Friday, July 23, 2010
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Shamus just put up an interesting blog post about the bracelet race between Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey. For me this neatly coincided with having yesterday read an article by Storms Reback in the July issue of All In magazine that gave his rating of the ten greatest WSOP players of all time. In order, he listed Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar, Ivey, Barry Johnston, Erik Seidel, Scotty Nguyen, and T.J. Cloutier.
As Reback recognizes, overall WSOP performance is about more than bracelets; it also involves cashing and making final tables, and doing so consistently over many years. Although I rather despise Men Nguyen, while preparing the stats below I was impressed to see that he has finished 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in WSOP events an amazing 20 times, in addition to his seven wins. I think he might have a stronger argument for a spot on Reback's list than a couple of the other nominees.
Anyway, I was curious how the bracelet race would look when graphed over the years, since those with the most have been at it for very different periods of time. So I whipped up the following graph of bracelets by years to see how their trajectories looked. I included seven of the eight top bracelet winners (Hellmuth, Brunson, Chan, Ivey, Seidel, Men Nguyen, and Billy Baxter), excluding only Moss. His trajectory is, well, dead; he is unlikely to earn any more bracelets unless the WSOP adopts Chicago-style voting to determine winners.
Brunson's line doesn't really disappear; it's just hiding behind that of Chan, as they coincide for the past several years.
What do we learn from this? Not a lot that wasn't already obvious, I suppose. Baxter has been the longest without notching up; he started off earlier than any of the others and kept a pretty steady pace for a long time, but has perhaps come as far as he is going to go by this metric. (I hope not. I'd love to see him show up the young whippersnappers another time or two before he's done, and yell at them to get off of his lawn during his acceptance speech.)
Brunson started off like gangbusters, racking up six in four years, then has a long stretch of none (I think he played very few events during those years), and just a slow trickle since then.
With one exception, the other lines are rather similar, though with varying degrees of lurching in their progressions. Hellmuth's appears to me to be the most saltatory, Seidel's the most consistently stepwise, with the others somewhere in between.
The striking exception, obviously, is Ivey. He shows up for the first time in 2000, a full eight years behind the most Johnny-Chan-come-lately of the others (Seidel and Nguyen), and rockets up, with the slope of his line, from start to finish, being far steeper than any of the others.
Just for fun, and fully recognizing that it's an utterly meaningless exercise, I wondered how the lines would project into the future, if we assumed that the players would continue racking up bracelets at the same pace as they have since earning their first. Here are their respective numbers for bracelets per year:
You'll notice that one of those figures is far higher than the others, confirming what you would expect from the graph and from just the general knowledge of the relatively short time span in which Ivey has left his mark.
If we project those rates ten years into the future (a completely preposterous assumption for any number of reasons, but bear with me), we would find these rounded totals at the end of WSOP 2020:
And these for the year 2030:
So that's my back-of-the-envelope prediction: Ivey catches Hellmuth in 2020, then leaves him in the dust. (Some of the others are, actuarily speaking, also likely to be in the dust by then, in a different sense, but let's not dwell on that.)
You heard it here first.
Warning: No poker content.
As I think most of my readers know, my friend Cardgrrl has been playing a lot less poker lately, and thus not doing much with her poker blog. She has, however, been putting a lot of effort into a second blog that she started late last year, Something Beautiful. With it she tries to encourage readers to notice beauty in apparently ordinary things and scenes that we tend to overlook as mundane.
Today I pretty much hermited myself away in my apartment, except for a trip down to the mailbox. On the way back, I could not help noticing, in the hallway outside my door, the largest fly I have ever seen.
Scale can be hard to appreciate here, so I put a ruler down next to him: 2.7 cm from nose to folded wingtip.
He only moved a little while I was photographing him, so I knew that he was sick or injured or overheated (it being about 110 degrees out).
I came back in and futzed around with some other stuff for a while, including playing the Mookie. When I got around to looking at the above pictures on my computer--especially the second one--I realized that, while I had set out to capture just how fearsome-looking and huge this thing was, I had accidentally caught a flash of beauty in the reflectance and iridescence of its wings.
But I thought maybe I could do better. I went back out to see if it was still there. It was, but it had died in the interim.
Well, there's a photographic challenge: Can I find beauty in a dead fly?
I brought it inside where I could be at least a little more versatile. Still, though, my equipment is just a point-and-shoot Nikon pocket camera, and ordinary household lighting. Not much to work with.
Let's try putting him on a white background:
OK, well, nobody's really at his best in a butt shot.
That's a little better--catching some suggestion of the delicacy of the wings with the half-transmitted shadow. Let's see if we can exaggerate that effect with some side lighting:
Well, it's something, anyway. You can see the nice delicacy of the hairs on his legs, too.
