I love to bang on about rulings. I love rules, I love arguments and I love hair-thin lines which have the ‘right’ on the one side and the ‘wrong’ on the other.

If you have read my previous blog about an unusual ruling, you will remember I took the standpoint that sometimes a rule cannot be written to address every possible outcome. I stick by this, but I’m about to tell you about a ruling that was wrong and then demonstrate why rulings like this are terrible for poker.

I played in a local cardroom that I frequent regularly. I like it there, and they serve an amazing ice –cream strawberry smoothie. It’s a well maintained room, the usual manager is a feisty, well-organised girl, and she does a good job.  It was a Saturday afternoon and I joined a £25 entry(10k) +1x£20 rebuy (10k) + 1x£20 addon (20k) tourney with a £1250 guarantee.

The guarantee was conditional on there being 18 entries, so a friend and I began a local social network campaign to garner runners. We had great fun, and managed to scrape together exactly 18 runners by the end of the entry period because we’re just that popular.
We started the 1st level after the break feeling pretty gleeful. There was a £600 overlay, and we were all loving the smell of value, because, in a cardroom, you love any smell that isn’t armpit.

armpit smell sweat
The smell of value overpowers all others in a cardroom.

I was moved to the other table at 14handed. We played a few hands, and the table was friendly, a range of experience, but no total noobs. Couple of the guys were having a beer, but no-one was blasted. It was a poker-chat type of table, with analysis bouncing about after every hand. We all thought we knew what we were on about well enough.

My pal, Liam, was UTG and opened shoved for about 36k on 2000/4000(400). One guy passed, one guy tanked and then passed, the next guy said raise, and mine and the other two players’ cards were in the muck before he counted out his raise chips.

Liam already had his 36k neatly stacked in front of him in denomination order (he’s an ex-croupier), but the re-raiser had only laid out 9k. There was a beat of confusion.

Let me interrupt the flow of the story here to tell you about the table dealer: She is the nut-low of dealers. She is beautiful to look at, but she’s grumpy, bad mannered, belligerent and incompetent. She’s been dealing over a year and she still doesn’t follow the flow of the game or even recognise winning hands. The loudest player at her table will be running that game.

In this situation, Dolly Dealer had no idea what to do. She blinked some incredible eyelashes at The Re-Raiser and said:

“But he’s all in.” The Re-Raiser blinked back.


“He’s all in.” Dolly pointed forlornly at Liam’s stack. Much blinking from all parties.

Liam was surprisingly quiet. I’m a bit of a bossy cow, and I know my shit. I addressed The Re-Raiser directly.

“He’s all in mate. You said raise. We’re all out though, so you need to put 36k in.”

“Oh! I didn’t know. I’m really sorry. My mistake.” He threw his cards in and took his chips back. Dolly Dealer did her usual, nothing, so his cards remained live. I told the dealer we needed the floor. She blinked. I shouted for a ruling.

The normal cardroom manager was off that day, and the comp was being run by another girl. She came over and spoke to her dealer in a low voice. I heard the dealer tell the supervisor that The Re-Raiser had made a mistake. The supervisor’s “ruling” (and I quote as verbatim as able) was:

“Oh, well, nevermind, just give him the chips back then.” And then she walked off.

aghast shock womanThere was a sense of shock when she left the table. The Re-Raiser was apologising profusely. I don’t think one player there thought he had made anything but a genuine mistake, his integrity was not in question at all. The soundness of the ruling came under serious fire.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty and pick this beast apart. First and foremost, let’s look at the best rule in any cardroom’s book: The Supervisor Can Make A Decision. I am in no way saying she did not have the right to make that RIDICULOUS rule, because she did, but if you are going to exert your absolute authority without being a madcap tyrant, you’d best explain your lordly reasons.
This ruling was wrong because if a cardroom manager needs to make an exceptional decision, the players are entitled to as detailed an explanation of why that decision was taken as is allowed (ie not restricted by police involvement or data protection laws or something else hard-core).

She should have explained why she ruled the way she did, and hung about to stop us moany bastard poker players turning it into an argument/witchhunt.
I’m not sure what her reasoning might have been, with a house dealer in a £60 buyin comp that’s not attracting raw beginners, I can’t fathom any viable excuse for this outcome.

The point is not the validity of her justification, it’s the total absence of one at all. She has no excuse because she has no reasoning.

