Games: Poker

When Maria Stern won the $1,500 seven-card stud tournament at the World Series of Poker at Binion's this year, it seemed like a victory for all women poker players. Then it turned out that she had made a deal with the second-placed player, whereby she took the winner's gold bracelet in return for his taking a bigger share of the prize money. This devalued her victory more than somewhat, though she had played well to get so far and might have won the title legitimately had she played it out. So when Ms Stern was interviewed in Card Player, I expected to read some explanation or justification for her action.

Instead I read: "I believe in destiny. I think there is a cause and effect for everything in life. Sometimes you may ask, `Why is this happening to me? I don't deserve it.' It's not a question of deserve or not deserve, it is a question of karma."

To which one might reply: making deals about the result of a world series tournament is very bad karma. Deals about sharing out the prize money among the final players are fair enough, and indeed commonplace, provided they are openly arrived at. Deals about winning a world title devalue the result and are unworthy of the players. Such action is against the spirit of the game.

Certainly it is very important that tournaments are played out, and seen to be played out, fairly. This is something that British card rooms need to watch. If the final two or three players in contention choose to make a deal over dividing the prize money, relative to their chip positions, that is fair enough. The arrangement should be made openly, at the table, in front of any other contestant concerned. At a tournament at the Rainbow Casino in Birmingham recently, a London poker player complained of "blatant collusion" between local players, who were not betting into each other at the final table. He was told there was nothing the dealers or supervisors could do about it. Why not? If anyone has any practical suggestions, drop me a line at The Independent. Meanwhile the European Association of Poker Players is taking up the issue, to try to establish clear rules of conduct.

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