Monday, July 19, 2010

"Scott was a little uptight"

I still have a couple more stories from the Venetian yesterday.

At the same time that I entered the game, coming into the box was Mark, a dealer I have known since he worked at the Hilton. He is an exceptionally good dealer: he knows the rules forwards and backwards, enforces them consistently, pays attention to everything, rarely makes any mistakes, and he either remains quiet or says something funny--no mindless chit-chat. My kind of guy.

Adam and Eve, we are led to believe, had an abundant garden full of everything to eat they could want, but had one fruit tree that was forbidden to them. So, rather than say, "OK, we can do without that one thing," they just couldn't resist the temptation. Kids are like that, too--make one thing off-limits to them, and it becomes the only thing they want.

Well, poker players are just the same way. There is only one topic of conversation that is prohibited during the play of a hand, and that is the hand in progress. So what do poker players MOST want to talk about? The hand in progress.

This was going on yesterday. I think the thing that triggered Mark's initial attempt to stifle it was somebody commenting on the size of a bet that had just been made and what it might signify. After the hand was over, he politely asked the players not to discuss the hand until it was done.

The offender objected, insisting that what he had said was perfectly fine. He then tried posing a series of hypothetical things one might say, to each of which Mark calmly responded, "It would be better if you waited until after the hand was over."

After Mark had moved on to another table, the guy whose comment had started the whole thing said, "Scott was a little uptight." (Yeah, he called him "Scott." Great memory in addition to a finely honed sense of social propriety.)

No, he wasn't being uptight. He was doing his job correctly, in a way that, unfortunately, most dealers don't bother with. Whether it's because they don't want to offend any player and risk cutting into tip income, or because they're tired of the constant battle, most dealers just let this stuff go by without comment, which is a large part of the reason it's such a ubiquitous problem. If every dealer handled such matters every time they came up, players would quickly learn that the rule really does matter, and would learn to shut up.

I have heard nearly infinite variations on the exchange that this player and Mark had: A player says something about the hand in progress, receives a reprimand or reminder from the dealer, and responds with some lame excuse about why that particular thing is allowable.

So let's set the record straight. (Not that anybody who really needs to be taught this will be reading, but I turn a blind eye to that fact.) What you can say about the hand in progress is what the current bet is, whose turn it is, and what the individual cards on the board are (e.g., for a player who can't see them clearly)--though even there it is usually best to leave those things to the dealer. Those are the stark, basic facts that are or should be available to all observers equally. Any facts beyond those, or any interpretations of what those facts mean, are off-limits.

To wit:

If you tell your neighbor what cards you folded, you are breaking the rule.

If you speculate out loud about what you think another player's cards are, you are breaking the rule.

If the third card of a suit comes and you say, "Somebody just made their flush," you are breaking the rule (in addition to showing that you have difficulty with noun and pronoun matching).

If the five community cards make a straight and you joke, "I would have made a straight if I had stayed in," you are breaking the rule.

If somebody puts in a large pre-flop reraise and you say, "Big pair," you are breaking the rule.

If somebody makes a large bet and you say, "There's a guy who doesn't want a call," you are breaking the rule.

If the flop comes with two of some rank and you whisper to your neighbor that you folded another one of those, you are breaking the rule.

If at the showdown one player's hand has been shown, another player is trying to decide whether to show or muck, and you say, "Any pair beats him," you are breaking the rule.

If somebody bets and you observe out loud, "He's pot-committed now," you are breaking the rule.

If there are four diamonds on the final board when it comes to the showdown and you say, "Who's got a diamond?" you are breaking the rule.

If the board contains a pair and three parts of a straight flush and you say, "Possible bad-beat jackpot," you are breaking the rule.

If you say, "I'm going to fold because that guy's hands are shaking so bad I know he's got a monster," you are breaking the rule.

If you ask another player, "Are you betting that much because you don't want anybody chasing the flush draw?" you are breaking the rule.

If you say, "Let's have a six on the river to make my straight," you are breaking the rule.

If there are three jacks on the board and you ask, "Who's got the last one?" you are breaking the rule.

If there are four nines on the board and you say, "Any ace wins it," you are breaking the rule.

Get the idea?

To be as general as possible, if anything you say could even conceivably help another player decide what to do or influence how he decides to play his hand or give him more information or insight about what is happening, it is not allowed. In making that determination, you should assume that there is a player at the table who is blind, deaf, drunk to just short of passing out, and who is such a novice at poker that he doesn't even what hands beat what other hands; i.e., any small clue you give out might help him.

An exception to all of this is if you are one of just two players left actively contesting the pot, in which case it is no longer possible for you to unduly influence the action of a third party.

None of this is particularly complicated. You don't talk about the hand in progress. It's a beautifully simple rule, really. The exceptions are so few that you could easily ignore them, act as if there were no exceptions at all, and go through an entire poker career just fine, never saying a word about the hand in progress.

I am appalled on a nearly daily basis about how casually and frequently this rule is violated, and how little most dealers do to keep a lid on these comments. I'll always appreciate and stand up for those stalwart few who make the effort.


diverjoules said...

AMEN!! I hate table/hand talkers. Love your blog though.

Big-O said...

Is this the same Mark from your 11/09/2006 post???

Rakewell said...


No. I don't recall ever having mentioned him by name before, though maybe I did sometime back in 2006-2007 when the Hilton poker room was open, and just don't remember it now.

However, I vividly remember that he was the dealer who gave me pocket aces flopping sets and losing huge pots twice in one 30-minute down, which was sufficiently ugly that I'll bet he remembers it nearly as well as I do. That story is here (and, for the record, remains one of my best-ever posts, I think):

Paul said...

due to dealers wanting to get the best tips I bet they dont call people out on these rules that much