Rules, Rules, and More Rules

Everyone has a different interpretation of the rules of poker, both what they should be as well as how they should be enforced. Some people think “pure” or “real” poker has to have certain rules, but I disagree. If it’s played with cards and betting, it’s probably “real” poker to me. There are certainly rules I dislike, but if I know what the rules are I can make my own decision about whether I want to play. And I am well aware that it is my responsibility to know what the rules are. The standardized TDA rules are a big help for tournament players, but each house still has some of it’s own rules.

During the Fall Poker Classic I’ve been playing tournaments in a new environment for a week now and I’ve noticed the differences from playing at Running Aces. We get spoiled at Running Aces because Tristan is an expert on tournament rules and a frequent contributor to the TDA itself, but Canterbury has done a fine job running these tournaments too, as they usually do.

Overall, the Fall Poker Classic has been great. The free donuts and coffee in the mornings are nice, the buffet is solid every night, and the dealers are excellent. The floor staff and tournament directors are also very good, and the problems I’m going to talk about with rule enforcement are not limited to Canterbury. In fact they are less common at Canterbury than they are at most other venues. They are just the subject right now because they are the place I’ve been playing this week. A lot of other venues could improve in these areas, and most of them need a lot more improvement than Canterbury.

I think that a rule that is not consistently enforced is a bad rule. If the rule can not be consistently enforced, then it must be changed. Canterbury’s cursing rule applies to only one word. Their “F-bomb Rule” applies to only the one word. All other curse words are allowed, although abusive language directed at players and dealers is unacceptable as it should be in any card room. I know players who disagree with this rule, but I’m fine with it as long as I know what the rule is and it is consistently enforced.

The problem is that consistently enforcing a rule like this requires vigilance. You have to let all of your dealers know that they must call the floor any time the “F-bomb” is dropped at the table and make sure they call the floor any time it happens. I also think it’s a room’s responsibility to let players know when they have any sort of non-standard rule, rather than assuming that the players will all get a copy of the house rules and read them thoroughly. An announcement at the start of each tournament is a good way to do this.

In the case of the last week or so, this rule has not been enforced evenly, nor has it been announced to the players. Since this rule doesn’t exist in the TDA, and isn’t in force at major events like the World Series of Poker, I would consider it a non-standard rule, and I think it should be announced so that players are aware of it. I can assure you that many players are not aware of it because –

1. I counted the number of times I heard an F-bomb at the table today, and in four and a half hours I heard it used eleven times. The dealer heard at least eight or nine of these, and the floor was never called and the player was never warned by the dealer. It was never mentioned.

2. I was not aware of it myself and I usually try to pay attention.

3. My pal Jordan Handrich didn’t know about it when she used it after taking a beat in a tournament yesterday. People at her table were surprised when she received a one-round penalty because a tournament director was standing nearby. This was what caused me to keep track today. Eleven utterances, zero penalties, zero warnings. Not only did Jordan not get a warning, she got a full one-round penalty, and is the only person that I have heard of that has received such a penalty during this series. It was not directed at a player or in an abusive way, it was just a word.

4. I asked a number of players today, and none of them had heard that this was a penalty.

This rule is clearly not being enforced consistently, and I imagine it would be a hassle to do so for at least a month or two, but if they really want to ban the word they could certainly make it happen. Either make the effort to make sure that this rule is enforced evenly, or get rid of it. The middle ground is bad policy.

There are rules like this all over the country. The famous “Charlie Rule” at many WSoP events, the changing rules on discussing hands at the WSoP, and some truly odd rules in other parts of the country that show exactly how good we have it here in Minnesota.

I played at the Greek Town Casino in Detroit two years ago, and saw two of the weirdest rules I have ever seen. The first was that the front of your cards was in effect as a hard betting line, meaning any chips that were in front of your cards were in the pot. Multiple times I watched players pull their cards back to the rail to peel up the corners and look at them, only to be declared all-in because their cards had moved behind their stack. Every player this happened to left saying that they would never play in that #$%^#@!!!! card room ever again. Any policy that sends that many customers away is a bad one, no matter why it was implemented.

The second rule was the strangest rule I have ever seen in a professional card room. The show-one show-all rule was interpreted in this room to mean that if you showed your cards to any one, at any time, they must be saved and shown once the hand is complete. I first saw this when the older gentleman next to me showed his hand to me, and the dealer placed it in it’s very own little two-card muck pile and showed the table when the hand was over. I was baffled.

Before long, the old guy to my right, and the guy to his right were both talking about how bad they were running and betting $5 a hand on who had the worst hand. The hands were verified because they showed the player to their right each hand before they folded it, and the dealer saved each hand and showed them to the table. When the under the gun player showed someone his girlfriend his hand, and the two old guys showed their two hands as well, I figured I might as well join the party to see how many mucks the dealer could keep track of at once. The player to my left got in on the action and showed me his jack-five offsuit before he folded it.

This created a total of five muck piles, and I started to wish that I still had a hand so that I could zip it across all the muck piles and mix them up. Then I could claim that someone else’s cards were actually mine, start a big argument over who had which hand and make a terrible mockery of the whole process. I settled for claiming the hand of the guy to my left when the dealer flipped over his hand before mine, but he deftly sidestepped my attempt to make a mess of things by claiming my hand when it was flipped over next. The dealer who was sure that she had kept track of the hands correctly just shook her head and shot me a pleading look that I took as “Please don’t make my life harder today” and I quit messing around.