When I was growing up, a friend of the family was a professor of entomology. A few times I saw him do slide shows of scanning electron micrographs of insect parts, marvelling at their intricacy and ingenious design. Today I wished I had such an instrument to play with. One of my problems was that I kept running squarely up against the limits of my camera's macro capabilities, which are not great.
For example, the fly's mandibles are really cool--both pointy and scissor-like. I would not want to be bitten by him. But I just couldn't get a sufficiently close view for you to see them well and be as impressed as you should be.
I'm limited to using the largest magnification and cropping away everything else, and even then they don't look as menacing as they do when viewed in person, from up close:
But I have strayed. Menacing does not equal beautiful.
How about trying some dramatic lighting with a hand-held flashlight?
I do kind of like that last one, though I wish I had brushed away some of the schmutz that came in with my guest.
In the end, this was the best I could manage to show you how the lacy wings--which, it must be said, could not possibly ever have supported a beast of this size in flight!--caught the light.
That big, burly body kind of distracts from the effect, so here's the same shot with all the other stuff snipped away:
It doesn't show the rainbow of colors as nicely as I got a glimpse of outside in the sunlight (never in a photo, though), but I think there is undeniably beauty in the structure of the wing and in how it both reflects and transmits the light hitting it, with a distinctly gold tinge. You could almost imagine parts of this image being played with digitally--rotated, multiplied, and stitched together--and made into, oh, I dunno, a lovely textile of some kind. Dontcha think?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
A post yesterday told a story about a Venetian dealer named Mark, and mentioned that I have known him, well, basically ever since I moved to Vegas, as he was then working at the Hilton, which was my primary poker hangout for a long time.
A reader asked if he was the same dealer "Mark" mentioned in another old post. The answer is no, that was a guy at the Orleans. I don't think I've ever talked about Hilton/Venetian Mark before, at least not by name. However, the question reminded me of a post that's old enough that I think many readers will not have encountered it, or perhaps did three years ago when I wrote it, but won't remember it.
Mark was the dealer for what was undoubtedly the most painful ten minutes of poker I've ever experienced, and my guess is that it was a sufficiently striking experience that he still remembers it, too. Some good did come out of it, though; I think it is still one of my best stories, and one of my best posts. Since it cost me something like $475 to have the experience, I might as well get maximal mileage out of it by referring you back to read it again (or for the first time)!
Monday, July 19, 2010
OK, last story left over from yesterday's Venetian session.
When I arrived at the table, a woman was eating lunch while she played, using a side table. OK, no problem.
However, when she finished her meal, she just left the table there. For well over an hour she didn't move it, even when getting up to go to the restroom. In fact, shortly before I left the game she moved to another seat and still just left the table where it was.
For all that time, it remained a significant obstacle to people trying to move around the table, as it almost completely blocked the available space between our table and the next. Players coming and going had trouble with it, cocktail waitresses and chip runners had to carefully maneuver around it, etc.
Of course, it would have been nice if the Venetian Table Fairy had come along and whisked it away. But this woman had it entirely within her power to stand up, scoot the thing about ten feet away (there was an obvious place to park it where it would have been unobtrusive), and thus solve the problem. But nooooooooooooooooooo, she couldn't be bothered taking 30 seconds out of her life that way.
You always hear players complaining about how there isn't enough room between tables at most poker rooms. But players themselves contribute to this problem all the time. Just the simple act of pushing your chair under the table when you stand up (as your mother surely taught you) would meaningfully reduce the clutter between tables--but if you pay attention you'll see that the great majority of people fail to do it. Their inaction says, in effect, "Why should I bother, when the next guy trying to walk by will exert that effort for me?"
Another frequent offender is the guy who sits with his butt and chair way out from the table, leaning way forward and resting his chin or elbows on the table, effectively blocking anybody from walking past without having to ask him to scoot in.
People are so inconsiderate of others. They are either completely oblivious to what effect their actions have on other people, or they know it and are so self-centered that they just don't care.
If you contribute to the problem of the tight spaces between poker tables in any of these ways, in my book you lose the right to complain about how the poker room allocates its space.
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.
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.
I saw a flagrant table-jumper at the Venetian today. He moved himself from another table to an empty seat next to me, stayed less than one orbit, apparently didn't like us, spent some time craning his neck around looking for another spot, and soon took off, only to plant himself at an open seat at some other table. Who knows how many times he moved himself in pursuit of the perfect situation?
