Friday, June 11, 2010

You make the call--part 2

If you have not yet read part 1 of this post, in which I explain the decision the floor guy had to make, you might want to do that and make up your own mind about the situation before reading on, because I'm about to tell you what actually happened, plus what I think should have happened.

First, I have to say that I think this is an unusually difficult call. There are sound, reasonable arguments to be made in both directions, and ultimately I don't think I could find a lot of fault with the decision going either way.

Even so, I have my prejudices and preferences and priorities. I'm a rules guy. I'm not absolutely unyielding; I'd like to think that I preserve a reasonable degree of flexibility when the situation calls for it. But at the same time, things can be bent only so far before they break, and when they break, it's bad for the game.

In this case, I would come down on the side of SLS and against DMA. DMA could have exposed his cards the normal, safe way by simply turning them over. He didn't. He tossed them, thus putting them out of his control and taking the risk that something untoward would happen to them. It usually doesn't, but once in a while it does, and the player has nobody to blame but himself. His position was further worsened by what sounded like a verbal concession of the pot, giving the dealer good reason to act as he did.

When a player does all he reasonably can be expected to do to protect his hand and it still gets mucked or otherwise killed, I'm quite sympathetic to making whatever accommodation can be found to preserve his interest in the pot. In this case, for example, suppose that DMA had turned his cards face up in front of him, but the dealer had misread the board (thinking that trip tens was the winner), picked up DMA's cards and mucked them before he could react. I would then be in favor of chopping the pot. That is, retrieve the cards if possible; if not, rely on the three witnesses as to what the cards were; if that were for some reason unacceptable to SLS or unfeasible, go to the security camera for verification. Make it right.

But DMA did not do all that he could do. Players who are lax about protecting their cards and their interest in a pot are playing with fire. Once in a while they're going to get burned, and all you can do is tell them, "I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do now." Players are assumed to know in advance how they are supposed to conduct themselves. DMA was no novice. In fact, he claimed to that he was retired and played cards full-time. (I do not believe him, but that's what he said.)

Although it's only a tangential point, I'm also not in favor of rewarding people for being loudmouthed, offensive jerks. DMA's conduct was reprehensible, unforgiveable. It was tolerated far longer than just about any tirade I've ever seen in a poker room, for reasons that still baffle me. About 30 seconds into it, I would have given him the "not one more word" warning, and then promptly made good on the threat when he didn't shut up, and have him dragged out.

Would I make the decision differently if it were a greenhorn player who really didn't understand his obligations, and behaved himself impeccably when the controversy came up? Probably not--but I'll admit that it would at least be an even closer call.

What about the additional unusual fact here that the first player to show his hand was playing the board? I say this is a red herring, without any real bearing on the matter. DMA might, for all we know, have misread the situation in several ways. He might have thought from early on in the hand that he was going to need an ace or a queen to win, and when he didn't get one, basically gave up on the pot. He might have seen the four diamonds and felt sure that SLS must have one, and thus gave up too soon. He might have seen the three tens, overlooked the straight on the board, and surrendered. In any of those situations a player might give the concession speech and muck his cards without showing, or with showing only one. In my view, he must be allowed to do so. He cannot receive any assistance in the decision as to whether to muck unseen or show his cards. It really doesn't matter whether he chooses to show them because he mistakenly thinks he has the best hand, or because he sees the situation correctly and knows it's a chop, or because he thinks he has lost and is just showing what he had to get a little sympathy for a good starting hand turning worthless. We neither can nor need to know what prompts him to table his cards face up; once he does so, the cards speak, and the dealer and the other players can and will make sure the pot gets awarded correctly. Similarly, we neither can nor need to know what prompts him to muck without showing; once he does so, his hand is dead, regardless of what its showdown value might have been. Up until the point that DMA puts his cards face up on the table, it is his prerogative to throw them away, if he decides to do so for any reason. In short, I would make my decision about the hand being live or dead independent of whether DMA had a winner, a loser, or a chopper.

Here's what actually happened. The floor guy got on the phone to his supervisor (the poker room manager, I assume). Meanwhile, SLS had the pot and the game went on. Security had DMA step away from the table and they were trying to keep him calm while the floor guy consulted about what to do.

After maybe ten minutes of continued play, floor guy came back and announced that his boss had give him instructions on how to handle it: The pot was to be chopped. Unfortunately, nobody could remember how much had been in it. The floor guy had failed to get it counted and/or set aside while a final decision was pending. With the dealer's help he came up with an estimate of what it was, divided that in half, and made SLS give up that many chips, which were then awarded to DMA. DMA was put back in the game with a warning about language, conduct, etc. (Floor guy claimed not to have heard any of the swearing, which I find completely unbelievable.) To make matters worse, SLS had given Ricky a $20 tip from the large pot. He went to Ricky and asked for half of it back so that he lost less on the hand overall.

It was a catastrophe. I think this was mishandled in just about every possible way. If the floor guy couldn't make a binding decision on the spot, then he's got to put those chips out of play--in escrow, so to speak. The bare minimum is to count the pot, so that the amount in question is clear to everybody. But even with that, allowing SLS to continue playing as if he had won the pot is inviting disaster. What if he goes all in on the next hand and loses? When the final decision is arrived at, are you going to take chips from whomever SLS lost them to, and give them back to DMA? You can't obligate SLS to pay out of his pocket should that happen. (I suppose you could make him put up half of the pot's value in cash from his wallet before being allowed to continue playing, but I've never heard of that being done, I'm just making it up as I write.)