There were at least three different muck piles for the next two hours, through multiple dealers and I had my fun by watching each tourist who sat down learn about the two weird rules and then marvel at how they had never heard of rules like that before. Maybe the strangest thing was that the regulars acted like this insanity was perfectly normal. They probably watched ten people every night learn about these new rules and look baffled, but they just kept on playing. I think they knew that there was no way they were going to get these rules changed, so they just endured them. Odd.

I also saw an interesting angle-shoot a few weeks ago. I was playing a tournament and a player was wearing ear buds and obviously not hearing anything that was happening around him. Mr Oblivious was second to act on the flop in a heads up pot when his opponent, whom we will call Mr. Angleshooter, looked down so that Mr O couldn’t see his mouth behind his hat, grabbed a five hundred chip and a twenty-five chip, said “three twenty-five” and threw in the two chips. Mr. O thought he was facing a bet of 525 into a pot of 500, and called. Something happened that caused a discussion about the bet, and the tournament director was called over.

The tournament director backed up Mr. A, and to be honest he probably didn’t have a choice. He could have invoked rule #1 of the TDA if he was sure that it was an angle, but I have heard this tournament director say “I’m done with rule #1, just gets me in trouble.” so I knew this wasn’t going to happen. As long as TDs aren’t willing to invoke rule #1, there will be angles like this one. People will abuse the letter of the law because no one is willing to stick their neck out to enforce the spirit instead.

The real lesson in all this is that you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings, know about any non-standard rules in the room where you are playing, and stand up for yourself when you can. If Jordan had known about the F-Bomb rule at Canterbury, she wouldn’t have said it. If she had requested a warning, maybe even demanded one and bullied the TD, she may have received a warning instead of a costly penalty. Rooms aren’t always going to be perfect, so we need to be prepared and careful and I think we should police the tables ourselves a little bit too.

A player pulled off a dirty angle against me at the Venetian last year in a triple stud event. After he won a huge pot because of his angle, I managed to outlast him and finish one spot above him, while making his life hell for another five hours of play. I pointed him out to everyone, openly told the story of his angle, and refused his sad little offers of friendship. Some unsavory players won’t care that they are ostracized, but this guy did so I made sure that he was ostracized and I made sure the TD who allowed the angle knew that I was telling everyone about the situation on twitter, facebook, my blog, and standing in his card room, and that I was including his name in the conversation.

If we all policed things a little bit, the player and TD in this situation might behave differently in the future. The player certainly would, he was very uncomfortable playing with me. If I had been a little sharper I could have avoided the angle and then called him out for it after I won the pot, punishing him twice for his attempt to cheat me, and I have been much more careful ever since.

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  1. #1 by robowolfman on October 15, 2013 - 1:14 pm

    I agree with almost everything you said. The dealers should be an extension of the floor and if they hear the Fbomb should proceed accordingly. The one i have a question about is the angle shoot. He saw that the guy had earphones on, and was not paying attention enough so he took advantage of it. How is that an angle shoot. I am probably missing something there.

    • #2 by Fox on October 15, 2013 - 1:22 pm

      Robo – I think that is the definition of shooting an angle. He found a way, in this case within the rules, to intentionally mislead his opponent about the size of his bet. I believe that the intent of the rules are that players should have that information when they make their decision. It’s partly the fault of the guy in the headphones for not paying attention and/or asking the amount of the bet, but I believe we should also discourage this kind of behavior because it leads to everyone trying to shoot every angle they can and would make the game very unpleasant with constant floor calls.

  2. #3 by laxfanatics on October 15, 2013 - 7:20 am

    Penalties given are always specific to the events at the time and inherently vary case by case because of that. Are some missed because floors are not informed? Probably. It still doesn’t make it ok to ignore outbursts and not penalize when appropriate.

  3. #4 by Klakmaster on October 15, 2013 - 2:11 am

    Great post and spot on. I’ve dropped plenty of f-bombs and have never been penalized.

  4. #5 by Fox on October 14, 2013 - 11:44 pm

    Hmm… I thought it was a full round, but I may be wrong on that. Your comment does sort of prove the point about subjective enforcement though. Did she get the penalty because she was too loud? What is the decibel limit? All eleven that I counted today were clearly audible.

  5. #6 by laxfanatics on October 14, 2013 - 11:41 pm

    You don’t have all of the facts correct on the penalty Jordan was issued. She blurted out f-bomb loud enough to be heard two tables away. Floor gave “one hand” penalty for using foul language in loud disruptive manner. Which is consistent with house policy. That

    • #7 by Fox on October 15, 2013 - 1:27 pm

      A single hand penalty does not seem out of line to me, but I still don’t like a rule that is enforced less than 10% of the time. This makes the player who receives the rare penalty feel that they have been treated unfairly, and allows people who know about the rule and how it is enforced to say anything they want while newcomers make mistakes and get penalized.

      It would suck to go to a poker room and hear the regulars saying anything they want, and then get a penalty because you didn’t know about the rule and din’t stop when a TD walked by.

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