One of the most difficult things about being tournament floor staff is making rulings. A lot of players think it’s easy, the rules are written down; tournament directors just need to read them, learn them and then apply the cold, hard hand of poker justice. How could it be difficult to apply a simple rule to a simple situation? Get a grip on your balls, woman.
The trouble is, that to a player involved in a disputed pot there is only ever one side of the story, their own, whereas a tournament director has to attempt a fair decision by looking at a situation from every angle, and ensure that no-one receives an unfair advantage. Some situations are very simple, some are not.
In my time as a Tournament Director, I’ve made some bad rulings that have gone almost entirely under the radar, and some (I think) sound rulings that have caused multiple-page threads of vitriol on locally dominated poker forums. It has led me to the question: What exactly is a bad ruling?
One way I understand a ruling as obviously bad is when it directly contravenes the written rules of a cardroom. For example, if I have a written rule that says: “A single oversize chip thrown in without comment is always a call.”, but then allow this disputed action to play as a raise, that is a bad ruling.
I could also say that any ruling made without integrity, or with clear favouritism toward a certain player will definitely be a bad ruling. In my opinion, a TD who would not rule against their own granny at a poker table is a bad TD.
This is easy for me to grasp, but what about when the situation is less black and white?
Many players, including some regulars, think that a poker room’s rules can cover every single possible situation that may arise at a poker table. More widely experienced players and those who have been floor staff, recognise otherwise, but if I can’t write down every situation and its associated rule, then how can I be sure I’m making good rulings? Can they even be called a ‘ruling’ if there’s no actual ‘rule’? My brain hurts.
I had a situation recently that blew up on a forum, and I suppose this blog is me asking for your opinions on whether I made a sound ruling, and/or how I might write an appropriate rule for this either way. I currently think I made the right choice from a few possibles, but when respected and experienced players doubt you, it’s easy to doubt yourself.
I was called to a table by my dealer and told that the guy in seat1 (utg+2, 8handed, pre-flop action) had folded immediately after saying ‘raise’ but not stating an amount. He claimed that the woman next to him had said ‘all-in’ and that was why he’d folded.
He now wanted his cards back because she was now claiming she didn’t want to be all in… fun.
His cards were right there, he could have physically had them, they weren’t mucked, there was no doubt over which cards were his. There was doubt over her ‘all-in’.
The dealer claimed not to have heard the woman say ‘all-in’, and unless customers freely offer up extra info, I’m not inclined to force them to have an input; it’s not their job to listen and police the games, and it can be embarrassing to have pressure put on you like that. Some customers don’t want involvement in rulings in case the outcome is ugly and they are somehow associated. I understand that, so I will never push them.
I would probably expect more useful involvement from a table at a higher buyin event (this was a weekly £30 1day game), but I would still be cautious of advice from anyone with live action; they might be trying to angle-shoot me!
I can usually rely on a loud customer at the table getting involved, whether they’re in the hand or not, and if it’s appropriate, I will listen to what they have to say, although I will always make my decision independently of what a customer thinks I should do.
The first part of this ruling was easy. The guy had said raise, without an amount, so I forced him to place minimum raise. I say ‘forced’ because he had no cards and if he had, in a Homer Simpson style betting escapade, wanted to then put all his chips in, I would not have allowed it. There is no specifically written rule for that, but it makes sense to me. I have a duty to protect him from himself as well as other injustices. I’m 100% confident this was the correct rule, but technically, I’m already ‘off-book’.
I did not allow him to have his cards back, as the written rules displayed in my cardroom say that “an out of turn fold is always binding”. That’s pretty clear-cut to me, he’d folded out of turn, he’s not having his cards back. Now I had to deal with her, and this is where it gets a wee bit woolly.
I asked her if she had said ‘all-in’ and she claimed to have said ‘I might go all in’.
I thought about it for a bit, and wondered how fair it was that she had said that. Players are pretty attune to the four action words, “call”, “raise” “fold” “all-in”, and she had admitted to saying one of those words, in turn. The guy had apparently taken the words out of context, but “all-in” is a risky word to say in turn, with cards, if you don’t mean it.
