Despite my recent paean to the Venetian poker room, there is always room for improvement. In fact, this past weekend, I observed one of the more unsettling scenes of collusion I can remember witnessing at a poker table.
The scene was a 2/5 NLHE game late Sunday night / early Monday morning. I was playing alongside my IMOP teammate Barbie in what was a juicy, action-packed game. Most players had $1,000 or more behind, and monster pots were common. It quickly became apparent that three younger guys at the table—Larry, Moe, and Curly—were friends away from the table. Now, I often play at the same table as friends, though I try to keep the number to one or two. I also don't hold back when playing against friends, and they don't hold back against me. In some respects, it is actually more satisfying to beat friends who know my game, as they pose a greater challenge than many random players who are donkey arks passing in the night.
Larry, Moe, and Curly were aggressive, even by this game's hyper-aggro standards, so they often found themselves against each other in pots. They would then do a lot of annoying chatter, stuff like: "I've got a hand, get out", "I know you're on a draw", "Jacks are no good", that sort of thing. It's annoying but generally harmless, unless you count the minutes being sucked out of the game by all the posturing.
Then this weird hand came up. Larry raised to $30 preflop, and was called by Moe, Curly, and Irish Guy (not because he was Irish, but because he had on a Notre Dame windbreaker). The flop came down something highly coordinated, like 9-8-6 with two of a suit. Larry bet $75, Moe called, Curly raised to $150, Irish Guy called, Larry raised to $300, Moe muttered and folded, and Curly pushed all-in for over $1,500, which covered Irish Guy and Larry. Irish Guy thought a long time, then folded.
At this point, Curly starts talking to Larry: "You know I have a big hand, you should fold." Larry responded, "But I have a big hand, too." Larry started counting out chips, and Curly went into overdrive: "Why go broke? Give me the pot and I'll give you your last bet [$300] back." Larry says, "Make it $400 and I'll fold."
Now, the dealer was very young, but to her credit she did speak up at this point: "I can't have you discuss deals at the table. If you want to do something away from the table, that's your business." Larry and Curly ignored her and kept talking about a "rebate" if Larry folded. Finally, Larry folded, and Curly picked up $300 in green and red chips and walked them over to Larry, who put them in his stack.
Now the interesting part of the situation was that, before paying the "rebate", Curly rolled over a combo draw (gutshot and non-nut flush draw). Larry showed down JJ for just an overpair. Irish Guy saw the hands and muttered about laying down top two pair. Irish Guy was visibly bothered, and left within a few hands.
So what was wrong with the Stooges' conduct? In essence, they colluded by raising and reraising to get Irish Guy to fold, then cutting a deal to minimize their variance. It seemed pretty clear that these guys had run this "rebate" deal many times in the past. I have no problem with this practice if the pot has been heads up the entire way, but where a third player has put in a significant amount of money, and is forced to fold to two other players' raises and reraises, the "rebate" practice carries the stench of collusion.
I wish the dealer had called the floor about the situation, and it would have been interesting to see how the situation would have been handled. My gut reaction is that nothing could be done about the hand in question once Irish guy folded, but a stern warning at the minimum would have been in order. In hindsight, Irish Guy had the right response—there's no reason to play an individual game against a team.