Holdem Collusion and You

I read hand posts on a poker forum occasionally to gain insight on how Holdem thinking is changing. Poker is dynamic, and how we play poker, changes with time. What was a breaking edge thought or play a year ago, is likely old hat today.

There was an interesting post I read from a player who was confused about a hand. The stakes were low limit no limit Holdem. Two players were in the hand to see the flop. The poster and a second player (Villain). From the poster’s opinion they were the two best players at the table and had been taking the other players chips.

Pre flop, Poster bets, and all fold except for Villain who calls. So far so good, all is normal. On the Flop Villain is first to act and makes a smallish bet. Poster raises over the size of the pot. Villain is surprised and makes a comment about why Poster is making the large raise. This comment confused Poster.

What was important in this thread was the wording of Villains comment. It reads as if Villain has decided without any verbal agreement between these two players, that implicit collusion was the order of the day between himself and Poster.

When Poster raises the flop bet, Villain realizes his implicit collusion partner doesn’t exist. Now a question is created in Posters mind, “Is this behavior common at the poker tables in live games?”

Collusion though rare does happen.

Collusion though rare does happen.

In my experience, sometimes yes, sometimes no. I have watched (and played this way myself), light betting action when the hand becomes heads up. In most of these hands, both players realize they have no real advantage in the hand.

Each player was hoping to take down the pot uncontested or against a weak player. Now neither player is willing to risk as many chips as if there were weaker players in the hand. This type of action is not in my opinion a fair example of implicit collusion.

What I do see which I identify as implicit or explicit collusion is three or four players always in the pot together playing against a single (perceived weaker) player. A weaker player enters the pot, and by the time it is back to the player, the pot has been raised. The odds are acceptable and the weaker player calls the raise, followed by the other players in the hand. Other weak players may have called too.

The flop is dealt. Play is checked to the weak player. If they check or make small bet, the bet comes back with a healthy raise. Remaining colluding players who are yet to act after the raiser fold.

Generally the raise is enough to drive weaker players out of the hand. The pot is awarded to the raiser. What makes this form of collusion so effective is it looks perfectly normal when viewed as a single hand.

There was a bet or raise, callers, the flop is dealt, there is a bet and raise or a large bet made, everyone folds to the flop bettor. What occurred to arouse suspicion? These same actions happen several times an hour in any Holdem game.

For Neophyte players or weaker players, it looks like the same few people are catching cards while he/she is not. More seasoned players know that as money flows around the table so do the cards. No one catches good cards for extended periods. Better players take action.

To be fair I have never seen this in Las Vegas, and I would not expect to see it in Atlantic City or any where there is major competition for poker players. I have seen types of Collusion in smaller card rooms where there is not a lot of card room competition for players and a generally small player base.

Generally, players participating in this behavior are full time players logging fifty or more hours a week in the card room. In their defense, I think this behavior develops over time, and in many cases there has never been a formal or verbal agreement among these players to collude. It happens over weeks and months of playing together.

There are ways to use players colluding as a weapon against players who are colluding. Generally as soon as they figure out you are on to them, the game changes quickly. You will see tight play, and one or two walking players. The game will change to generally nitty play, and your action dries up.

Unfortunately, if you think collusion is happening at your table, your options are limited. Change tables, the time of day you play, or card rooms. Even if there is no collusion taking place, if the play you see makes you uncomfortable, you are being outplayed. The end result is the same.

Collusion is very hard to prove especially when it is sixty plus hour a week regular players verses a casual player. Management can be a little short sighted and slow to act. These players are their bread and butter. Card Rooms tend to take no action on a single accusation or incident. Eventually Card Rooms do act, but not until it starts to hurt the bottom line.

Collusion in any form is rare in a poker room. If it looks like collusion, it may really be a group of players who sit at the same table every day and know each others playing style as well as their own.

If you are a new Holdem player or new to the card room, you will be put to the test. This is common and should be expected. Have fun and make good decisions, and the rest usually takes care of itself.