, of course the real issue is this: if my backer had given me a walk in the big blind when the position dictated a raise he would have been cheating the whole field. Every player had a vested interest in me getting knocked out as the short stack.
Now, soft playing is far from a new phenomenon. In every £10 tournament throughout the country friends check down pots when they are heads up. Husbands and wives refuse to bet into each other.
These are pretty innocuous examples I would agree, but there is a much darker side to soft playing. Daniel Negreanu accused Men "the Master" Nguyen of cheating in major tournaments by getting the multitude of players he backs to soft play him. It's all in the archives of recpoker.com if you care to search. Also, I was once at a final table with a top European player when this fiasco occured: he is chip leader with about 100,000. His close friend has only 20,000. Blinds are 500-1000 and the top player has the sb when his mate has the bb. All pass to the sb who makes it 4,000 to play. His friend calls. On the flop he bets 15,000. Again the friend calls, leaving himself 1,000. On the turn the top player checks and his friend bets his last grand and the top player passes! In those days I was a meek and mild beginner who wouldn't say boo to a goose. If that happened today I would scream blue murder.
Since I have moved up North I have only been to Newcastle casino once to play poker in almost a year. The soft playing and collusion were so bad and widespread I probably won't be going back.
Soft playing ruins the game of poker. It is cheating and should be stamped out. The whole essence of the game is self interest. Playing as a "team" is against the ethos of poker. If you are at the casino with your mates by all means swap 5% with them but try your damnedest to knock them out.
So, what is the solution to the problem? Well, I have two ideas. Firstly, if a player is proved to be soft playing he should be thrown out of the tournament, perhaps after one warning.
Secondly, I feel every player should be forced to declare with whom he/she has a financial interest in each tournament before it begins, this would make it crystal clear to the other players which opponent needs to be watched when they are on the table with their friends/sponsors.
I know this would be very difficult to police, but the threat of disqualification if caught should be enough to make everyone fess up.
Poker is a big business these days. Millions of pounds change hands. It is important that the participants of the game are beyond reproach if we are to encourage sponsorship and new players to enter poker.
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