The WSOP Jamie Gold Rule and the WSOP table-talk rule, has caused a lot of debate in the poker world. However, when Daniel Negreanu mentioned in an interview during the World Series of poker (WSOP) 2011 Main Event that the “idea of collusion is just stupid … it makes no sense,” I was completely astonished. Why? Because as a general principle, especially when betting is involved in sum-0 games (and this most certainly applies both on and off the felt):

The higher the stakes are, the greater the lure will be for players, “colluders” (i.e., people working together as partners), and occasionally even hosts of the game to cheat. Match-fixing scandals in European football attest to the fact that cheating and manipulation can even occur on an international scale involving numerous people in order to pull off the scam.

The statement Daniel made is simply not true … but only when taken at face value. So, I decided not to just believe the information presented or to assume the intended meaning of the statement without first getting the big picture. [The table-talk interview with Daniel Negreanu has unfortunately been removed from YouTube since the publication of this post.]

Check out the example videos below that indicate why I was so surprised to hear such an obviously incorrect statement from an experienced poker pro I greatly respect. The first video clip from the movie Rounders shows a semi-professional poker player correctly “reading” multiple players in a 7-Card Stud game … “straight up” (i.e., without cheating). This is the skill of determining your opponents’ hands based on poker tells and reads, not cheating or colluding to do so.

In this second video clip, you see an example of “collusion” involving the same poker pro and his partner, i.e., “colluder” and very accomplished “card sharp” or “mechanic.” As is the case with most professional cheaters, they communicate via sign language and act as if they don’t know each other. Edward Norton’s character is even verbally abusive to his partner (Matt Damon) while they proceed to rob their opponents right before their very eyes. The terminology and mechanic’s/partnership “moves” that they employ are by the way quite representative of how real cheats “work” in live games.

(Note: The scene to watch begins after Mike picks up Worm from prison at 19m 40s)

And here’s how you can guard against such cheats in your home games (illustrated by one of the world’s very best mechanics, Steve Forte).

Now back to the topic at hand. As I delved deeper into what Daniel actually meant with that statement, it seems that he didn’t literally mean “collusion” itself isn’t probable or possible and that thinking anything to the contrary would be “stupid.” His main point (as far as I understood it) is that the hotly debated, so-called “table-talk” or “Jamie Gold Rule” doesn’t actually deter collusion and that the rule is so unclear that it can’t be universally and consistently enforced.

People certainly enjoy table talk when watching a televised poker event and of course “you have to be able to talk” when playing in a tournament or cash game. But the issue isn’t that simple, as Matt Savage explains in the podcast below; it’s about potential partnerships, and any verbal clue given can be code for a potential partner to respond (normally with a gesture or movement of some kind, which can be as seemingly harmless as grabbing a beer after the comment is made). Entire languages are developed among partners (as you saw in the Rounders video above), and this begs the question, “Does the WSOP Table-Talk Rule deter collusion and/or make the game fairer for all players involved?”

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Let’s get ready to rumble! To get both sides of the argument and a much broader understanding of this “Jamie Gold Rule” debate, listen to this podcast with Matt Savage & Daniel Negreanu (who enters what proves to be a very heated discussion at around minute 27). I think Mr. Savage also makes a lot of good arguments that people shouldn’t just disregard simply because he disagrees with one of poker’s most famous ambassadors.

Read over the excerpt of the WSOP rule on player conduct I’ve provided for you below and feel free to share your thoughts on the issue in the comments field.

All the best,

The WSOP rule that pertains to table talk is outlined in the 2011 World Series of Poker® Official Tournament Rules (Click here for the 2014 rules.)

A. The competitive integrity of all Tournament play at the World Series of Poker is paramount. All participants must adhere to the spirit and letter of the Official Rules of the WSOP which forbid play or any action that is illegal, unethical or constitutes cheating or collusion in any form.
i. Cheating is defined as any act a person engages in to break the established rules of play to gain an advantage.
ii. Cheating includes, but is not limited to, acts such as: collusion; chip stealing; transferring non-value Tournament chips from one event to another; card marking; card substitution; or the use of any kind of cheating device.
iii. Collusion is defined as any agreement amongst two (2) or more players to engage in illegal or unethical acts against other players.
iv. Collusion includes, but is not limited to, acts such as: chip dumping; soft play; sharing card information with another player; sending or receiving signals from or to another player; the use of electronic communication with the intent to facilitate collusion; and any other act that Rio and WSOP deem inappropriate.

B. All participants are entitled to expect civility and courtesy from one another at every Tournament table and throughout the Tournament area. Any individual who encounters behavior that is not civil or courteous — or is abusive in any way — is encouraged to immediately contact a Tournament official.

97. Players are obligated to protect the other players in the tournament at all times. Therefore, whether in a hand or not, players may not a.) Disclose contents of live or folded hands, b.) Advise or criticize play before the action is completed, or c.) Read a hand that hasn’t been tabled. While in a hand, players may not a) discuss hands or strategy with any spectator, or b) seek or receive consultation from an outside source. The one-player-to-a-hand rule will be enforced. Players who violate this rule are subject to penalty in accordance with Rules 39, 96, and 100.”