Collusion at the table?

Updated: January 12, 2006, 3:48 PM ET
By Steve Rosenbloom | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Send your poker questions to Steve Rosenbloom. He will answer as many as he can each week.

From Will in Baltimore: "I understand how much you should make in a limit cash game per hour. How much should you make in a no-limit cash game per hour?''

Good question. But let's back up a bit. Conventional wisdom holds that you should be averaging winning at least one big bet per hour. The popular low-blinds/no-limit hold'em games skew that, so I asked a couple pros with a lot of cash game experience how much money you should be making.

First, Karina Jett: "A good rule of thumb for a player of your caliber, Steve, would be if you manage to leave the table with enough money for breakfast at Denny's and a little gas money, the session should be deemed a success.''

Nice.

"Actually,'' Jett says, "there is not really a formula for that in no-limit, due to the fact that your wins are basically determined by how careless your opponents are and not how many hours you put in.'' Mark Seif, the only double-bracelet winner from the 2005 World Series of Poker, had this to say: "With respect to win rates, at the lower limits you should win two to three big bets an hour as opposed to one for the bigger games. The relationship is not linear because the competition is supposed to be [and usually is] tougher as the stakes increase. With respect to no-limit, you should win about four to five big blinds per hour at those blind levels if you are playing up to par.'' ************************************************************

From Rob in Windsor: "Recently I have been playing a no-limit hold'em game at the casino ($100 max buy-in and $1-$2 blinds). The game attracts a lot of fish -- generally a good thing. Anyway, I noticed many people were willing to put their whole stacks in on the flop getting less than 2-1 odds with nothing but a flush draw. This seems crazy, but I guess it's their money. A friend of mine suggested that I wait until the turn to bet big on the assumption that people will be less likely to call a big bet with only one card to come than when there are two. Seems logical, but the poker player in me hates giving some guy proper odds to make his hand by the turn. What do you think? By the way, I am playing in a game of this structure due to a low bankroll and my winnings generally go to paying bills instead of increasing my bankroll, so I really want to avoid being busted by weak hands.''

I don't have facts on this, but anecdotal evidence and real experience tells me that games with low blinds are not populated with players who know or even care about pot odds. Doesn't matter whether it's limit or no-limit. It might be that the fish will be less likely to call a big bet on the turn to hit a draw, but I doubt that their folding would be based on the math, so your additional concern that you're giving somebody good pot odds to see the river wouldn't appear to matter, either. The one consolation to getting outdrawn -- the one that the pros live by -- is that you got your money in when you had the best hand. It means your read was right. It means you did everything you could. What the deck does to you is something you can't control.

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From cminami: "I'm sitting at the last two tables, 16 players left, average stack around $18,000, I have $20,000, blinds $2,000-$4,000. Player A, who I have sat with the whole tourney, thinks for a while and goes all-in with $16,000. He played a little loose in the beginning, playing face cards, raising with K-J in early position, etc., but has tightened up as we get close to the final table. All players fold to me. I look down and see A-10 offsuit. I know if I call, the blinds will fold because they are trying to hang around, so it will be a race. But I will double up if I win and be in real good position for the final table and dominate my current table. If I lose, I'll be scrambling. I decide to muck, because I figured he wasn't just trying to steal and I could still make a move with my stack later. Did I make the right decision? Postscript, I made the final table, but busted out 10th. He also made the table and busted out next. He told me that he had a small pair on that hand I just described.''

I would've folded, and here's why: I just won't call a raise with A-10 because it is a hand that can be dominated so easily. Another thing you had working against you is that another player was the one doing the pushing. You can open-raise with that hand, but it's way too dicey to call. The thinking here goes back to David Sklansky's famous Gap Principle, where it takes a stronger hand to call a raise than to make a raise. Even if you knew it would be a race -- your A-10 vs. his, say, 4-4 -- you would still be a 53-47 underdog, and you would certainly rather get most of your money in the middle when you are a big favorite. Perhaps the only consideration to recommend a call is bust equity -- what it would mean to have that specific player eliminated and what it would mean to your stack -- but it's near the bottom of the list, and you indeed considered it before wisely ignoring it.

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From Erick in Chicago: "I've read your mailbag for a couple of months now and I feel that some of the advice provided has given me a little more confidence in playing 'my game.' I feel that I have a lot of tools required to play good poker and love the game for the competition more than anything. I believe I have good instincts, I know when to change gears, I have a low tilt factor, and I am very attentive to what is happening during each hand. I am also very advanced in math. However, when applying it to poker, I am a novice. To have a complete game, I feel this is what I need. Do you agree and could you recommend the best mathematical poker guide? I have noticed some can be vague, difficult to understand because of wording, or provide incorrect data due to miscalculations.''

I became a writer because I thought there was no math involved -- and here I am, writing about poker. Go figure. So, from that standpoint -- me being a recovering math idiot -- I found Phil Gordon's books tremendously helpful both in knowledge and explanation. In "Poker: The Real Deal,'' Gordon and co-author Jonathan Grotenstein gently walk you through the concept on pot odds and implied pot odds, which are the two most important calculations you need to know. In Gordon's "Little Green Book,'' he offers other probabilities that help in understanding the texture of the board. For some of the seminal and most intensive calculations and math-based concepts, however, check out the works of David Sklansky, starting with "The Theory of Poker.''

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From Jason in Oregon: "I was playing a no-limit tournament, and got all my chips in the pot with Kc and Ks. One player who had me covered called me with Kh-Qh. Before the inevitable ending, how big of a favorite was I before the flop, on the flop, and the turn (board came Js 9c 8h Kd 10h in that order)?''

Preflop, you were a dominating 86-13 percent favorite (1 percent of the time you would tie). On the flop, you were about a 4-1 favorite, with a tie likely a little more than 1 percent of the time. On the turn, you were better than 90 percent. Then came the suckout. Many sites offer odds calculators. I used the one on Cardplayer.com.

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From blantrip: "I was looking over the 2006 WSOP schedule and it looks crazy. The main event is so long, you have to be rich just to play in it for two weeks! Why don't they raise the entry fee and limit the field of nonprofessionals? If this where to happen, it seems like it would make it a little more exclusive.''

Who says an exclusive main event is good? Like they say, anyone can enter and anyone can win. And when anyone such as Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer indeed do win, then the game grows, and I think that's a good thing.

What I think you will see at the WSOP this year -- next year at the latest -- is a bigger buy-in event (perhaps $50,000 to $100,000 or more), which will create the closest thing to the exclusive event you're talking about.

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From John in Calgary: "I read your article about backers and the potential ethical issues. My question/comment is kind of related. How about relatives playing in the same tourney? I'm not talking about [sister and brother] Annie [Duke]/Howard [Lederer], but regular Joe Shmo and his brother-in-law. Both win a seat to the main event, and both somehow manage to, at some point, end up at the same table. They may or may not collude, but there will certainly be the appearance of impropriety. Do you think friends/relatives should announce their relationships beforehand, or has this simply ever been a major concern?''

Yes, it is a big concern. Any chance of collusion or soft play remains a major issue, whether it is friends, relatives or financial angels at the same table. Some players with such relationships go to great lengths to avoid suspicion. Chip Jett, for instance, says he and his wife, Karina, will go to the tournament director to request a table change if they draw the same table. Barry Greenstein, for another, says he and his son, Joe Sebok, or his students will always show their hands in pots they play together. The big problem remains that collusion is such a difficult thing to prove.

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From Scott in Ohio: "Just a question about your article on players backing other players in poker tournaments. I had heard (I read it on the Internet, so it MUST be true) that some of these online poker sites that sponsor some of the pros are picking up their buy-ins. Obviously you are closer to this scene than I am, but could you comment on this, and how does this affect this particular situation?''

I don't have a problem with online sites paying players' buy-ins because the online sites aren't at the same table as the players they are backing. That's the difference. A player who gets put into an event by an online site is comparable to a pro golfer getting an appearance fee for a tournament. The sponsor is looking to get some bang for his chips, supporting a player it thinks will get to the final table and wear the logo on television and blah, blah, blah. Good investment. The suspicion issue is players who back other players sitting at the same table and playing pots together. This is especially acute when one of the players has a reputation for playing wild hands. A guy who might regularly play 3-5 suited suddenly raises questions when he does it against the guy who's backing him.

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Steve Rosenbloom is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, writes a syndicated poker column for the Chicago Tribune, and is the author of the upcoming book "The Best Hand I Ever Played."

Steve Rosenbloom has been contributing to the ESPN Poker Club since March 2005. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Rosenbloom writes for the Chicago Tribune and is the author of "The Best Hand I Ever Played."

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