A quick bit of background info, for the minority of my readers who haven't played much casino poker. In hold'em there are usually two blind bets required by the rules, so that there is always money in the pot to be contested. The players posting these forced bets are the last to act on the first round of betting. In most Vegas casinos, if everybody folds, and only the two blinds are left to act, the players can agree to "chop the blinds," meaning that they just take back their bets, relinquish their cards, and the game moves on to the next hand.
The reason that most players do this as a matter of course is that the great majority of the time the pot ends up tiny even if they play it out. Statistically, it's just not very likely that you'll end up with two hands strong enough that both players will feel like they have the winner and are willing to put more money into the pot. When the hand gets played out, either because house ruels don't permit a chop or because one player refuses as a habit, most often the result is that the hand just gets checked down, or, alternatively, one player makes a small bet and that ends it. It tends to take more time than the pot is worth.
The negotiation really needs to take only one or two words: "Chop?" is followed by a yes or a no, or a nod or shake of the head.
But once in a while, you get a guy who feels the need to be grandiose about it. His little speech will usually be some variant of this: "I'll always chop, even if I have aces. I don't even look first." I've heard that more times than I can count, and it just makes me roll my eyes. The tone is inevitably one of self-righteous moral superiority, and conveys a sense of, "I am a far better human being than those lowlifes who chop selectively."
The problem with this attitude is that nobody chops selectively, if there is a person with a functioning brain in the seat next to him. Once the person to your right (or left) makes a decision to chop or not to chop, and you agree to it, the two of you are going to stick to that for all future instances, unless you're stupid. I would never let the other guy selectively decide to play just his strong hands, and chop all the weak ones--nor would any other rational player. The result, if everybody thinks that way, is that whatever you decide the first time the question comes up will be in effect as long as you're seated together. And that, in turn, means that once chopping has been established as the routine, it will stay that way, no matter what the hole cards are.*
Of course, playing the hand out is the default condition, and both have to agree to chop independently every time. That means that, in theory, a player could chop, chop, chop, then see pocket aces and suddenly not agree to chop.** The hand would play out, but most of the time Mr. Aces will win only the other blind, and, in the process, earn the contempt of every other player at the table. He will also have effectively voided the friendly agreement for the remainder of the session, and the other guy will thereafter force him to play every hand. It's just not worth the hassle.
All of which means that the righteous smugness of the "I'll even chop aces" crowing is just empty, smug rhetoric. Yeah, of course you will, if you chop with everything else, too--not because you're such a great guy, but because the way the whole process works basically compels you to. So stop trying to look like there's something special about you.
Yes, of course I have chopped when I held aces or kings or queens. So has everybody who has played a lot. It's just like getting aces on a misdeal--you give 'em back to the dealer, shrug, and go on with the next hand. You do not get a star on your forehead for being angelic. It's just how things are done.
Another common speech made in conjunction with the chop question is the morality tale. Somebody will relate a story in which a villain refused to chop, and ended up losing a monster pot. Again, I've heard more of such stories than I could count.
Regardless of whether the stories are true, I think they shouldn't be told. I don't think that any player should feel pressure to agree to a chop. I don't really care if the guy next to me wants to play or chop, as long as it's the same answer every time.
While I'm on the subject of chopping, here's a related rant. What's the deal with players who feel that chopping is a right and privilege, and that they are somehow being wronged by a player who calls or raises, thus preventing a chop from occurring? These numbskulls apparently feel that chopping the blinds is some sort of positive good that they should get to experience, and they are robbed of it by somebody betting.
This ranks among the stupidest attitudes you can have at a poker table. You're there to play. You're there to win money. Chopping the blinds does not allow you to do that. It is a total waste of time. (Not a lot of time, but still.) There are reasons to think that chopping is usually better than the alternative of playing out two weak hands, which takes even more time, usually without meaningful profit to anybody. But every table seems to have at least one maroon who gets positively giddy when he gets to chop, and positively surly when somebody deprives him of that opportunity.
It is yet another in the long list of poker player behaviors that I see all the time, and yet cannot comprehend.
*There are some exceptions if one player has a hand that might hit a high-hand jackpot. Some players want to hold out the possibility of playing out such hands. But to do so necessarily involves collusion with the other blind to win that money, a practice that no ethical player will attempt to pull off or cooperate with.
**I occasionally hear that one card room or another has a rule that whatever any given pair of players first agree to, they must stick with. However, I have never heard this from a source that I thought was truly in the know, and I have never seen any attempt to enforce such a rule, if it does actually exist anywhere.
Sunday, July 18, 2010