Accusations of Collusion at WSOP Sit-and-Gos

It’s been a weekend full of poker-related drama on Twitter. Saturday night, Jack Salter posted a photo of Melanie Weisner and Dylan Wilkerson sitting together at a World Series of Poker sit-and-go and stated that he’s sure that they’re working as a team. Weisner has confirmed that she and Wilkerson have an ongoing action swap in these sit-and-gos, but denies that they’re colluding; she also claims that Salter uttered vague threats against her at the table. Jack has apologized for doing so, but claims that he was merely threatening to go public with his suspicions, nothing more than that, while Weisner feels that there was an implication of violence.

Action swaps – deals in which two or more players agree to pay one another a portion of their winnings – are a common part of the world of professional poker. The basic idea is to share risk and reduce variance, but as I’ve discussed in the past, they create ethical problems when the players involved end up seated together, because when players stand to benefit from one another’s performance, there is inevitably an incentive for soft play, whether intentional or unconscious. This is only a minor problem in large multi-table tournaments, where players have no control over their seating and are unlikely to find themselves seated together, but is a larger issue in cash games and these sorts of single-table sit-and-gos, where players with an action swap are more likely to run into one another, and can even seek each other out deliberately.

That seems to be the case with Weisner and Wilkerson, who Salter says have been “following each other around” at the Sit-and-Gos. Worse, it seems that their ongoing action swap deal applies only to games in which they play together, which would seem to lend credence to the notion that the deal is not just about reducing variance, but about actively helping each other out.

The tension between Salter, Weisner and Wilkerson seems to have been building for a while, but unfortunately for Salter, the specific hand which ultimately led him to go public with his accusations is one in which nothing untoward actually happened. Weisner opened from the Button for either a minimum (according to her) or slightly-over minimum (according to Salter) raise, Salter shoved from the small blind, Wilkerson called in the big blind, and Weisner called as well. The two of them then checked down the hand to try to bust Salter, although he ended up tripling up. The crucial thing here is that both Weisner and Wilkerson had weak Aces and missed the board, so the check-down is totally standard; moreover, given the overlap in their hands, it was to their mutual detriment and Salter’s benefit that both called. We can therefore be fairly sure that even if they are soft-playing, they are at least not signalling their hole cards to one another. Salter, meanwhile, claims that it was not what the two of them did which convinced him of collusion, but the way in which they did it, stating that his live reads on Weisner were “off the charts” as she hesitated and contemplated the sizing of her initial raise.

Correction: The paragraph above originally stated incorrectly that Salter had busted in the hand in question; in fact, he won the hand and tripled up.

Opinions on the matter seem to be split. Other pros on Twitter have mostly come to Weisner’s defence, with Ryan “Protential” Laplante being particularly vocal in backing her up and condemning Salter’s actions. On the other hand, most of the posters in the 2+2 thread on the subject are anti-Weisner. She’s unpopular in the online poker world due to her involvement with Lock Poker, a US-facing online poker room which has become infamous in recent years for its financial problems and corrupt management. As of this spring, Lock Poker has likely shut down for good, taking millions of player dollars with it, so there are plenty of people with little inclination to take a charitable view of Weisner.

Regardless of which side one comes down on, though, the he-said-she-said nature of the story is a perfect illustration of why side action is such a problematic issue in poker. In any event you look at, almost all of the professionals involved will have sold or exchanged some of their action, and will likely hold an interest in other players as well. Weisner and Wilkerson were very open about their action swap and feel this is enough to clear themselves of suspicion, also pointing out that Salter himself swaps action with people he plays with. The thing about soft play is that it’s extremely difficult to prove, however; even Salter, convinced as he is that the two are intentionally colluding, hasn’t been able to produce a convincing example.

It’s not a problem that’s going away any time soon, and all anyone can do is to keep themselves informed as much as possible, and avoid the games in which the risk of collusion is greatest. Personally, I would not play any single-table tournament for significant stakes in a live poker setting for this reason. Whether it’s Weisner and Wilkerson or anyone else, the chances that some of the players involved hold a stake in each other are pretty high, and even if they are not intentionally colluding, the nature of such deals makes it almost inevitable that they will be helping each other out unconsciously.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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