Seat 1 had been ruled against as harshly as he could have been. Would it be fair that she get off lightly?
I told her she was all-in. She didn’t argue. Turned out she had 6-2 os and ended up paying a short stack who had QQ. It cost her about 10% of her stack, no real biggie to her chip wise, but the value is not the point, it’s the principle.
It is okay to say action words, in any context, when the action is on you, if you don’t mean them?
My opinion as a player, and as a TD, is that it is not okay. If you incorrectly announce an action, and there is a dispute created as a result, I think the fairest ruling is that this action is enforced. However, I cannot ignore the fact that we see the big pros on the telly-box doing it all the time, although nearly always without resulting in dispute. “You show if I fold?”, “I can’t call here, I can only raise or fold.” Etc etc
I can identify two reasons all by myself:
- With a £5 reg fee for a house dealt game, and a single 50p/£1 cash table, my cardroom cannot afford to have cameras on everybody, all the time. I can’t get play back audio from seat2’s lapel mic.
- If I did say “I might go all-in” to Daniel Negreanu, even if he was the only one who heard it, I doubt he’d insta-spaz-fold his cards out of turn as a result. Or in turn even. He’d probably clarify what he was thinking he’d heard, or maybe been confused by instead, before making a considered decision. No dispute, no ruling.
I know that clever players angle-shoot, it’s part of the game, and it’s part of a TD’s job to make sure that players are not angle shooting to the extent that the integrity of the game is compromised. This woman is not a known angle-shooter, she’s usually a well behaved player, and she admitted to me afterwards that this guy had been annoying her for a while, so I’m sure she was just trying to wind him up a bit, and not deliberately/consciously shooting at an unfair advantage. Do posthumous revelations make earlier rulings bad/better/worse?
The criticism I came under was that I should have been more concerned with her intent. I think that’s a fair comment, I do think TDs should consider intent to a certain point, but in this case I was not sure of her intent. Once I’d seen she had 6-2os, then I guess it was fair to say that her original intent would not have been to ship; I’ve seen how she plays, and that’s not it. But before I saw her cards, I was genuinely not sure what she was thinking.
Are her cards even a foolproof indicator of her ‘intent’? I’ve played against people who clearly think 6-2os is the pre-flop nuts. How far should I bring my own poker game to being a TD to work out players’ intent? I hope not too far, I don’t think TDs should have to be grinders to do a good job.
From my standpoint, awash in the greyer areas of the game, I was faced with a player who had admitted to using an action word, in turn, and I didn’t feel I could let her take it back. Would I give her full action? Force her to min raise? Let her call but have no further agressive action? It was all a bit messy, and I do not have a specific, written rule to cover this exact dispute. I went for the clear cut “You said all-in, when action was on you, you’re all-in.”
For example, I’m facing your bet on the river that would put me all-in and I say:
“Fold…” (you instantly show me your bluff with a busted flush draw) “…ing paper is a great hobby. I love origami.” And then I want to call your bet, because I’ve now seen your cards and I’m winning with bottom pair. If a TD came over and ruled that I did not make an action statement, I was just chatting about origami, would you think this was a good ruling? I certainly wouldn’t; but I wouldn’t expect the cardroom rules to contain “Sec12, Para14, iiivx: Origami Based Infractions” either.
Considerable reflection on the hand led me to think that in this specific situation I should have given her the option of all-in OR pass, as it potentially committed her to the action word I don’t think she should have said, or entirely removed her from the pot I was trying to prevent her gaining an unfair advantage in. Captain Hindsight dons his tights and fails to save the day again.
I’ve asked a lot of questions in this blog, but I suppose my main ones are these:
Is it unreasonable to expect players to use a combination of the other 1.1mil words in the English language (not ‘call’ ‘raise’ ‘fold/pass’ or ‘all-in’) to communicate with each other at the poker tables when they don’t want to commit to an action? Or should they be allowed to say those words and take it back if they can subsequently sweet talk me into believing their ‘intent’ was not represented by the action word they uttered?
And finally, can anyone, anywhere, write a rule that blanket covers this?