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A Piece of Each Other

by Lou Krieger |  Published: Mar 22, 2005


A few months ago, Frank Palumbo, a player from Wantagh, New York, sent an e-mail to Card Player columnists Roy Cooke, Bob Ciaffone, Mike Cappelletti, and me. He is concerned with proposition betting among tournament players, along with the commonly accepted practice of tournament players taking a few percentage points of one another. Although I responded to him privately, I've pondered his concerns for quite some time now and I'm going to take Frank up on his offer to " … print all or part of this in Card Player."

Frank wrote: "I've been an avid card player for about four years now and I've read many of your articles with tremendous interest. Poker is truly on the cusp of something even bigger, if we can even imagine that. Legitimacy, credibility, and poker leadership have never been needed more.

"I support the move toward better organization of 'this game of ours,' as well as more beneficial regulation. The adoption of universal rules, relaxation of local gambling laws, lobbying for better Internet laws, and enhancing the opportunity for as many people as possible to participate in the newest 'American Dream' is critical. I also like the idea of the regular poker player being allowed to join some dues-paying organization of U.S. players, kind of like the golfers of America or AAA.

"I play in cardrooms as well as on the Internet, and I see a lot of things that are needed to make the game more legitimate for mainstream acceptance. Poker leadership is critical to the game in the next few years.

"The reason why I am writing you today involves the need for the industry to take a leadership role in cleaning up 'proposition or private betting' among tournament players. This may be a touchy subject, since it cuts close to the quick of the professional's lifestyle and income. While I am not questioning the integrity and drive of any pro-player icons to win and play aggressively in a tournament, I think the accepted practice of side bets or pieces of other players introduces a bias that is not fair to the other players in the tournaments.

"Think about it for a minute. Poker is a game of skill, luck, and, hopefully, affording all who enter a tournament a level playing field. Frequently, our poker leaders often exchange a percentage with another player in a tournament. I think this introduces a bias into the action and can negatively impact players who don't have a stake in it.

"I am in NO WAY suggesting that the poker heroes we look up to from the $2-$4 hold'em table are in any way cheating. They are not. I am sure they are approaching each hand to win. However, we are all human, and I can't get into everyone's mind to determine if someone may be taking his foot off the gas in a certain situation if the percentage player is also involved in a hand. I think the practice adds nothing to the game at hand for the masses. Since we can't get into the minds of all players, we should eliminate this practice for the greater good of poker. This suggestion is probably akin to getting rid of fighting during an NHL game.

"Ultimately, a poker game or tournament needs to be a game that is free of bias. Side betting among players introduces a potential bias, in my humble opinion. Those in poker leadership positions should discourage side bets in poker tournaments. That's my view from the $2-$4 table."

I agree with much of what Frank said in his e-mail. When players take pieces of each other in tournaments, it can create the illusion of impropriety, regardless of whether any monkey business is actually going on. It's sort of like Joe Jr. coming into the family business. When he's promoted to a position of responsibility, the question of nepotism is always going to be in the forefront of his colleagues' minds, even if Joe Jr. is the best candidate for the job. It just smells kind of funny, and even when things are on the up-and-up, it can have as bad an effect as if something shady was actually going on.

So, what can be done to preclude this sort of thing from casting a cloud over poker tournaments? At this point, convincing players not to take pieces of one another for the good of the game is a tough sell. As long as tournament participants are putting up all or most of the money comprising the prize pool, deals are going to be made and percentages taken as a form of arbitrage. The variance in tournament play can be staggering, and trading small percentages of one's self can go a long way toward reducing bankroll swings. After all, even when playing well, it can be a long time between big-money finishes.

In my opinion, only when players themselves take a broader view and act in the best interest of the game, or when prize pools are sponsor driven or share-selling is prohibited by TV, will this sort of thing come to an end.

I don't like it, but then again, I don't play very many tournaments. If I did, I might see things differently, because just like most players, I'd want to do whatever I could to mitigate the extremely high variance that is part and parcel of tournament play. Actually, I am guilty of this sort of thing myself, sometimes sharing 5 percent of myself with friends to give each of us rooting interest in each other. Is 5 percent enough to play differently against that opponent? Not at all. Just as most players would, I'd check-raise my grandmother out of her last dime in a poker game. But would I eschew this practice if the rules required it or a sponsor mandated it? You bet. I'd do it in an instant.

So, while I plead guilty of portioning out parts of myself in "saves," I agree with Frank Palumbo's position on this issue. But as long as players supply the prize pool, I don't think there is sufficient leverage anywhere to mandate a change in what's a practice of very long standing. When change does come – and I firmly believe it will – the driving force will come not from the players but from a growing number of tournament sponsors. After all, money talks. And when a significant portion of the prize pool is a sponsor-provided overlay, the guys who pony up the dough are going to want a tournament free from even the slightest hint or allegation that the prize money is being divvied up by competitors who have traded shares of each other. And as sponsorship continues to grow, the sound of that money talking will be louder than it ever has before. spades

Raise your game with Lou Krieger. Visit him online at His newest book, Winning Omaha/8 Poker, is available at