Surrounding the Sucker at Poker

When does a team really get a sucker in their sights? When one of the cheaters has the nuts, or close to it, and the other cheater has a hand they can claim they were either playing aggressively or poker bluffing with. For example, consider the following $10–$20 poker Hold’em hand, shown in Figure 7.3, where the cheaters have a made flush and top pair, respectively, and the victim has top pair and the nut flush draw. There is $60 in the pot after the flop, and the dealer just puts up the turn card.

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Teams can make suckers pay way more than they should to draw to their hand:


Cheater 1                                                                                Cheater 2



Normal play, in this case, might have Cheater1 bet, the victim call, and Cheater2 raise, after which both Cheater1 and the victim call. However, if the cheaters both raise, the victim must now call an additional $20 ($40 total) to draw to the nut flush. Here’s how the action breaks down.

Without collusion:

  • Status: $60 in the pot after the flop
  • NonCheater1: $20 bet
  • NonVictim: $20 call
  • NonCheater2: $40 raise
  • NonCheater1: $20 call = $160 ($20 for the victim to call)

With collusion:

  • Status: $60 in the pot after the flop
  • Cheater1: $20 bet
  • Victim: $20 call
  • Cheater2: $40 raise
  • Cheater1: $40 raise = $180 ($40 for the victim to call)

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The victim will probably realize in both cases that the player who raised on the turn already has a flush, which means there are at least two additional cards of the flush suit gone from the deck. With that knowledge, the victim can determine that there are only seven outs in the deck, instead of the regular nine (knowing the suit of two unseen cards is suffi cient to discount them in this case). By that reasoning, there are 44 unknown cards, seven of which make the victim’s nut flush. The odds of drawing one of those cards is 37 to 7, or about 5.3 to 1 against. If the cheater without the made flush has another card of the flush suit, then the odds are 38 to 6, or 6.33 to 1 against.

Now, look at the pot odds with and without collusion. Without collusion, the victim must call $20 with $160 in the pot: 8 to 1 odds. With collusion, the victim must call $40 to have a shot at the $180 in the pot: 4.5 to 1 odds. Because the odds of making the flush draw are greater than the ratio of the cost of the call to the money in the pot (5.3 versus 4.5), it is not mathematically correct for the victim to call.

To avoid attracting any more attention, Cheater2 should only call the second raise (perhaps claiming to be in fear of a higher flush), but even that added $20 only makes the odds 5 to 1, which is still short of the 5.3 to 1 odds required to make the call mathematically correct.

A far simpler scenario, of course, is where the cheaters raise and re-raise to drive the other players out and capture a small or medium-sized pot. Smart cheaters will play most of their hands straight and only put the squeeze on their victims when they have a near lock on the hand and a reasonable second-best hand with which to push the action, so be on the lookout. Of course, if you suspect you’re caught in the middle of two cheaters and you have the nuts, call all bets and take your share of the pot. There’s very little that’s better in life than letting two miscreants buy you and your sweetie a nice dinner.