In every poker room that I know of, you have to get permission from the floor to move from one table to another. There are sound reasons for this. For one thing, they need to keep tables balanced in terms of numbers of players. Without this rule, if a table got somewhat short-handed, there could be a mad dash as the remaining players tried not to be the one left without a place at some other table, as in musical chairs. For another thing, somebody else may have already requested to move to a certain table when a seat next became available, and it's unfair for an interloper to move in and swipe it.
In small poker rooms, it's pretty hard to get away with this, because everybody--players, dealers, and floor--notices the move. But at larger rooms like the V, there is so much constant movement that a player can get away with it if the room staff aren't following the procedures that prevent it.
In a room that has a centralized seat management system, like the V, new players are sent to whichever table of a certain game type has the most open seats. The person at the desk will announce, "Player in on 25," so that the dealer knows that a new player is coming. When today's jumper first arrived at our table, the dealer should have called the floor, because there had been no preceding announcement of a new player coming. He would thus have been caught, and directed back to where he had come from.
There are two related problems at the Venetian. The first is that, in my experience, about one time out of three that I am sent to a table upon arrival, I get there only to find that there is no open seat. I then have to waste time going back to the front desk, get their attention, explain the problem, and get reassigned. It will not surprise my readers to learn that this annoys me greatly.
The second problem is that they are horrible, horrible at honoring table-change requests--literally the worst in the city. If you just want to move to any other game, it's usually not a problem, because they have so many to choose from that there's a seat open almost all the time. But if you request to move to a specific table, because you know it's fishy, or because you have a friend there you'd like to sit with, my experience is that you have less than a 50% chance that your request will be taken care of when a seat at that table becomes available.
As far as I can tell, they do not enter these table-change requests into the computer, as is done in most other large card rooms. Instead, the floor person assigned to that section of the room either tries to remember the request or scribbles it on a scrap of paper. (And, by the way, just finding the right person to make the request of is a chore. Sometimes the guy manning the computer at the desk will take the request, other times he will direct you to the floorperson. Not just any floorperson will do; you somehow have to figure out which specific one is responsible for your table, and nothing makes that obvious to the casual observer.)
As you might imagine, these things get forgotten. Shifts change, floormen take breaks or get assigned to other sections of the room, scraps of paper get lost, etc. Furthermore, since the person at the front desk doesn't consistently know about the request, he is apt to send a new player there when he sees an empty seat, before the floor guy notices. It's just an awful mess of a system. It completely baffles me, because the Venetian does so many other things right--nearly everything, in fact--that the idiocy and unreliability of the table-change system stick out like a sore thumb.
These problems are surely interconnected. The reason the open seat has vanished by the time I get there is that a table-jumper was allowed to sneak into it, and one reason that people jump tables without authorization is that they have learned by sad experience that trying to go through the proper channels is an exercise in frustration and futility. These problems, then, cause vicious cycles of exacerbating each other.
I have enough experience in how poker rooms run to be able to identify such problems, but not enough to know exactly how to go about fixing them. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the basic approach would have to include stressing to dealers to be watchful for table-jumpers and alert to calling the floor if somebody joins the game without being announced, using the computerized system to handle table-change requests, and making it more transparent to players how to make such requests.
(Cute photo above found here.)
A quick bit of background info, for the minority of my readers who haven't played much casino poker. In hold'em there are usually two blind bets required by the rules, so that there is always money in the pot to be contested. The players posting these forced bets are the last to act on the first round of betting. In most Vegas casinos, if everybody folds, and only the two blinds are left to act, the players can agree to "chop the blinds," meaning that they just take back their bets, relinquish their cards, and the game moves on to the next hand.
The reason that most players do this as a matter of course is that the great majority of the time the pot ends up tiny even if they play it out. Statistically, it's just not very likely that you'll end up with two hands strong enough that both players will feel like they have the winner and are willing to put more money into the pot. When the hand gets played out, either because house ruels don't permit a chop or because one player refuses as a habit, most often the result is that the hand just gets checked down, or, alternatively, one player makes a small bet and that ends it. It tends to take more time than the pot is worth.
The negotiation really needs to take only one or two words: "Chop?" is followed by a yes or a no, or a nod or shake of the head.
But once in a while, you get a guy who feels the need to be grandiose about it. His little speech will usually be some variant of this: "I'll always chop, even if I have aces. I don't even look first." I've heard that more times than I can count, and it just makes me roll my eyes. The tone is inevitably one of self-righteous moral superiority, and conveys a sense of, "I am a far better human being than those lowlifes who chop selectively."
