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Swapping Action

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Aug 01, 2018


Selling action is a common occurrence in poker tournaments and one that I’ve talked about in a recent column. Instead of selling action, players will often trade action with other people they think to be of a similar skill level to themselves. By spreading out their buy-in over several people, they can keep a good chunk of their own profits and also do well if someone else makes money in the tournament.

For instance, let’s say that I’m playing the World Series of Poker main event and I have bought myself into the event. I want to have as many chances at a big score as possible so I find 10 people that I think are similarly skilled to me and trade five percent with each of them. This way, if I cash they each get five percent of what I’ve cashed for and if they cash, I get five percent of what they cashed for. I have a friend that I always trade three percent with in every event we both play.

Arrangements like this are commonplace and in many tournaments it doesn’t affect how you play. Most of the time, because tournament fields are big, you wouldn’t even play with someone that you have swapped action with and it wouldn’t change any decisions you make in the tournament. Even if you do play with someone that you swapped with, having only a couple percent of their action would ensure that you don’t change how you play either. It makes much more sense to look out for your own interests when you have a much bigger piece of yourself than you do of the people you are swapping with.

Recently, a long-established poker couple (Alex Foxen and Kristen Bicknell) came under some fire for questionable play when they both made it to three-handed play in a $5,000 buy-in tournament at the Venetian. It was later revealed that they had a regular swap for all tournaments that they play in together, and when they had roughly even chip stacks at the final table, they decided to swap even more, a hefty 30 percent. Up until this, I don’t really have any problem with how they swapped action, but when you increase your swap at the final table to 30 percent and you have the added incentive of not busting your significant other, you have now put yourself in an ethical quagmire.

They ended up playing a couple of hands in ways that are incredibly questionable for their competence level and they were all caught on camera as it was a live-streamed event. If this wasn’t a tournament with exposed hole cards at the final table, nobody would have known the egregiousness of their play. We would have gone on without knowing that they had swapped 30 percent and nobody would have reason to question them in any way. Now, we know these things and players will know to be wary around them if they’re at the same table in the future.

Lots of people have already written lots of things about what should be done after the fact, and one of the smart suggestions I heard was that when you reach a final table, you should be forced to disclose if you have a piece of anyone else at the final table. Someone even suggested that you should be required to state this information at the beginning of the tournament. I think this is a good idea and it has been tried before.

There was an invitation-only poker league that went belly-up and ultimately screwed a bunch of people out of money they were promised that ran in 2011 called the Epic Poker League. Players were given lots of perks, some of which were never realized, like a free room, free food, and a per-diem to play in these tournaments. In exchange, we were required to follow their dress code, participate in interviews/tv spots if requested, and we were required to disclose if anyone else in the field had a staking interest in us. Due to filing bankruptcy and cancelling the $1,000,000 freeroll that was scheduled to take place in 2012, EPL and the people who ran it, Annie Duke and Jeffrey Pollack, are persona non grata around the poker world. They should be ostracized, but they did get this one thing right.

In order to correctly police actions like Foxen and Bicknell’s, information is important. As stated before, if this wasn’t a televised or live-streamed event, there is no way we would have ever known that something was odd about their play. In order to counteract that, requiring people to state their swaps either at the start of the tournament or at the final table, would grant some added transparency to these events and might help to avoid sticky situations like this one. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG