Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Soft Playing is Cheating: Play Hard or Don’t Play

What I’m about to say may surprise you. You might be a cheater and not even know it.

If you are in a poker game for money and are taking it easy on one of your buddies, you are cheating yourself, your friend, and every other player in the game. I realize that’s a bold statement, but it’s absolutely true.

In the poker world, we have a term for this type of play. It’s called soft playing. When two friends, spouses, relatives or flat out cheaters don’t bet against each other, they’re soft playing.

Soft playing destroys the integrity of the game of poker and it’s wrong, flat out wrong.

I realize that many players have no idea that this behavior is so unethical. More often than not, soft playing (not to be confused with slow playing) is done innocently with no harm intended. Perhaps a gentleman doesn’t want to take a lady’s last $20. Or, one player doesn’t want to raise his friend because his friend is losing too much money.

Well, if you are so concerned with your buddy losing money, or if you’re trying to get a date, by not betting against a beautiful woman, try taking them both out to dinner after the game. The poker table is no place for compassion and kindness. I’m sort of kidding, but I think you get the idea.

The unintended byproduct of soft playing a friend is how it affects the action for the rest of the players at the table. For example, let’s say that you and a pal both make the final table of a No Limit Texas Hold ‘em tournament that pays the top five finishers. There are six players remaining and you and your buddy are still hanging in. Remember, the next player out gets nothing. Everyone at the table wants to see someone get knocked out so that they can finish in the money.

How do you think the other players at the table would feel if you are soft playing your friend?

By not playing hard against him, you are absolutely cheating the other players at the table. That may not have been your intention, but ignorance of the rule won’t get you off the hook when you get caught. Soft playing in a tournament can result in severe penalties, including disqualification to both you and your friend.

Poker is not a team sport. It’s every man for himself. It’s perfectly okay to root for your buddies and hope they do well, but when it’s time to play the game, you have to give it your all.

All by yourself, that is.

Soft playing is, more often than not, totally innocent. But you need to be aware that there are snakes out there, and it’s important that you spot them before they team up against you.

If you’re playing online and you smell something fishy, e-mail customer support and have them investigate. At reputable poker sites, a representative will look into your claim by reviewing the hand(s) in question, as well as the betting history of the suspected cheaters. If suspicious betting behavior is detected, the crooks will be banned from the site and you will likely receive a refund for the money you lost due to player collusion.

If you see something strange in a live game, notify the floor man immediately and ask him to investigate.

Visit for Daniel’s Negreanu’s book, More Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.

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