Sunday, May 02, 2010

String theory

There was an incident near the very end of my session at Caesars Palace Monday evening. A woman in early position raised to $10. I called, holding the two red jacks. The player to my left was on the button, and reraised to $30. The blinds folded. The dealer gathered in all of the bets except for the $20 raise, which was left sitting in front of the button, as that was now the amount that the remaining players would have to call if they wished to continue in the hand.

The original raiser announced,"I'm gonna reraise." She picked up stacks of four red chips with each hand and pushed those forward. She then went back to her stacks and repeated this move, bringing out a total of $80 in this way.

A couple of other players howled their protest. "String raise!" "She can't do that!" The dealer said it was OK, because she had announced "raise" first. I thought this was damn peculiar, since that announcement doesn't change her obligation to stop putting out chips as soon as she has committed enough to constitute a legal raise, and since she did not announce any specific raise amount.

The floor was called, and he made the obvious ruling that her initial move of putting out $40 in chips was the extent of what she could do, because that was a full raise (even if a minimal one--$20 for the call, plus another $20). After he had walked away, the dealer said, "That's a new one. Must be a Caesars house rule."

Caesars Palace is in the midst of a big tournament series, so they have brought in a bunch of temporary dealers to supplement their usual staff. This guy was obviously one of them. However, as one player vociferously (and correctly) pointed out to the dealer, this is not a Caesars house rule. Rather, it is the standard rule, and would be enforced exactly the same way in every poker room in Vegas.

The dealer shrugged his shoulders and said, "That's not how they do it at the Commerce."

In the midst of the initial confusion, before the floor had been called, I had heard another player inject, "This isn't California, dealer." The combination of that comment plus the dealer's observation make me think that perhaps it is done differently in at least some California casinos. If readers have personal experience to either confirm or refute that, I'd like to hear about it in the comments section.

Anyway, it was very strange to have a dealer not know what constitutes a string raise, as it is one of the most common violations that a dealer is called upon to enforce. I don't think I've ever before encountered one who didn't know that rule.

For the record, you essentially have three choices for putting in a raise. (1) Announce the amount of the raise (or the total amount you are going to bet; i.e., the sum of the call and the raise), in which case it doesn't matter how many moves to your stack you make to get the right number of chips into the pot. (2) Say nothing, and push all of the chips you wish to bet (the call plus the raise) forward in one motion. (3) Announce "raise" without an amount, put out chips to constitute the call, then with one additional movement forward put out the additional amount of the raise.

While I'm on the subject of dealers not knowing basic rules, a few days ago I was playing at the Riviera. There were three players left in the hand on the river. (I was not one of them.) The player who was to be second to act went out of turn, moving his entire stack forward. When it was pointed out that it was not his turn yet, he apologized and took his chips back. The first player then checked. This second player then checked behind.

I immediately asked the dealer, "He can move all-in out of turn, and then check when it's his turn?" She said, "Yeah, sure, it's no problem."

The last player checked, too. It seemed that nobody who would be directly affected by the action cared to contest it, so I didn't argue further. But a little while later I headed over to the counter, described the situation to the floor guy, and asked him if the Riviera used some non-standard house rule to cover that situation. He said no, and emphatically agreed that the player should have been held to his all-in bet when it was checked to him. He was surprised that the dealer had handled it incorrectly. He said he would have a chat with her at her next break.

There are some obscure rules in poker that cover rare situations. Even after having been to dealer school, even after having read a couple of poker rule books cover to cover, even after playing most days of the week for four years now, there are still occasionally situations that come up for which I don't know a rule, and have to look it up later. For example, a dealer friend recently emailed me a question about the so-called "fourth-street rule" in seven-card stud. While both he and I knew the rule and its usual application, neither of us was sure how it should be applied in the situation he described to me. My initial guess was wrong, as I discovered later when I checked my published sources. As another example, during a mixed-game tournament at Treasure Island in March, I made an error with respect to posting the bring-in with an oversized chip during a stud round. An off-duty dealer (and reader--hi, Pete!) playing at the table pointed out to me that somebody being nitty could hold me to having made a complete bet rather than just the bring-in amount. I hadn't ever thought about it before.

