Is collusion a thing in the high-roller world?

The recent accusations towards a romantic couple in a big buy-in tournament raised questions regarding the fairness of the high-roller scene.

A few weeks back, Alex Foxen and Kristen Bicknell, two professional poker players, who happen to be a couple, played the $5,000 MSPT event together and both ended up at the final table. As both of them are professionals, no one can fault them for this. The two eventually got 3-handed against a fellow pro, Kahle Burns. Alex and Kristen offered a deal to Kahle, who refused.

The three kept on playing. A few hands played out between Foxen and Bicknell made the poker world believe they might soft-played each other - meaning they changed their regular strategy in order not the harm each other's stack too much. A hand which many believe would normally result in Bicknell to bust especially made the poker community upset. The hand was analyzed by high-stakes poker pro turned Youtuber, Doug Polk on his channel:

This situation exposed an even bigger issue: swapping and piece-selling. As it is very well known, players who regularly play the same tournaments have a habit of swapping their action, to reduce variance. What's, even more, is the regular practice of selling pieces of action - the bigger the buy-in the bigger piece of their action they sell. This sometimes can create a nasty situation, when players with a piece of the other's action play at a final table against each other, with huge pay-jumps. Obviously, they have a financial interest in their buddies to perform well.

Mike Watson wrote this in his recent blog-post: “I regularly play high roller events, where a large percentage of the player pool consists of some subset of the same group of pros,” he started “They often have pieces of each other, and there are many groups of close friends among these pros. Collusion is a very serious concern in this environment where the stakes are so high, the player pool so tightly knit, and financial incentives for an individual are potentially not completely aligned with their own performance in the tournament.”

Cardplayer reached out to several high-profile players to find out what their stance is on the issue: “I think I would say for the high roller circuit that there’s definitely the potential for a problem,” Scott Seiver said. “I’ve always been a huge advocate for open information, the percentages for everyone. I think some people have way too large a piece of other people in ratio to what they have of themselves. My friends and I [in these high rollers] have extremely conservative and strict guidelines about the ratio of ourselves to anyone else in the tournament. I’ve openly offered that information, but it seems like that’s not the norm. Right now things in the high rollers are essentially fine. There was a stretch of time when a lot of people were looking down on a group of German players because they all had similar pieces of each other at various times, but in my opinion, I don’t think there is currently an issue in the high roller events.”

“You don’t really need to disclose anything at final tables because everyone pretty much knows who is friends with each other, and where there might be an issue. It’s normal,” added Bryn Kenney. “You can’t make people tell you their financial situation, as ideal as that may be. You don’t even know if people would even tell the truth. Then it will cause even more problems because all of the backers will be outed and people will harass them for tournament buy-ins.”

“It’s very difficult to police,” said Daniel Negreanu. “I was in the Super High Roller Bowl at the final table, and when I was three-handed I asked Jason [Koon] and Justin [Bonomo], ‘How big is your piece of each other?’ Because if it’s very significant, whether they want to acknowledge it or not, it’s going to have an effect, somewhat, on their mind. So, I felt it was worthwhile to know that. But it’s difficult to make it a policy because the only people who would share [that information] are the honest people. It’s self-policed for the most part.”

What do you think is the solution to the problem? Let us know in the comments!