It lead me to think that she probably didn’t know the rule. I think there are a couple of justifiable options that would make the rule less wrong. I think there is only one right answer: number one. The others are shades of grey in increasing order of madness.

  1. In this case it is very simple, he was facing a bet, he announced ‘raise’ when the action was on him, min raise puts him all-in, ergo, he’s all-in, with live cards.
  2. She could have feasibly said “okay, I’ve literally given you one of the worst dealers in the world. I will make an assumption that she was in no respect controlling this game and on this occasion, I will allow that her incompetence led to your grevious error. Your cards are live, you have the option to call the bet. Your 9k will stay in this pot either way.”
  3. She could have made him pay the 4k blind but forced death on his hand on the basis that giving him the option to call is crushing the power of Liam’s original shove, and this whole thing could have been an angle shoot to get a read on Liam.
  4. She could have made him pay the 9k and still killed his hand, reason as above.
  5. She could have given Liam the option to take back his all in and see the flop for 9k on the basis that the other guy made the mistake and now any advantage is spread.
  6. She could have let Liam see the flop for 9k for the reasons in 5, and then enforced no aggression on the other guy to severly punish him for perceived angle-shooting.

I could probably work out a few more, so could you, but I maintain that no1 is the best rule here. If you notice, as the list goes on, the rulings becomes less simple and more like a player discussion; the wafflings of a mind obsessed with poker, always thinking about angles, situations, possible exploitations.

black and white
Some rulings are complicated, this one wasn’t.

The supervisor doesn’t know poker, and she doesn’t understand poker players; a TD needs one of those two things boxed off. She was never making the right rule here, in a situation where even a beginner would have made a better call. The worst reason for a poker ruling being wrong is because the supervisor does not give a tiny shit.

This supervisor didn’t care enough to think for a minute, if she had, the right rule is so simple here that logic would have taken her there. If you don’t care about making the best ruling, you shouldn’t be making rulings; this is important stuff to the people you’re ruling over, and they’ve paid you to do it.

Later in the game we were 6 handed on the final table (with Dolly Dealer) and UTG raised to 4x. The exact same thing happened, and the same player (+2 more beers) said “raise” and then claimed he had made a mistake, and not realised UTG had raised. Dolly Dealer impressed me by taking charge of the situation immediately and giving the guy his chips straight back, although she didn’t muck his cards.

“He made a mistake, so I give him the chips back.” I know the UTG guy well in this case. If he was sitting on a holding that he wanted action on, he’d be shouting “FLOOR” at a decibel level and with a vehemence of spittle that Shakespeare Company actors would bow down to.

He was silent. He did not want the guy’s raise to stand. I noticed, and I piped down too. I even went so far as to support the dealer and say:

“Don’t blame her. She’s doing exactly what her supervisor told her to do earlier.”  The ruling never went to floor, UTG took the blinds.

I think this counts as collusion, if I’m honest, albeit fairly ‘soft’ collusion. I liked the UTG player, I wanted the game to go his way cos I wasn’t in the hand. He clearly didn’t want any action, and I knowingly supported an earlier bad ruling to facilitate that. If I’d thought he’d wanted action, I’d have been doing the opposite. However, it wasn’t just collusion between me and my friend, the house was helping us by not ensuring the game was running fairly.

cheatingWhen players are paying for the house to be in charge of their game, it should not be this way. If staff make a mistake, they should be forgiven, supported and have the piss taken out of them a bit. If staff get things wrong because they do not care at all about the decisions and just want to get back to chatting to the hotty behind the desk, they should be sacked.

I was in the wrong on the final table. I should have campaigned for the correct ruling; I am clearly a moral deviant. However, I was a player that day, not the TD. I was not responsible for that ruling going the right way.

A ruling that is bad because it is poorly considered and incompetently executed is always a wrong ruling. Consistent wrong rulings by people who don’t care will eventually turn a modern cardroom into a Wild West Saloon as the dominant players start to take over. This environment scares off less experienced players and the pools thin out. Games die. Poker gets hurt.

I’ve been pretty harsh on these two girls, but I care about poker, and they don’t, so… to conclude in an erudite, articulate and epigrammatic manner befitting a woman of expensive education: Fuck you, bitches, sort yourselves out and start to care one just a tiny little bit.

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