But string raises and out-of-turn action are things that happen not just every day, but many times a day. It is hard to understand how a dealer--other, perhaps, than one on his or her first day on the job--could not know how to apply them. It's not quite as bad as not knowing whether a flush beats a straight, but it's close.


Local Rock said...

The following rules of poker are consistently applied in California card rooms:

1. When they throw stuff, duck.

End list.

Shrike said...

And here I was hoping for a good particle physics discussion!


qdpsteve said...

Local Rock gets it. Unfortunately I've been finding, especially over the past year, that rules are 100% SUBJECTIVELY enforced at Southern CA casinos. All that really matters to most of the personnel is (1) how much they like you, and (2) how much of a regular you are. So basically the rich and popular can do just about anything they want, and the floor will back them up almost all the time. This includes talking about hands in progress, misrepresenting your actions (saying 'call this' and then raising), and dealer/player abuse.

Now that the 'poker boom' has passed and management feels a bit desperate to keep high rollers coming, the inconsistency and laziness re FOLLOWING THEIR OWN DAMN RULES has degraded to the point that I'm rapidly weaning myself off my local place (Hawaiian Gardens Casino). Instead I now try to play exclusively at Pechanga and other relatively closeby "indian casinos," such as Morongo and Barona. At least they still have the slightest pretense of promoting a friendly atmosphere and quality customer service.

But, glad you wrote about this... been wanting to vent about it for a long time.

Anonymous said...

I've been told by dealers in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oregon that once you announce that you do intend to raise, you can go back and forth as many times as you want to until you announce the amount of your raise.

The exception to this is on tables that have the betting line around the outside of the table. If that line is on the felt, once your chips pass it, that's your bet.

Photoc said...

In Cali, it's up to the players to call string raises first of all. Hence why I can understand the confusion.

Second, the old way of no limit was that a player may announce raise and continue putting chips into the pot until their hands come to "rest" outside of the playing area. Meaning they can return to their stacks over and over as long as they don't pause to "think" about it as they do it.

This "one motion or announce the amount" thing is relatively new since the boom.

Blindraise013 said...

Having played a lot at the Commerce this past summer, its ruled the same way there too. As you said, happens a few times a day (and a session) and I have never seen it handled differently. Doesnt mean its not possible, maybe at that dealers table, but not one I have played at.

Pete said...

he traditional rule in No Limit Poker was that a player could keep going back and forth to move stacks until his hands came to rest outside the betting area. This rule appears in robert's Rules of Poker "At non-tournament play, a player who says "raise" is allowed to continue putting chips into the pot with more than one move; the wager is assumed complete when the player's hands come to rest outside the pot area. (This rule is used because no-limit play may require a large number of chips be put into the pot.) In tournament play, the TDA rules require that the player either use a verbal statement giving the amount of the raise or put the chips into the pot in a single motion, to avoid making a string-bet. "

What happened was that when the No Limit poker boom hit many rooms with management unfamiliar with No-Limit poker started running No-Limit games. As a result certain Limit Rules started getting applied to No-Limit poker.

This particular is now so common that many people do not even understand that it was not standard. So from time to time people who do it the old way find themselves bewildered when they run into the new way and the new players think the other guy is out of his mind.

Rakewell said...

Photoc and Pete: Yeah, the first time I played live no-limit cash games was at an Indian casino in Wisconsin in 2005. I read their brochure of rules during a lunch break once, and I remember the "hands coming naturally to rest" kind of language. Got to Vegas the next year, and found out that nobody here does it that way.

Rakewell said...

Anon: There's nothing wrong with using a "staging area" sort of thing, building a stack, putting chips on it, taking some off, etc., while you decide how much to make it. But then you get one forward motion for the whole amount. When I speak of going back and forth to the stacks, implicit in that is that the chips picked up are then going forward into the betting area, whether or not that is defined by a line on the table.

Fred said...

Actually, Local Rock, I've seen dealers hold still as 'tips' are tossed at them (usually in an attempt to get them in the shirt).