Thursday, November 23, 2006

Just stay home, you inconsiderate jerk!

Let's make one thing clear: you don't have to play poker in a casino on any given day. (I'll make an exception here for people who have paid in advance for a big-dollar tournament.) So if you're sick, just stay home (or at your hotel).

It happened again last night, and surely will again many more times before the currently starting cold season ends: One doofus sat down in seat 8 (I was in 10) at the Flamingo, and was instantly recognizable as being sick. First thing he did was take a bottle of God-kn0ws-what cold syrup out of a bag, and take a big swig of it. In spite of that stuff, he coughed and sniffled and snorted and blew his nose and wiped his nose with his hand, etc.

This isn't that complicated, folks: The rest of us don't want to pick up your miserable cold! Don't go into a casino and plop down for several hours (or even several minutes, for that matter) in close proximity to a bunch of other people, who will then have to share your air, and handle the same cards and chips that you're befouling with your stupid virus.

Really--how inconsiderate can you be? How about taking a few days to brush up on your online play instead?

I am not looking forward to this aspect of winter in Las Vegas. I think I'm going to become a vigilante about this. I didn't say anything to this particular jerk, but next time I am going to speak up.

Dealers who don't know the rules--and don't ask

Three stories.

1. I was playing at the Flamingo last night, my usual game ($1-$2 no-limit hold'em). I was first to act on the river. I bet $8. The guy to my left, without saying anything, put $13 in front of him in one motion (2 red chips and 3 blue chips). Therefore, it wasn't clear if he had intended to call and accidentally dragged an extra red chip along, or if he had intended to raise and miscounted or miscalculated what the minimum raise would be.

There are four possible rules that one could have to cover this situation: A. The dealer asks the player what his intention was, and then, depending on the answer, the player either retracts the extra amount or puts in more money to make the minimum raise. B. In the absence of a previous verbal declaration of a raise, any amount pushed forward that is more than a call but short of the minimum raise is deemed a call, and the extra returned to the player. C. In the absence of a previous verbal declaration of a raise, any amount pushed forward that is more than a call but short of the minimum raise is deemed a raise, and the player is obligated to complete the minimum raise. D. As a sort of compromise between the possibly harsh consequences of (B) and (C), you split the difference, and if the amount is more than halfway between the call and the minimum raise, it's deemed a raise; if the excess is less than halfway to the minimum raise, it's deemed a call.

Cooke's Rules recommends option D. Some casinos appear to go with D for tournaments, but either B or C for cash games (a distinction that makes no sense to me). But clearly the worst option is A, because that's what the angle-shooter would want: ambiguity, which he can then take either way, depending on what reaction he gets from other players.

So what did the dealer do here? He went with A. I asked him whether the player really had the option, and suggested that there must be a house rule settling the issue one way or the other without giving the player the choice. The dealer said that the player had to say what his intention was. I didn't believe it, but it was a small enough amount that I was going to call it anyway, so I didn't make an issue.

Later, however, I approached the shift supervisor and asked what the dealer's move should have been. If I understood his answer correctly, the Flamingo goes with B--the extra $5 should have been returned to the player and his action deemed a call, even if he claimed that his intention was to raise. The dealer was just wrong.

I won the hand at the showdown, incidentally. I still don't know if the guy really intended a raise--he had just hit one small pair on the river, so with 2 0r 3 people left to act behind him, it was a pretty stupid raise, if that really was what he meant to do.

2. I left the Pink Chicken because I wasn't making any money this time around, and went to Tuscany, a short drive away. Late in my session, I made a pre-flop raise to $12. The button reraised to $80, all in. The big blind was gabbing away with somebody and not paying attention. He had seen my raise, but missed the reraise, so he tossed two more $5 chips forward, intending to call my raise. Before anybody else could act after him, I intervened and told him of the reraise. (The dealer hadn't noticed the problem.) He decided to fold instead and took the $10 back.

The dealer told him that the $10 he had just put in had to stay in the pot. The player protested. The dealer, rather than calling for the floor, insisted that the guy put the $10 back. Player refused. They went back and forth a couple of times, until the guy on the button (who had put in the reraise, and was an off-duty dealer there) called for the floor. Floor ruled that since it hadn't affected any action behind him, the player would be allowed to take the $10 back.

