Friday, August 20, 2021

Chatting cards and implicit collusion

It’s been a funny old summer. Since I took to poker at the young age of 42 in 2007, I’ve spent most of my summers in the desert chasing jewellery. I first showed up in Vegas bracelet hunting in 2008 and until the pandemic went every year (except 2012 when a desire to watch the Olympics conspired with a lack of desire to lose the 25k that I’d lost at the series pretty much every year until then to convince me to sit that one out). 

This summer has been largely similar to last summer, except we remained in lock down through the start of it. After a period of solid grinding the various series that were on, I was feeling a little burned out with online poker, and a lot of other stuff on my To Do list had piled up still undone, so I decided to scale back my play to a couple of days a week to allow me to catch up on the coaching, writing and content creation while enjoying the Euros and the Olympics. 

Satellite Master Class

In addition to the third book, Barry and I have been working on a satellite master class course for LearnProPoker. 

This is the course for you if you prefer video content to books, or if you enjoyed the satellite book and want to take your satellite game even further.

If you have previously read the book we cover a lot of the same foundational material, but we go way beyond it. It features 30 videos and includes a lot of content we simply could not put in the satellite book because of the format. This includes post flop strategy, live sessions and hand reviews. We didn’t leave anything on the table with this, everything is covered. We also have way more hand examples in general than in the satellite book. 

If you bought the satellite book just to brush up on your satellite skills and you learn well from reading, you probably don’t need this course. The book more than covers the fundamentals of satellites. If, however, you want to make satellites a regular format you crush or if you learn better with videos, I highly recommend this course.

If you use the signup code DOKE you get $20 off.

The third book

My third poker strategy book with Barry Carter is now basically finished, subject to final revisions and edits. This one is on ICM, and should be out in the next few weeks.


When my first book came out, one of the things I did at Barry’s behest to promote it was start an AMA thread on Cardschat, the world’s friendliest poker forum. I quickly realised that wasn’t just a tagline, and it was the start of a beautiful friendship. I was still answering questions there when the second book came out so we just kept going, and I was both honoured and thrilled when they asked me to become a full ambassador for the site this summer. In addition to the usual ambassador duties, I’ll be creating some exclusive video and written strategy content for them, so if there’s anything you’d like me to tackle on this front, let me know. 

Poker concepts I understood before poker

On my recent appearance on the People Who Read People podcast, Zachary asked me what things I took from running into poker that proved useful. That got me thinking about concepts I learned purely from poker. I could think of surprisingly few. It’s maybe a function of how late I started playing, but I think I’d learned most of the important concepts like equity, Ev, bluffing and balance elsewhere. In fact, even something as specific as implicit collusion.

Implicit collusion in poker is where a number of players realise that’s it in all their interests to cooperate in a hand rather than simply maximise their individual chances. For example, when the shortest stack moves all in on the bubble of a satellite, a group of players may decide to check the hand down to maximise the chances the shorty busts. 

One non poker example comes from my refereeing days. I don’t talk about these very much, largely because of all the things I’ve tried and done in my life, refereeing gave me the least pleasure and most unpleasant experiences. It really is a thankless task that requires levels of masochism beyond any I possess. That’s another story though, and not my point here. One of the few pleasant memories I have from the two years I reffed is the Special Olympics. The last match I refereed there (which turned out to be the last match I ever refereed) was a semi final between Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

I doubt you need me to tell you this particular pairing caused considerable trepidation among the organisers to the point they considered splitting the teams and putting them in different semis. I was called to a meeting the day before and asked if I thought this was a good idea. I didn’t. Apart from the inherent unfairness to the other teams of manipulating the draw in this way, I advised them that if they did, both teams were likely to win their semis, as they appeared to be a class above the opposition. If that happened, splitting them now was just kicking the can down the road, and a final that had to be canned would be a much bigger deal than a semi. So the draw stood. I asked what the situation was if one or both teams refused to take to the field. 

“Immediate disqualification”

So it was with considerable trepidation I approached the manager of both teams before the match. They were socially distancing before it was in fashion, eyeing each other warily. The Saudi manager was first to break the silence.

“My team cannot take the field”

“Why not?”

“Political reasons”

At this point the Israeli chimed in

“The same goes for my team”

Both men seemed hesitant, even sad, about the words coming from their mouths. I looked at the two sets of players eagerly warming up, apparently unaware of the storm brewing.

“What happens if we both withdraw? Do our players get bronze medals?” the Israeli asked hopefully.

I shook my head. 

“I’m afraid the rules state any team not taking to the field is disqualified”

Both men looked at their sets of players, then at each other, their shared sadness obvious. An awkward silence followed.

“The match is scheduled to start in five minutes. Are both your decisions final or is there someone you can consult with?”

They looked at each other.

“I can try to phone my association. But I’m not optimistic”

The Israeli mulled this over.

“I can try also but it’ll take a while to get to a phone”

He glanced at the Saudi who concurred.

“Yes, it would take me a while too”

“Ok, well, see what you can do”

Both men pulled me to one side. Both said exactly the same thing.

“If I’m not back in time, start the match. If I’m told to pull my team, I’ll do it during the match”

Then both men left, and returned shortly after I’d blown the final whistle. If I didn’t know better I’d say they both watched from a discreet distance, waiting for the final whistle. 

Both lodged an official objection to the match having gone ahead, but thanked me privately for having done so. 

Implicit collusion, clearly.



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