In society, we have the Republican vs Democrat debate, Science vs Religion, and whether or not peace is possible in the Middle East debates that continually rage between opposing sides. In the poker world, we have The Great Chop Rift. To chop or not to chop, that is the question. There are two sides of this debate, each in complete opposition with one another. Debates between the sides is often futile, and infractions by another player in someones mind can cause great commotion. In a cash game, if all players fold to the blinds, commonly the two blinds will automatically fold their cards and take their money back, thus ‘chopping’ the blinds and the dealer moves onto the next hand. There is usually no rake taken by the house in these chop situations.
Like all great debates, there are different beliefs and customs in different geographic regions. The chop debate is no different. Different geographic regions along with the wide range of games and characters that make their way to the poker room have led to no universally accepted written rules on the subject. Most individual poker rooms dare not toss their hat into the debate and most have little or no written house rules on the issue. Players in Las Vegas games are generally much more accepting of players choosing not to chop the blinds. This is evidenced by the higher amount of blind on blind hands that are played heads-up in Las Vegas card rooms. In general, players in California card rooms look very unfavorably upon a player who does not chop, which can be especially odd in the California card rooms where the house will still take $1 or $2 in a chopped blind hand. Most card rooms outside of California do not rake a chopped blind hand making the state unique (not in a good way) in that respect. Players in Florida poker rooms are also quite averse to players who opt not to chop the blinds and play heads-up. Poker rooms in Central America are diverse and unique in many respects. Customs there regarding blind chopping are no different, although it is not quite as volatile of an issue there as it is in many poker rooms in other regions.
When players do not chop the blinds, it is usually at a table in a traditional card room. In general, players in home games almost always agree to automatically chop the blinds, due to the social nature of these games. It should also be noted that there is a basically universally accepted rule at all poker games that if a player decides not to chop once, that player must not chop for the entire session. It is even written as a house rule in many card rooms like the MGM Poker Room in Las Vegas, that if a player decides to chop, he must chop every time. Thus the saying in card rooms, “chop once, chop always”. A player may not therefore chop when he gets 7-2, but decide to play and not chop the blinds when he is dealt Pocket Rockets.
The most common reason players state that they would rather chop when it is a blind on blind situation is that the pot is at that time small, and if they play the hand, they are subjected to a normal rake. Agreeing to chop with your neighbor who is the other blind, is also looked upon by many players as the more ‘friendly’ thing to do. The other players at the table who have already tossed in their hands, are salivating at receiving their next hands which are undoubtedly in their minds going to be Pocket Aces. They will also look amicably upon the two players in the blinds chopping so that they can get on to doubling up the next hand.
The first two things you should ask yourself when determining whether or not you should be a ‘chopper’ or a ‘non-chopper’, is whether or not playing heads up in this situation is profitable, and what the purpose is behind you playing in this poker game to begin with.
For me, the answers to these questions are easy, which is why I never chop. For starters, I play in card rooms and generally do not play in home games. My primary purpose of sitting down at the table is to maximize my profits by exploiting weaknesses in my opponents game. I do enjoy the social side of poker, and like to meet new people and enjoy a good conversation while seated, but make no mistake………I’m there to take your chips!! I can only do that by playing against that opponent, and trying to take advantage of the systematic errors that most players make. Regarding the profitability of being forced to play heads-up against an opponent and having to pay the rake… it is a no brainer! The potential money you can win is massive. When a player who is used to always chopping is told that they must play the hand heads up, they can take it personally and play very angry. They want to show you who is boss!! The plays of these now isolated and tilted opponents often reflects these emotions. I have seen some angry players play horrendously in these spots. Many times these are players who play well in all other situations. If you don’t have good cards, you can fold or check-fold to a bet costing you only a small or big blind. That is pittance compared to taking the stack of your opponent who is more interested in proving a point than playing poker optimally.
For example, last night at a $2/5 cash game at a live poker room, I was in a blind on blind confrontation. I was the small blind and raised my opponent $20. That is only four big blinds which is a very small amount in this particular game. My opponent in the big blind was playing tight all night and holding onto his chips like they were his very last in the world. He became offended that I did not chop and angrily shoved all $350 of his chips into the pot pre flop!!
Holy Guacamole!! What a terrible play he made because of his anger. If he had AA, he got the absolute minimum value. The probability is very high that he made this play with a middle of the road hand to make me fold and teach me a ‘lesson’. He would have never made that big of an error in all other normal circumstances. In truth, I had a garbage hand, and easily folded without giving it much thought.
Being able to get your isolated opponent to risk $350 to win $20 with a middle range hand is a poker players dream spot!! This type of leak happens all the time in these blind on blind confrontations. Who cares if you have to pay the rake that we willingly pay every other hand? Perhaps my opponent would have folded to my raise, giving me the pot right then. Maybe my opponent calls, and then like every other hand you play, you can try to outmaneuver them to win the pot. The hand does not need to be played like it is your last, or like you are playing heads up in a tournament. Bet, bluff, or fold using the same logical reasoning with the goal of maximizing your profit, that you would make in any other heads-up confrontation. Let your emotionally driven opponents make mistakes and misplay their hands for you. They will eventually hand you their chips that you would otherwise not have won had you chopped the blinds. Just be patient and do not worry about losing a few small bets, or paying a few dollars in rake. The house always gets paid their piece. We all agree to accept that when we walk thru the door.
It is usually the case that when the action comes to a blind on blind situation where one opponent who always chops, is forced to play the opponent that never chops, the ‘non-chopper’ has another distinct advantage. The opponent who always chops heads-up, has by extension very little experience playing heads-up in a cash game setting. Because the ‘non-chopper’ always plays heads-up in these situations, he will have a great deal more experience in this format than his opponent. He has been in this spot and played heads-up many times before, whereas his opponent has not.
I do not consider a player to be using bad poker etiquette if they opt to never chop. It is everyone’s individual decision whether or not they want to play heads-up or not. Players just need to make sure that if they chop once, they always chop. If they never chop, then they never chop. Barring that, no poker etiquette has been breached.
As the honorable, yet profit seeking Poker Politico Nation, should we chop? There is not one clear answer to that. It is each players individual decision. Just know that you might need to be comfortable with sitting next to an opponent who is needlessly angry with you. The profitability is certainly there for anyone who wants to grab it.
I never chop in card rooms for the reasons I’ve detailed above. Every once in a while I play in home games. In these games, I will chop every time as the environment is typically more social in nature. However you decide to handle your blind on blind situations, you should not be offended by other players that do not choose the same method. It is there right, and getting angry or upset will do you no good and only serve to put you on tilt. Yikes!!
In an effort to illustrate the potential profitability of not chopping and to justify my stance on the Great Chop Rift, I have posted detailed hand notes on all blind on blind confrontations I am involved in over the next three months. I have posted these hand details/results along with examples of some very bad poker plays on behalf of my opponents in the second part of this two part series, ‘To Chop Or Not To Chop: The Results’. This second installment can be viewed by clicking here! The plays you see that angry opponents will make against me, will truly surprise you and might convince you to venture over to the Dark Side of ‘non-chopping’.
I know that many very smart and talented players disagree with my opinion on this subject. Please comment below as I would love to hear your viewpoints.
Written By: Jason Bloom
July 19th, 2015