This is in accordance with Cooke's rules: "[W]hen facing a raise, if a player is unaware that a pot has been raised and places enough chips in the pot to call an unraised bet only, the dealer shall advise the player that the pot has been raise, whereupon the player may reconsider and change his action, provided that no one has acted behind the player." (10.06, p. 66.) I assume that it is also in accordance with Tuscany's house rules.

3. About two weeks ago at the Orleans, there was a huge pot--about $1000 by the end, which is about as big as pots ever get in a $1-$2 game. I wasn't in it. I was in the 10 seat. On the river, the guy in seat 8 was facing an all-in bet for something like his last $400. He stood up to think about it, and finally decided to call. He pushed forward his two tall stacks. (He was one of those guys who like the 40-chip, $200 stacks instead of the more common 20-chip, $100 stacks--a tendency that was about to cause an unforeseen problem.) He then picked up his hole cards, and attempted to drop them on the table face-up with a little forward motion.

Unfortunately, his cards caught on his tall stacks on their way down, which flipped them face down, right on top of the muck.

The dealer reached for them, picked them up, and placed them face-up in front of the player, as if nothing unusual had happened. I asked her, "Isn't his hand dead?" She said, "No, he didn't mean to muck them [which was obvious--he's not going to call, then throw his hand away before seeing the other hands], and I know it was these two." Since I wasn't involved in the pot, I didn't do or say anything more--and, to my surprise, neither of the other two players in the pot said anything about it, either. (If it had been me, I'd instantly ask for the floor person. I'll take a $1000 pot by default if I can, and not feel one smidgen of guilt about it.) As it turned out, the caller had the worst hand and lost anyway, so the outcome would have been the same. But still, cards in the muck (at least face down, when nobody else has seen them) are dead, pure and simple, end of story. I seriously doubt that Orleans (or any other casino) has a house rule otherwise, though I didn't bother asking.

The common thread in these incidents is that a dealer doesn't know a rule that he or she should know, compounded by being certain of something that wasn't so, and not asking the floor about it. As I said in an earlier post, there's (usually) no shame in not knowing something. But one should be ashamed of being confident that the rule is X when it's actually Y, and not having the humility to say, "I'm not sure what the right thing to do here is; let me call the floor person to clarify it."

Addendum, August 16, 2007:

James Klosty is one of the shift supervisors at the Hilton poker room, and co-host of "Poker, Straight from the Hilton" on KLAV, 1230 AM, Fridays at 3:00 p.m., Pacific time. (You can also listen to the show live on the web through, click on the "listen" button. End of free plug.) Tuesday he told me that he had been reading some of my old posts--including this one, obviously--and questioned whether my opinion was right in story #1 above. At the time, I couldn't remember the situation that had prompted the rant, so I wasn't able to provide James a very satisfactory answer. But his point was thoughtful, and worthy of an equally thoughtful reply, so here's my take on it.

James noted that his long-standing practice in such a situation is to immediately ask the player what his intention was, and go by that. A player would get to make this mistake once--after that, it's assumed he's an angle-shooter, and the bet would be ruled a call only. James is a superb and experienced dealer. I trust him to have a keen sense of BS coming from a player who is trying to pull a fast one, versus an innocent mistake. If all dealers were as consistent and reliable, this system would probably work adequately. That said, we'd still have the problem that dealers change every 30 minutes, and the next one wouldn't necessary know that the guy in seat 8 has had his one chance to have his ambiguous move deemed a genuine oversight.

Overall, though, I still think it's preferable to have a rule that clearly defines what is to happen here, and not give the player a choice. Granted, the great majority of the time there is nothing nefarious intended. But that's also true of other ambiguous actions, such as tossing in an oversized chip when faced with a bet. It is, as far as I know, universal that that action will be deemed a call in the absence of a player announcing a raise before the chip hits the felt. Again, most of the time when a player intends to raise with the oversized chip, but fails to announce it, it's an honest mistake, not an attempt to deceive, so the rule has potentially harsh consequences when it is inadvertantly violated. But we don't give players a choice; the rule clearly defines how the bet is to be treated.

I think that the situation in my story #1 above is exactly analogous, in terms of how it should be handled. That is, there should be a rule (either one standardized everywhere, the way things like the oversized-chip rule are, or ones that casinos adopt internally, which may vary from place to place) that settles the matter cleanly.

