Friday, April 11, 2008

A strange situation

I was playing at the Luxor tonight before I moved over to the adjacent Excalibur. While there, I saw one of the strangest poker situations of my career. It's one of those things that makes me realize there will never, ever be a poker rule book that covers every situation, because nobody could possibly anticipate the exact mix of circumstances that gave the floorman tonight a very difficult judgment call to make.

The two players involved we will call Mr. Straight and Mr. Flush, because one of them flopped a straight and the other flopped a flush. It must be noted that Mr. Flush was very, very drunk.

Mr. Flush had been sitting on my immediate right for a couple of hours. (I was in 9, he had been in 8.) Seat 5 became available, and he decided to move there, for unclear reasons. He picked up one stack and moved it, came back and picked up another stack and moved it.

Just then, the big winner of the day in seat 6 decided that he was done, too (up about $1300). So Mr. Flush changed his mind about where he wanted to sit, and decided to take the "lucky" seat. A new dealer was simultaneously just sitting down, saw Mr. Flush moving to seat 6, and helped him push his remaining chips there. The new dealer, unfortunately, didn't know that the two stacks of chips at seat 5 also belonged to Mr. Flush, because this new dealer hadn't been there when those got moved. Mr. Flush is way too drunk to realize or remember that he now has chips in front of two seats. He takes his hand sitting in 6. He has about $300 there, plus the roughly $200 in seat 5. There is no list of people waiting for a seat, so nobody is coming to claim seat 5, which would have uncovered the problem before disaster struck.

So we have a flop, and Mr. Straight bets, Mr. Flush raises big, Mr. Straight--who is in seat 3, with about $500--says, "I'm all in." Mr. Flush calls. The hand plays out, and Mr. Flush is the winner.

The dealer matches Mr. Straight's chips with the $300 or so in front of Mr. Flush. Mr. Flush still hasn't remembered that he has another $200 in front of seat 5. Mr. Straight hadn't been aware that those chips belonged to Mr. Flush; he hadn't been paying attention to Mr. Flush's seat change maneuvers, and assumed that there was a new player coming in to whom they belonged.

Another player points out to the dealer that the seat 5 chips are also part of Mr. Flush's stack. (I hadn't said anything because I thought they were his, but I hadn't paid enough attention to all the goings-on to be sure.) Mr. Flush himself is a little foggy on it at first, but finally remembers that, yes, he did put those there before deciding to take seat 6 instead.

Well, now Mr. Straight doesn't want to cover the additional $200 or so for the chips in front of seat 5. The floor is called.

Mr. Straight's argument is that when he moved all in, he assumed he was only actually putting at risk the amount that he saw in front of Mr. Flush, which was about $300. He says he might not have been willing to risk his entire $500 if he had known that Mr. Flush had about the same total amount. It's not his job to know that a player has distributed his chips between two different seats.

The argument for Mr. Flush (which he was entirely too drunk to think of or articulate on his own; this is the point of view taken by a couple of other players who thought he deserved to have all of his chips counted, and spoke up for him) was this: Suppose that Mr. Straight had won the hand, then discovered that Mr. Flush was actually sitting on $500 instead of just $300. Mr. Flush would surely then argue, "I said all-in, he said call, so he's responsible for the entire amount, even if some of his chips are in front of another seat." If Mr. Straight would claim the whole amount had he won, then it's only fair for him to be responsible for the entire amount when he lost. Besides, Mr. Flush had been hugely overaggressive for hours, bluffing at nearly every pot, so nobody really thought that Mr. Straight would have played it any differently even if he had known the correct amount that he was putting at risk; he was highly confident (but wrong) that he had the best hand when he pushed all-in.

The floor guy did not have an easy decision. I kept my mouth shut, although when it was over and the player on my left asked my opinion, I said that I tended to side with Mr. Straight. Yes, he was probably being less than candid in saying that he might have played differently had he known that their stacks were about equal, and yes, he might well try to claim the entire amount if he had won it--but the larger responsibility, in my view, lies with Mr. Flush, to keep his chips in clear view, and in a manner that isn't deceptive (even if unintentionally) to opponents. It was, in effect, the same as if he had two black $100 chips hidden behind his three stacks of red chips, not visible to an opponent.