The problem with this attitude is that nobody chops selectively, if there is a person with a functioning brain in the seat next to him. Once the person to your right (or left) makes a decision to chop or not to chop, and you agree to it, the two of you are going to stick to that for all future instances, unless you're stupid. I would never let the other guy selectively decide to play just his strong hands, and chop all the weak ones--nor would any other rational player. The result, if everybody thinks that way, is that whatever you decide the first time the question comes up will be in effect as long as you're seated together. And that, in turn, means that once chopping has been established as the routine, it will stay that way, no matter what the hole cards are.*
Of course, playing the hand out is the default condition, and both have to agree to chop independently every time. That means that, in theory, a player could chop, chop, chop, then see pocket aces and suddenly not agree to chop.** The hand would play out, but most of the time Mr. Aces will win only the other blind, and, in the process, earn the contempt of every other player at the table. He will also have effectively voided the friendly agreement for the remainder of the session, and the other guy will thereafter force him to play every hand. It's just not worth the hassle.
All of which means that the righteous smugness of the "I'll even chop aces" crowing is just empty, smug rhetoric. Yeah, of course you will, if you chop with everything else, too--not because you're such a great guy, but because the way the whole process works basically compels you to. So stop trying to look like there's something special about you.
Yes, of course I have chopped when I held aces or kings or queens. So has everybody who has played a lot. It's just like getting aces on a misdeal--you give 'em back to the dealer, shrug, and go on with the next hand. You do not get a star on your forehead for being angelic. It's just how things are done.
Another common speech made in conjunction with the chop question is the morality tale. Somebody will relate a story in which a villain refused to chop, and ended up losing a monster pot. Again, I've heard more of such stories than I could count.
Regardless of whether the stories are true, I think they shouldn't be told. I don't think that any player should feel pressure to agree to a chop. I don't really care if the guy next to me wants to play or chop, as long as it's the same answer every time.
While I'm on the subject of chopping, here's a related rant. What's the deal with players who feel that chopping is a right and privilege, and that they are somehow being wronged by a player who calls or raises, thus preventing a chop from occurring? These numbskulls apparently feel that chopping the blinds is some sort of positive good that they should get to experience, and they are robbed of it by somebody betting.
This ranks among the stupidest attitudes you can have at a poker table. You're there to play. You're there to win money. Chopping the blinds does not allow you to do that. It is a total waste of time. (Not a lot of time, but still.) There are reasons to think that chopping is usually better than the alternative of playing out two weak hands, which takes even more time, usually without meaningful profit to anybody. But every table seems to have at least one maroon who gets positively giddy when he gets to chop, and positively surly when somebody deprives him of that opportunity.
It is yet another in the long list of poker player behaviors that I see all the time, and yet cannot comprehend.
*There are some exceptions if one player has a hand that might hit a high-hand jackpot. Some players want to hold out the possibility of playing out such hands. But to do so necessarily involves collusion with the other blind to win that money, a practice that no ethical player will attempt to pull off or cooperate with.
**I occasionally hear that one card room or another has a rule that whatever any given pair of players first agree to, they must stick with. However, I have never heard this from a source that I thought was truly in the know, and I have never seen any attempt to enforce such a rule, if it does actually exist anywhere.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I have several stories from my session at the Venetian today. Sometimes I mash them all together into one multi-part post, but today I'm going to keep them separate, mainly (1) for ease of finding them later (I've discovered that I have more trouble finding an old story when I need it if it's one part of a big post), and (2) so that the comments threads stay more coherent.
At the table was a young man who was appeared to be of borderline age to be legal in a casino. When a new dealer came into the box, she asked him, "Have you been carded?" He said yes.
Wow. What an effective security measure! Yep. There's no way on earth that anybody could slip past that kind of scrutiny. Why, in order for an underage person to keep playing in that situation, he would have to tell an untruth! At a poker table!
If she has concerns about his age, she is supposed to check his ID herself, or have her supervisor do it--not just ask him whether anybody else has checked it. That's just laughably stupid and ineffective. It's no better than ignoring the issue entirely. Her question will only catch people who are so dense as to answer no, which won't include anybody who knows that his only ID shows him to be a minor.
Compounding the silliness, the dealer said that if he showed up in the system as having a player's card, she wouldn't have asked him, but he was just "guest." There's more of that steel-trap brain of hers at work. After all, nobody could ever hand his undersage pal a player's card and have him sign in with it. Nope. That has never happened in the history of the world. A player's card is watertight proof of legal age.
It's certainly true that nobody likes to harass players by being, say, the 15th employee of the day to ask to see ID, but that's why casinos have readily available wristbands that announce that the person's ID has been verified, so that he can be left in peace thereafter. If she had arranged for him to get one, she would have saved him future repeat questioning and would have actually been doing her job, all at the same time. What a concept!
