CASINO-OLOGY: The Importance of Discouraging Team Play in Your Poker Room

Poker is a low margin game to start, but when you have to understand the nuances of team play, the margin just gets smaller. Bill Zender says understanding how to identify team play and how to deal with it can make the difference between profits and losses for your poker room.

CASINO-OLOGY: The Importance of Discouraging Team Play in Your Poker Room

One of the most common forms of undesirable gambling activity in poker is team play. Team play occurs when two or more players “gang up” on other players at the table. Some team play is downright cold blooded; the team players coordinate their efforts to clean-out your regular and occasional players. The idea of gambling in poker is that all players are to “individually” play their best to overcome other players at the table, and many people who play poker for fun and entertainment find team play extremely aggravating. When given a choice, a number of your “steady” customers will say “enough is enough” and gamble elsewhere. Regardless of the size of your poker room, every room has some form of team play activity on the poker games.

Basically, there are two forms of team play; (1) opportunistic play where certain players will informally trade hand information or not play “all out” against players they know, and (2) arranged play which usually constitutes prearranged signals and strategies with the intention of gaining an unfair advantage. Team play is not considered “cheating” legally, but the fact that teams are in your card room waiting to “pick unsuspecting customers clean” needs to be controlled or eliminated whenever possible. Following are the two different forms of recognized team play explained in more detail.

Opportunistic Team Play

Opportunistic, or soft team play is the most common form of team play and is always situation specific.

Friend Favors – This occurs when one player acts less aggressively towards another player based on personal relationships. They could be family members or good friends who do not want to challenge each other. There is nothing agreed upon previously and its occurrence depends on the table situation at the time.

Local Courtesy – This is the more common form of opportunistic team play. It occurs when local players are involved in a pot with a poker player who is an outsider. In some cases, these team players will use a basic and common form of signals to let other locals know they have a good hand or they intend to fold at the next opportunity. It is commonly referred to as letting a other local players know they have a good hand and to “get out of the way.”

Possible Jackpot Hand – If one of the players at the table holds a possible jackpot combination, he may signal the other players at the table to stay in the hand. This results in table action typically “checking” all the way to the “river.” In most situations, this signal is verbal, and the regular players at the table will stay in and check. Players who comply are frequently given a piece of the jackpot by the jackpot winner.

For the most part, this opportunistic/soft team play is considered part of poker and is more or less accepted by regular poker players.

Arranged Team Play

This form of team play is based on signaling and a prearranged strategy and may also involve specific table positioning. The purpose is to gain an unfair advantage over the other players at the table. This is also referred to as “hard” team play. There are many ruthless team strategies, but here are some of the more used approaches:

Colluding to Play the Best Hand – Also known as “Top Hand.” The partners will signal the value of their two-cards hand with the strongest hand staying in the pot while the others drop out. Basically, this promotes the strongest team player while reducing the amount of team money lost if the targeted player just happens to win the hand. The biggest indicator of this activity is that the team players will hardly ever play the same pot together.

Signaling Value of Discards – This is done so the partners pass along card information and know which cards are removed from play and which remain. It will assist the remaining pot partner in determining number of outs (possibilities) to make their hand. For the most part this technique is hard to detect during the playing session and is only realized after watching these players together on same game over time.

Raising Out (Also known as Middling, Cross-firing, and Whipsawing) – This is probably the more common form of team play. Partners are sitting apart on the table and will raise and re-raise in an attempt to chase opponents out of the pot. This technique works well with opponents who play “tight,” but is worthless, if not dangerous, with players who play loose and take shots at filling straights and flushes. This is somewhat easy to detect due to the raising and reraising patterns. It is also something the other players at the table recognize quite quickly.

Inflating the Pot – Partners will use this technique if one of teammates has a great hand and they want to keep the opponent(s) in the pot to the “river.” This creates a situation where the target player(s) is focusing on the betting strategy of the weaker partner while the stronger partner does not react to the strength of his hand until the river round of betting.

It is common for “hard” team partners to employ several different team strategies during a playing session, but one thing is consistent and that is the team’s overall commitment to taking as much money from the other players at the table as possible.

Detecting and Discouraging Team Play

If team play becomes too aggressive, your card room will begin to lose a number of the regular players who help hold the games together on a daily basis. Team play, left unchecked, will reduce the number of games spread daily which will decrease the amount of Poker Room revenue. Your first step for preventing this situation from happening is to establish a set of rules targeted at deterring team play. The most important steps, which are by no way limited to these steps, are:

  1. The card room needs to establish basic rules such as (1) limiting raising and (2) allowing players to see any hand after the pot is won.
  2. When given a choice, try to keep friends and family from sitting on the same table.
  3. Asking regular players to report incidences of aggressive team play. The regulars will have an idea who the strong-armed team players are.

It is also smart to keep a player log of suspected team players, and customers who have been warned about their suspected team actions. It is good procedure to have information about the activities going on in the poker room and an activity log is a great start at keeping on top of day-to-day poker business.

In addition, poker room management needs to strongly consider “disciplining” players who continue to engage in team play. It would be prudent to use the “three-strike rule” system; warning, suspension, and finally, barring. Some poker room managers protest the possibility of barring any players from the poker room, however it is better to expel a couple of players for hard team play than it is to lose a dozen players who are tired of playing in a room where they feel they do not get a fair chance to win.

Articles by Author: Bill Zender

As former Nevada Gaming Control Agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. In the past, Zender has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino and has additional operational experience in card room casinos in California and is considered an expert in Asian gaming. Besides his practical gaming experience, Zender holds a bachelors in hotel administration and a masters in business. As a gaming author Zender has penned seven non-fiction books on gaming including Card Counting for the Casino Executive, and the Casino-ology series. Owner/consultant of Bill Zender and Associates, Zender spent was general manager at a major California cardroom casino from 2018-2019. For more information, visit