Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Leave the button alone

There are some posts that I think about writing, oh, 16,000,000 times or so before I actually get around to it. This is one of them. Nothing in particular prompted the timing, except that I'm sitting at home in front of the computer and it occurred to me. My basic message is in the title of the post: Leave the dealer button alone.

The first and most obvious annoyance that results from not abiding by this sage advice is that sometimes a player who is not in the hand gets bored and decides that the button is his personal plaything. He twirls it around, shuffles it from one hand to the other, or whatever. The result is that when others glance around to see where the button is, in order to figure out where action is starting and ending, they can't find it. The button does not become your toy simply because it happens to be sitting in front of you. Leave the damn thing alone.

But now for a subtler problem. Many, many players think they are being helpful by moving the button for the dealer at the end of a hand. I contend that they are mostly wrong. Here's why.

Naturally, the most common thing is that the button moves one seat clockwise when a hand concludes. But once in a while something different needs to happen--it needs to move two spots (e.g., to skip a player who just sat down), or none (e.g., if somebody is buying the button after missing a big blind). Most players who think they are being helpful don't anticipate these exceptions and mess it up.

However, even when things are normal, it's easy to create a problem moving the button. The most common way this happens is that a player moves it without saying anything, when the dealer isn't watching. Then the player who moved it gets distracted by something else (sports on TV, cocktail waitress arriving, or whatever), so the dealer--or sometimes a second player--moves it again, and PRESTO, we have a problem.

On average, it must take a dealer two seconds or less to move the button. So that's the maximum time you're saving the game if you do everything right. (It's probably a bit less, because there's a little time for the dealer to recognize that you have moved the button and process that he or she can skip that step. But let's ignore that factor for now.) If, though, you cause a problem, it's likely to take 30 seconds or so to straighten it out. "I thought he was the button." "No, I was just the small blind." "No you weren't, I was the small blind that hand." "You couldn't have been the big blind, because I put in a straddle." Etc. It's tedious, annoying, and so completely unnecessary, had the meddlers not created the problem to begin with.

In my experience, these situations--either the exceptional case where the button should be moved or not moved differently than usual, or the common case where it gets moved twice accidentally, or at least it is initially unclear whether it got moved twice--happen sufficiently often that the time wasted in solving the resulting messes outweighs the total of the time saved in two-second increments by players "helpfully" moving the button. I submit that the poker world would be better off if no players ever touched the button than we are with the current situation in which so many players think they know how to do it right, but actually don't.

The one obvious exception I would make to the above observation is the situation in which the dealer has difficult reaching the button, usually at the end seats, because the tables are too large, or the dealers are too small (or, sometimes, too fat). In such cases, there should be no problem if a player, seeing the dealer starting to reach for the button, takes the initiative and moves it. (Sometimes a dealer will verbally ask for such help, too.) That way it is done at the right time and with the dealer's knowledge.

If you insist on taking the initiative in situations other than that, here's what I think you should know about the seemingly simple process of pushing the button forward one seat: It is supposed to come at a specific point in the process of concluding a hand. If dealers are following the standard training, the sequence of events is (1) kill the losing hands, (2) push the pot to the winner, (3) move the button, (4) drop the rake, (5) muck the winning hand and begin the scramble/shuffle for the next hand.

So if you're going to move the button, you should anticipate that the dealer will be looking to do so himself or herself immediately after the pot has been pushed. Pushing the pot usually requires the dealer to have his or her eyes on it, and he or she will not be attending to what is happening to the button until that task is completed. If you move it while the pot is being pushed (the most common problem-creating scenario) and do nothing else, the dealer will often miss that fact.

You need to either be ready to move it right at the moment that the dealer's attention is coming to that task, or be ready right then to indicate that you have already moved it. If I'm doing it, I either make sure the dealer sees me do it, or, if he or she isn't watching at the expected moment (some dealers do tasks out of the standard order), I tap the button deliberately when the dealer's attention is finally my way, or announce out loud that I have moved it.

But the point is this: If you take on the responsibility of moving the button, you also thereby accept a sacred duty to (1) not screw it up (e.g., moving it when it shouldn't be moved, etc.), and (2) make absolutely sure that the dealer knows that it's done. If you fail in either of these respects, then you have cost everybody at the table time, rather than having saved time, as you like to flatter yourself that you are doing.

That, of course, is an unforgivable sin.


Tmo said...

Sage advice. If I do move the button (usually because of the reasons you state) I either say "Button move" and wait for some sort of acknowledgment from the dealer, or make sure that the dealer is watching me as I do it and not lift my finger/hand from it until it is clear that they see it moving.

AtlantaMatt said...

What would be cool is a poker table with an electronic indicator of the button and 2 blinds controlled by the dealer.

John said...

Amen one of my top ten pet peeves

iganatz said...

I will move the button, especially when I know the dealer. However, when doing so, I'm always cognizant of what is going on at the completion of the hand AND accompany the move with a loud "the button is good". I have a booming voice which is impossible not to hear unless you're hearing impaired.

That said, I won't touch the button unless it was mine in the hand just concluded. I also won't touch it if the dealer has a complicated end-of-hand procedure to deal with (e.g. a 3 way all-in with side pots).

I also agree that unless you are aware of what's going on in the hand, AND make sure the dealer's aware of your button move action, you shouldn't touch it.

Mark T said...

I was going to protest your early part of the post until I got to your end - I agree wholeheartedly with your overall post.

I do move the button, but only in one of two circumstances: the dealer can't easily reach it, or they are too consumed with some other task which does not require their full attention, but DOES require their hands (often things like stacking chips for a purchase from their rack, laying out bills for the camera, filling their rack, etc). In those cases, I make sure they notice me, announce the move, and slide the button to the proper place.

I will do this only if I am the button or I am becoming the button (though once I did it when I was in the cutoff, since the button and small blind were oblivious and the poor dealer simply couldn't reach it, and couldn't get their attention).