Playing With a Partner

Daniel Negreanu

There are a lot of questions flying around about playing cards with a partner. I figured I'd use this article to try and answer some of them for you.

•Butch and Sundance • Lone Ranger and Tonto • Starsky and Hutch • Bonnie and Clyde • Mickie and Mallory • Mick and Keith • Jules and Vincent

Without Sundance, who could Paul Newman have bantered wittily with? Without Jules, who's going to drive the car when Vincent blows off Marvin's head? Is poker a situation where one could benefit from having a partner?

Before we discuss if you can benefit from a partner, I think there are some other aspects of a poker partnership we should talk about first.

Is It Against the Rules?

It depends on what you do with your partner. As long as you don't break any of the house rules, what you do with your cards and money is entirely up to you. Having a financial partner is completely inside the boundaries of all poker rules, and is far more common than you might think.

Vanessa Rousso
Dear Vanessa: If you ever want a partner, feel free to e-mail me.

Playing with your friend on the table is also not against the rules. You don't have to play hard against your friends; you can check it down when it's just you two in the hand. Poker is supposed to be fun. Go play with your friends and have a good time, partners or not. Just make sure you don't start doing the following:


In poker, collusion refers to teaming up with your partner to gain an unfair advantage against your opponent. An example of collusion is using a partner to set up squeeze plays:

  • You open the pot for a raise.
  • Victim calls your raise.
  • Your friend re-raises you, forcing the remaining players to fold.
  • You come back over the top of your friend.
  • The victim here is now forced to fold anything but KK and AA.

In a normal scenario, one or both of the players here would have to have monsters. With this action, more often than not one of the players will have aces. The victim folds to this show of extreme strength, with your friend laying down behind them.

Using your partner to extort this single call without having to see a flop is only one form of collusion.

Sharing Information about the Live Hand

You are never allowed to discuss the hand in play with your partner. You can't show, talk about, hint or joke about your hand. Talking in code or using signals, or chip placing, is very much against the rules. I don't think I can be any clearer about this.

What Type of Partner Is Best?

Doyle Brunson
More likely to say "Pard-ner" than "Partner."

Is it better to have a stake horse or to be playing on a shared roll with another player? This is a question that has no real answer. It depends on the person, the games and the situation.

When you're playing on staked money, you take a significant hit to your profits in exchange for a low-to-nil up-front investment. No matter what you see in the movies, no real stake horse (excluding your best friend) will offer you as good a deal as 50% of your winnings.

I blame the 50% myth entirely on the one scene in Rounders. It's funny how much one fictional movie can shape the entire public perception of poker. I never liked the idea of working my ass off to take home less than 50% of what I earn. If you can afford to put the money up yourself, I recommend you do so.

The other option is to have a partner playing the same amount of poker, at the same limits, at the same skill level. You will not be making any more money than you would have if you were playing alone, but it can help you greatly reduce variance.

You have three options for your two results at the end of the session:

You Partner Combined Roll
Win Win Increase
Win Lose No Change
Lose Win No Change
Lose Lose Decrease

Since the majority of the sessions for a winning player are going to be wins, we have to put more weight into the two options containing wins, and less to the situations containing losses, making the Lose/Lose scenario least likely.

In real life the amounts won't always be a perfect match. Some of the win/lose scenarios will result in an overall loss, while others will result in a win. We can assume that, in the long run, all the win/lose sessions will even out to No Change.

Just by looking at this simple chart, and using common sense, you can see how having a partner of this type can reduce variance. The majority of the time you will make money or break even. Remember, you will be making no more money with this partner than if you were playing alone. The whole point is to reduce variance.

Amarillo Slim Preston
Back in Amarillo Slim's early days, a partner was needed just to watch your back in case you got jacked.

Finally: Is It Better to Fly Solo or to Play With a Partner?

The Up Side

The biggest advantage to having a partner is it's just more fun to have a friend to run with. Someone to joke with at the table, go out for dinner (or breakfast) with after your session, and split the hotel bill with in Vegas.

The No. 1 reason I like playing poker so much is the social aspect. If you have a partner to play with, you get to have every session turn into a night out - just one more way to keep the grind from feeling like... well, a grind.

The Down Side?

Playing with a friend on the same table will usually end up costing you money. In the spirit of playing friendly, how you play your hand when your friend is involved will change. A situation arose for me last night with a good friend playing on my left. He put a large reraise on my raise, putting us to heads-up.

I had to choose between moving all-in or folding with my QQ. Against any other player of his style and image, it would have been an instant push. Because it was my friend, I had to consider scenarios like "Does he have AA and is trying to save me money?"

Unfortunately, some people - even your friends - just aren't trustworthy, especially when it comes to money. I've seen best friends become partners, only to have one person lose their combined roll in one night at a blackjack table. It can be hard enough to trust yourself with a pocketful of money in a room full of table games and free drinks.

It's unusual to find someone who is at the same skill level, has the same amount to put into a roll, and is willing to play the same number of hours as you. Even if you do find such a person, one of you is going to progress faster than the other. There will come a time where you're going to have to break up and go it alone.

I've never been a fan of breaking up; I guess that's why I keep relationships with a chance of a breakup to a minimum. Personally, I prefer to have friends to run with, but to keep my roll as my own. I don't need the added stress of having to wonder how someone else is running when I'm in a slump.

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