Friday, June 11, 2010

It never hurts to check

Terrence "Not Johnny" Chan has this cautionary tale from a WSOP pot-limit Omaha event in his latest blog entry:

There was one kind of wild hand before the dinner break. It was folded me on the
button at 100-200 and I looked down at the powerhouse hand that is TT53
double-suited. I raised to 600 and only the BB called. The flop came A96 with
two of my suit, and I checked it behind (probably a mistake). The turn came an
8, my opponent bet just 800 and I decided to float. The river was a 7 and my
opponent bet 1000. I said "raise" and tossed in the first 1000 to call and
started the process of thinking how much to raise. I was wearing earphones but
apparently the dealer said something like "turn 'em up" while four other people
at the table simultaneously said "he said raise". But the damage was done as my
opponent quickly turned up Q99x. The floor was called over, and my opponent was (justifiably) very unhappy, but of course it was ruled that my raise would
stand. Now how much to raise? I decided to raise...1000 more. My opponent said,
"bullshit" and quickly folded. Total weirdness!

This caught my attention because twice within the past few days I have unintentionally annoyed an opponent and been accused of slow-rolling when I couldn't be sure whether a bet was a call or a raise.

The first instance was at Imperial Palace Wednesday night. I can't even remember what the hand was, but I made something strong on the river and made a nearly pot-sized bet of $35. My opponent didn't ask how much it was, but just grabbed a partial stack of chips and stuck it out there. I could tell that it was a little more than I had bet--probably not enough to be a raise, but I couldn't be sure at a glance. So I asked the dealer, "Is that a call?" The dealer counted it out, tossed the extra couple of chips back to the player, and said, "Yes, it's a call." I then showed my hand. The other player, who probably had been ahead until the last street, angrily mucked his cards while saying, "Of course it's a call--what'd you think, idiot?" I didn't bother explaining myself, but the answer, obviously, was that if he were trying to raise, I definitely wanted to let him do so, rather than possibly kill the action by showing my hand.

The second instance was last night at the Venetian. I was on the button and called a raise with suited 10-8, one of my favorite crAAKKer hands. The flop gave me bottom pair and a straight draw, the turn improved me to two pair, and I filled up on the river. We had a roughly $150 three-way pot by then, so when they both checked to me, I pushed out two $50 stacks. I thought they either both had straights or one had a straight and the other the overpair of AA or KK. I was not only prepared to get it all in, but hoping they would let me.

I tried, as I usually do in such situations, to look casual and unconcerned, which includes not staring at my opponents. I look their way once in a while as they think, but also look around at the pot, the dealer, the other players, the TVs, the cocktail waitresses--whatever there is. Both opponents seemed to be wary of my bet, and were taking their time to respond to it, so I had quite a bit of aimless eyes-wandering time. At some point I looked back and saw a stack of what appeared to be $100 in front of one player, and a $100 bill in front of the other. But the bill was folded, and for some reason its orientation to me (it was at the far end of the table) made it look like it might be two bills folded together. That was significant. I needed to be sure that it was just a call rather than a raise before showing. So I asked the dealer to check and be sure that it was just a single bill. He did, and it was. I then promptly showed my cards and won the pot. Hilarity ensued, both in criticizing my hand selection, and, more to the point for this post, a muttered accusation of a slow-roll.

But you can see my dilemma. Suppose in either case I'm wrong, and there really are sufficient chips for a raise, or two bills constituting a raise. If I don't verify the situation and just make the assumption that it's a call, we end up with a big mess--especially in the case of the three-way pot. Floor people get called, angry accusations and opinions fly, decisions have to be made, the game crashes to a halt, etc.

I regret that my nervous opponents were subjected to five or ten seconds' delay in getting to see my cards, but I'm not apologizing for what I did. Under the circumstances, I felt--and continue to feel--that it was not only justifiable, but absolutely necessary to clarify the situation before acting on it. The occasional chaos that results from a misunderstanding in such cases is bad enough that I'm willing to cause or endure a small delay many times to avoid the ugly mess just once.

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