I don't so much care which of the possible rules I discuss above (B, C, or D) is implemented. But I will stick to my guns on saying that having one of those rules in place to automatically and consistently determine the interpretation of the otherwise ambiguous action is better than the practice of asking the player what his intention was--even once.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Immutable law of poker

The cocktail waitress will only come right when it's your turn to play.

I have no idea why this is, but it is an undeniable, universal truth.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Let's just check it down"

One of the most egregious--but common--violations of the general rule about not discussing the hand while it's in progress is two players agreeing to "check it down" (i.e., not bet against each other) once they have both called the all-in bet of a third player. I've witnessed it once before in a casino game (at Bally's--and the dealer heard it and did nothing about it), and often in online games, but I had never been the object of it until today.

It happened at the Hilton. I was getting tired and was about ready to go, when I found pocket 9s. The two players to my right were extremely loose, in almost every pot, so when the first of them raised it to $12 and the other called, moving all-in for my last $30 or so seemed the obvious move. The action was folded around back to the original raiser and caller, both of whom called. Then one asked, "You want to just check it down?" The other agreed.

I protested to the dealer. He said, "What's wrong with that?"

He's fairly new, but he's been dealing since July, and he actually went to dealer school, so he should certainly know what's wrong with it. Fortunately, the floor person intervened. But, of course, the damage is already done, because even if the two players are required to officially recant their agreement, there's the wink-wink, nudge-nudge knowledge that they're going to abide by it anyway.

That's why if I had my own casino, the penalty for making and/or accepting such an offer would be that the player's (or players') hand(s) would be declared dead, and they would forfeit any interest in the pot. No exceptions, no explanations, no mercy. I think players would learn pretty quickly not to try it.

In today's case, I won the hand anyway. One player was very apologetic, and clearly didn't understand that it was against the rules, and when I pointed out the reason for it, immediately understood. I'm confident that he gets it now, and won't do it again.

The other guy (the original raiser), however, was annoyed that I was accusing him of collusion. He showed me his 7-2 offsuit, and asked, "If I was trying to collude, why would I do it with the worst hand in poker"? Well, you idiot, maybe because you have the worst hand in poker, and don't want anybody betting into you! If you had a strong hand, you probably wouldn't feel the need to get an opponent to agree not to give you a hard decision to make! What a moron.

In case any reader doesn't understand the problem with this situation, I'll try to explain. One of the fundamental principles of poker is that every player must make all of his own decisions without assistance, and must make them in his own best interest--not in the best interest of any other player. When you enter an agreement not to bet against another player when one is already all-in, you are conspiring. You are reducing you own potential gain (because if you developed a very strong hand, your best interest would be served by making another bet and hoping an opponent called with a worse hand, making a side pot you could win). And you're doing so at the expense of the all-in player.

Look at it this way: if you're all-in against two opponents, wouldn't you love it if one of them made a big bet and drove the other out of the pot, so that you'd only have to beat one other hand at the showdown? Even better, wouldn't it be great if the person betting was really stupid and was bluffing with nothing, and drove the best hand out of the pot?

In tournaments, particularly in the late stages, players will often check down a hand when one is all-in. There's nothing wrong with this, as long as it isn't made an agreement. In a tournament, each player's interest in knocking another one out of contention for the title may well be greater than their interest in winning a particular pot, so in such a situation each player is still acting in his own best interest. But that's not true in a cash game, since a losing all-in player will either just buy more chips or be replaced by a new player bringing new chips into the game; there is no countervailing interest to take into account. If you want to maximize your chance of winning the biggest possible pot, you don't agree to "check it down." The effect of the collusion is that each of the agreeing players shares the risks and rewards--they trade off maximum chance of winning the biggest possible pot for a reduced risk of losing what they've already put into it.

Occasionally when there is a bet and everybody folds except the last player with the option to call, that player will make an agreement with the bettor: I'll call if you agree to check it down after this round of betting. That is, the potential caller says that he's only willing to call if he doesn't have to risk any more of his money. Although I think this isn't good form, it doesn't have the same problem of collusion. The bettor can accept the call on the terms offered, or decline it and take the pot as it is. Either way, he's making a decision based solely on what he thinks is best for him. There's no conspiracy against a third player.

So if any reader didn't know before, now you've been told: agreeing to "check it down" when a player is all-in is collusion. It's against the rules. It's cheating. If you do it, you're a cheater. Dealers who don't know this are incompetent. Casinos that don't enforce this rule are facilitating cheating.

It really is that simple and stark.