Should Poker Players Who Reach Final Tables Be Forced to Confirm Swaps?

Reaching a final table when you’re in a poker tournament should be a treasured moment no matter what your level is. So what happens when you find out that two or more players at the last table in the event you’re playing had a piece of each other and have swapped action?

It can taint the last action of a tournament, create bad blood at the elite level of the game and friendships can end up on the line as well as poker chips.


Should Poker Players Declare Swaps Upon Reaching Final Tables?

The dispute between poker’s finest started as it so often does, with a seemingly innocuous tweet on the popular social media site Twitter.

Arends, a Dutch pro who himself has earned over $522,000 in live tournaments alone, as well as having huge success online, added: “I get that it’s hard to enforce but sites/tours could at least make it mandatory and put a proper punishment on it, like a temp ban or something. At least there is some risk in not disclosing then and would help make it the standard at least at high stakes where it’s most relevant.”

Sam Greenwood was one who took issue with this stance, as the Canadian replied: “If there’s a punishment it disincentives people to share the information. I guess my bigger concern is people will actively lie to avoid getting caught instead of passively lying because it’s socially awkward.”

The recent GGPoker Super MILLION$ winner and Ireland-based Bulgarian high roller Alex Kulev asked about the logistics of the proposal from Arends. “How do you make it mandatory?” he asked. “Do you expect players to write it in the chat box or how would it work? I mean, I am up for it; I just don’t see how it will be put into practice.”

Players Flock to Agree with Arends

One player to agree with Arends was the Irish online poker crusher and long-time tournament professional, Dara O’Kearney. The former Gamble Online columnist said: “It of course still is an individual sport but I think other players have the right to know if you have a financial interest in another player so they can be on the lookout for collusion.”

The former Irish ultramarathon runner added: “Obviously it’s a spectrum, but we can agree the worst situation would be two players colluding because they have a big swap which they don’t disclose and nobody else knows about.”

Therein lies the concern and Brian Raben was one of many to throw his lot behind O’Kearney, and by extension, Arends, saying: “It’s as crooked as an athlete gambling on a sporting event they are in.  Should absolutely be prohibited to stake players in an event you are participating in or staking multiple people in the same event.  At the very least it’s collusion.”

Another to be behind Arends’ logic but find issues with the practical application of his idea was American poker reporter Jason Glatzer, who said: “Great idea but not feasible to enforce. It’s like events that don’t allow deals – it isn’t enforceable that players make a deal on the side which happens a ton more than reported.”

Dan Smith, who donates millions to good causes as part of his Double Up Drive charity endeavour, thought it ‘would be a great norm’, while Johnnie ‘Vibes’ Moreno said that, “Whenever my bro and I are sat at the same table we disclose that we’re brothers and have a 5% auto swap in tournaments.”

How Would the ‘Rule’ Ever Be Enforced?

Patrick Curran hit the nail on the head for many when he wrote: “How would transparency be enforced? You can’t compel someone to tell you a secret. Seems unenforceable. Relying on poker players being honest isn’t going to work,” adding that the ruling would “only [affect] people who follow the rules, so it actually may be a step in the wrong direction. Gives more information to bad actors, and the bad actors don’t divulge anything.”

Some went further, saying that any action or swaps would need to be confirmed before the first card was peeled off the deck, whether the game was happening live or online. Arends, however, said that the ruling ‘needs to be somewhat practical’, hinting that the pre-tournament approach possibly created more of a problem than a solution.

Turkish pro Orpen Kisacikoglu went further, saying: “I feel like this might actually increase the amount of unnecessary speculation and scare people off from the game. If people are colluding (which is extremely rare if any?), it is gonna show in the hands they play, not by knowing the numbers they have swapped with each other?”

PokerStars – and many other sites – already have anti-collusion technology in place that can detect suspicious betting patterns in-game, and this measure has led to a number of high-profile investigations. One such examination of a previous online satellite tournament that saw two overseas players collude eventually saw them removed from a live tournament.

Jaime Staples, a popular and influential poker professional who has happy associations with big brands, said: “I like it as a courtesy but also would extend to 1k online for comparable size of player pool. Can’t enforce obviously, but I like it as a cultural expectation.”

Can we expect poker players to change and announce potentially tournament-deciding information ahead of the final table? Don’t hold your three-bets… but stranger things have happened.

Joseph Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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