The floor guy apparently couldn't make up his mind as to which way to go, so he ended up splitting the difference. He eyeballed about half of the disputed amount, and made Mr. Straight match that. In other words, Mr. Straight ended up losing about $400, rather than the $300 that he thought he should lose or the $500 that Mr. Flush thought he should have to give up. Mr. Flush was content with that resolution, but Mr. Straight was not. He was hopping mad.

I got the rest of Mr. Straight's stack on the next hand, when I recognized that his all-in on the flop--an enormous overbet--was classic steaming, and I called him with bottom pair. I was right--the flop had missed him completely. I was pretty proud of that call, because it was all about understanding Mr. Straight's frame of mind at the moment, rather than what the cards were. Calling that big a bet with bottom pair does not come easily or naturally to me. That's when he reached his boiling point, left the table, and got into the really heated argument with Mr. Flush, who had decided to take a cigarette break maybe 20 feet away. It very nearly came to blows, and they had to call security to separate the two of them.

As I said at the start, this was one of the most peculiar confluences of circumstances I've ever seen. I don't envy the job of the floor, to settle such matters, when there isn't a clear right or wrong.


cheer_dad said...

Great story! I agree with you about siding with Mr. Straight, especially with the added bonus that you got to put the remaining $100 of his chips in front of you on the next hand! : )



Tarpie said...

I was involved in the same situation, and it was 100% my fault. Playing at the MGM Grand last summer, the seat to my right opened up and I decided to move to it. In the process of moving my chips the cards are dealt. I look down at AQ after moving half of my stack over. I decide to get involved in the hand and completely forget about completing my chip move, so I now have two stacks, one in front of me and one in the seat to my right.

Of course I have the nuts on the turn (Aces over Queens) and a someone decides to bluff me all-in. I call. In the end I win the hand and chips are counted out to match the stack in front of me. The dealer then intervenes and points out that the chips I moved are also mine. "Floor!" is called by the loser of the hand. The same decision was made, we split the difference of the extra chips. I did not argue because it was my fault.

Every time I think about this incident I get really annoyed with myself, but there is no way I will make this mistake again.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a little similar to keeping all of your chips visible. I can see how Mr. Straight didn't see all of Mr. Flush's chips. I would tend to side with Mr. Straight unless there is evidence to show that he is angle shooting. I think that the floor tried to take the high road by spilting the difference. I don't see any way that the floor made the right decision. You either count all of the chips from the 5 seat or none of them.

Richard said...

I think the floor decision was wrong. The two governing concepts are (1) the party creating the ambiguity has it resolved againt him, and (2) when actions are ambiguous, decide in favor of the least amount of action. Either of these two guidelines would have resulted in a decision favoring Mr. Straight.


Luke said...

Your point about this being the same as somebody hiding two black chips under his stack is dead on. In this case Mr. Flush was not deliberately hiding chips but it was his responsibility to move all of them when he changed seats.

Grange95 said...

I guess I have to disagree with a couple of responses here. Sure, Mr. Straight may not have "seen" all of the chips in front of Mr. Flush, but he: a) had been at the table long enough to know Mr. Flush was sitting on a bigger stack than was directly in front of him, and b) had seen Mr. Flush do the spot hopping. At the very least, Mr. Straight knew enough to at least inquire how much Mr. Flush was playing (much like a player should inquire how many $100 bills are playing when a player has several of them under or behind his chips).

Also, Mr. Straight had said, "All-in", committing his entire stack, after which Mr. Flush called This order of events is at least somewhat significant in that Mr. Flush was not betting allin and only pushing part of his chips forward. Mr. Straight was willing to bet his stack, so his stack should have been at risk.

Finally, let's say Mr. Straight happened to win the hand. Does anyone think for an instant that he wouldn't have demanded that Mr. Flush pay him every chip he had at the table? So letting him off the hook for his all-in bet here basically encourages angle-shooting.

Tough situation, made worse by a dealer not paying attention, but ... I just don't see why Mr. Straight gets off the hook for his bet as made.