If the pot were smaller, one possibility is the house making up half of the pot to DMA, on the grounds that it was a dealer error. That's not realistic here. First, the pot was larger than the amount that I assume shift supervisors have it within their discretion to take out of the till. Second, it's not really clear that there was a dealer error. As far as I'm concerned, Ricky's actions were entirely reasonable and understandable, and consistent with what he was supposed to be doing. All--or at least the vast majority--of the fault lay squarely with DMA.

As it actually played out, SLS was the one that ended up pissed off, and left in a huff because of (1) what he considered a bad floor decision, and (2) having taken an unreasonable amount of abuse from DMA, with no consequences for DMA other than a warning. I don't blame him for feeling wronged on both counts. However, if he could continue playing without it affecting him, he was leaving behind a chance for another big score. There are some things that get me perturbed enough that I can't really focus well on the game. Would this have been such a case, had I been in his shoes? I don't think so, but I can't really be sure of that.

DMA, conversely, became all sweet and charming to everybody, and remained so for the rest of the time I was there. I doubled up through him in an expensive set-over-set situation (my jacks to his fours), and he didn't get one bit angry over his rotten luck. He just said, "Nice hand" repeatedly, and was a perfect gentleman about it. Go figure.


Michael said...

Nice write up and after my initial post in the first part where I leaned toward splitting the pot, I have to say with your argument and further description (or possibly just reading it again), I changed my opinion as well. I think the pot should have been awarded to the original declared winner. I think for me the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back was the attitude of DMA.

In a situation where a person has contributed to the chaos, I think it's absolutely on them to handle themselves appropriately and humbly in the process to try and faciliate the desired outcome. Of course this has nothing to do with the rules, but in subjective situations, I do believe that this accountability needs to come into play a bit. Considering DMA's behaviour up to the point of 'getting his way' I find it offensive and boorish.

Having said that, I couldn't agree with you more on that the floor handled the situation horribly, how the pot is not set aside or at least determined to be the amount for future split is deplorable and would have frustrated me further if I was the original 'winner'. I'd have left as well severely upset with how it was handled and having to succumb to the abuse of DMA.

One other point, the $20 tip seems a bit unusual here, would it be a regular tip for a pot this size or for this person? The reason I ask is if not, I might infer that the original winner might have felt the profit was ill gained in the situation and possibly resolving a bit of guilt with such a large tip.

phrankguy1 said...

I can't BELIEVE that the floorperson didn't have the foresight to take those chips out of play! WTF was this guy thinking(or not thinking, more likely)?

Anonymous said...

Once you are drunk and get out of control, I've found that most people will actually settle down- especially after a large confrontation.

No one goes looking for a fight when they get drunk. They get drunk to have a good time.

Grange95 said...

I don't think there's any question there was a dealer error. Was it understandable? Sure. But there's no way a hand should ever be mucked on the river without some unequivocal indication that a player has folded. If there is any ambiguity (and one card up, one card down is ambiguous), then the dealer needs to clarify before killing the hand.

I also disagree that the fact that SLS could only chop the pot was a "red herring". His only expectation in the pot is a chop. He can only win if DMA makes a boneheaded error. DMA appeared to atempt to table his hand prior to the dealer error. SLS really can't complain that he got exactly what he was entitled to based on his hand.

This wasn't a situation where SLS had top set on a four-flushed but non-straight board, and DMA shows a single small card to make a flush. In that case, SLS will win or lose the entire pot based on whether DMA calls or folds. In that situation, a "show one and fold" is a much more likely action than in the split pot scenario that occurred here (and the dealer killing the hand is somewhat more defensible).

I completely agree that the floor should have taken the money out of play until the matter was resolved. Too many bad things can happen in the intervening period. Frankly, SLS could have just cashed out and been beyond recall when the final ruling came down.

Sebastian X said...

With the first guy relying on the straight from the community cards for his best hand, surely it was self-evident it was a split-pot at worst for the other player, even if he seemed to have made a concession? If a player concedes and shows his cards and it turns out he won, he wins. If a player concedes and it is already apparent he can not have lost, then the dealer should have been paying enough attention to split the pot. Therefore that would have been my ruling.

Bob@ThreeRiversPoker said...

I am flabbergasted that, once a ruling was made, no one had an accurate count of how many chips were in that pot.

How can you even move on with the game without separating those chips out, or at least knowing exactly what the number was?

Mark T said...

Wow - what a ridiculously awful outcome.

I agree with you that it's a close call and can't really argue with either basic outcome. My initial reaction was to award a split pot, and I still stick with that, but I can't argue with the theory of SLS getting the whole pot.

However, once SLS has been awarded the pot in actuality (even if "the manager hasn't yet issued a final decision") and play has continued, it is beyond recovery. Under no circumstances should the floor rule an arbitrary amount of money be given from Player A to Player B at some point umpteen minutes in the future.

If they were desperate to continue play (and since it apparently took a while, it makes sense), they can escrow the money while they investigate.

In my eyes, it would be too bad that the floor's at-the-table ruling went to SLS when I think it should have been split, but once those chips have been pushed and merged into the SLS player's stack, the thing is OVER. There is no recourse for DMA. If the floor desperately wants to keep him as a player, either now or in the future, they can comp him something or soothe the savage breast - but they cannot grab some of SLS's money and give it to him.

Egads, how terrible.