Playing $1/2 no limit Texas Holdem in a friend’s garage, a game heavily populated by friendly regulars.
A new guy arrives. He is new to the city, a neighbor of a friend of our host. The neighbor had contacted our host, saying the new guy was looking for a local poker game and here he is. Sitting to my immediate left, he is very quiet, buys in for a small amount and plays passively with a short stack for most of the night. He has a mild French accent, so for purposes of this blog, I’ll call him “Pierre.”
When everybody folds to me in the small blind, I ask Pierre if he wants to chop. His quizzical expression makes it clear he doesn’t understand the question. I explain that when only the small blind and big blind remain, we are allowed to decide, by mutual agreement, not to play the hand at all, instead taking back our blind bets and moving on to the next hand. This is referred to as “chopping the blinds.” No harm, no foul, no wasted time.
“Oh, yes… OK.”
Two more times this happens when Pierre is the big blind and I’m the small blind. I think he gets it.
Mason Malmuth, a noted poker author and owner of Two Plus Two Publishing, has described chopping the blinds as antithetical to the game of poker, as it can create the illusion of partnerships, remove the killer instinct from the game, allow tight players to escape the cost of the blind bets, and create confusion or hard feelings. Maybe these are valid concerns in the high stakes world where large bankrolls and gigantic egos collide. Mason’s ego shows itself here. If he thinks he’s the best player, destined to win all the chips on the table, then passing on any opportunity to accumulate chips means accepting an lower hourly win rate. Just waiting for the next hand to be dealt is time that could have been spent winning. Opportunity cost and all that…
In the low stakes, private garage game poker world, chopping the blinds is the norm. It’s an elegant social protocol that makes the game feel friendlier, keeps mediocre players in the game longer, anchors restless players to their seats, moves the action forward and prevents a prima dona or two from ruining a good vibe.
I’ll always* offer/agree to chop the blinds. It doesn’t matter what my cards are. It doesn’t matter if I’ve looked at my cards before the action gets to me. My decision was made years ago. And thus, each time it happens, my decision is made by everyone who folds before the action gets to me. By bowing out, the other players collectively decided that I should sit this one out.
Some players never chop, and that’s OK with me. No need to apologize. You be you (and let me be me!). I may decide not to engage, but I’m not offended. Annie Duke, in her book Decide to Play Great Poker, has perhaps the greatest line ever used in a poker book, in advising against the practice of widely defending the blinds against late position raises: “Let the dick-measurers measure dicks.” Some of the players who refuse to chop the blinds surely meet this definition.
*At games with high hand, straight flush or bad beat jackpots, players might look at their cards, and ask to see a flop… just to see if lightning might strike their pocket pair or suited connectors. That’s also OK and I might ask to see a flop too.
Back to our garage game. Awhile later, everyone folds again, and with my cards extended halfway to the muck and raised eyebrows ask Pierre, “chop?”
“No, not this time,” he responds. “I have a good hand.”
So I muck and slide the small blind chip to my left. And explain to him, as he seems never to have considered the question of chopping the blinds before tonight, that I’ll always chop. It doesn’t matter what my cards are, it is simply my philosophy that it is OK not to play the hand when it gets down to only the blinds.
“Well, at least I have your dollar.”
(Now you could hear a pin drop. Game on.)
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