I'm reminded of something from my youth. My brother was the eldest in the family, so he tended to get stricter discipline. For example, when he was in high school, dating and driving, he had curfews. My parents would set an alarm clock in the hall outside their bedroom. If he didn't get home by the appointed hour, it would wake them up, and he'd be in trouble. By the time I got to the same age, as the third child, things had gotten a tad more lax. Rather than the alarm clock thing, they would just ask me the next morning, "What time did you get home last night?"
Which approach do you think was more effective at enforcing the rule?
I suspect this dealer would go with the question method, and not realize it opened any loopholes.*
*Obviously, the morning-after question is not completely toothless. After all, it's always possible that a parent would wake up for some reason past the deadline and find that the wayward child was not in the home, in which case an untruthful answer the next morning would have repercussions beyond having been out too late. However, it is important to note that I never, ever violated curfew, and thus I never, ever had the slightest reason to lie about it. The reason this is important to make explicit is that my father reads this blog faithfully, and I wouldn't want to risk being grounded for past hypothetical transgressions.
I have previously opined that the most useless employee in a casino is the washroom attendant. I would like to expand that list a bit.
The security guards at the Venetian that stand at the driveway entracces and wave you through are equally useless. In the dozens and dozens of times I've been there, they have stopped me exactly once. That was on a New Year's Eve or Halloween or some other high-traffic night, when they were apparently trying to keep out people who just wanted the free Strip parking. They asked why I was coming. I said, "To play poker." That answer satisfied them, and they waved me on through. I guess those were the right code words. Good thing I knew them. Obviously, no terrorist set on pancaking the parking garage with a car bomb would ever think to tell them that.
I did not take these photos surreptitiously. I simply walked up to these two gentlemen and asked if I could take a picture of their glasses, and both readily agreed. (I was playing at Planet Hollywood, and I noticed these guys at nearby tables.) What I didn't tell them was that they were becoming contestants in a reader poll: Which one is wearing the more embarrassing glasses?
For earlier posts on ugly sunglasses seen at the poker table, see here, here, here, here, and here. And, OK, I'll admit it, here.
Another first for me today at the Planet Hollywood game was that two deaf friends joined the game at the same time, on opposite sides of the table. They were frequently signing to each other between hands, though I never noticed it during hands.
All poker rooms that I know of have an "English only" rule. However, some say the rule is in effect only when a hand is in progress, others say it is in effect for everybody at the table all the time. There are cogent arguments to be made either way, and I don't have a strong opinion about one being clearly preferable to the other, as long as it is enforced consistently.
But whichever way the rule is to be enforced in a particular place, the question is this: Should American Sign Language--or any other form of sign language (other spoken languages have their signing parallels, and deaf friends/siblings, I'm told, often concoct their own)--be considered a non-English language the same way that, say, Japanese would be?
It seems to me that it surely must be, for logical consistency, though the rules seem always to be written in terms of what language is spoken during the game, so there might be a loophole that a table lawyer could argue about.
I was playing at Planet Hollywood today. Here's the situation that came up:
Four players to the flop. Player A goes all-in for $55. Dealer announces the all-in and tosses the little "all-in" button in front of A.
Player B pushes all his chips in, total of $17. Again, dealer announces it and tosses another all-in button to B.
Player C is the table big stack. He verbally announces call.
Player D says nothing, but puts out $17.
The dealer points out to him that because of A's action, it is $55 to call. (Player D is in seat 9 of 9, next to the dealer, while A is in seat 2, less easily in his field of view.) D reconsiders, decides to fold instead, takes back his $17.
Player A says that those chips have to stay in the pot.
The floor is called, situation explained. Ruling is that the $17 has to stay in the pot.
I think this is wrong. Yes, Player D certainly should have been following the action. He had plenty of warning that the bet was $55 to him: the chip stack, the dealer's verbal announcement of two all-ins, plus two buttons tossed out. Also, he could have asked what a call would cost if he had any doubt. I am generally unsympathetic to people not paying attention, not doing their due diligence, etc., and believe that if the mistake costs them money they will be more inclined to learn to do things right.
Still, in this particular situation, nobody had acted behind him. In fact, nobody could act behind him (unless he raised), since he was the last one in order. Nobody was misled by his mistake. There is no way he could have gained any advantage by doing this intentionally as some sort of angle-shooting; if there were, I would consider that a decent argument for making the bet stand, as a deterrent to such shenanigans. But here, I think it's a "no harm, no foul" situation.
My rule books don't seem to be especially clear on this point. The best I can find is from Cooke's Rules of Real Poker, p. 66, rule 10.06:
A player who bets or calls by making a forward motion and releasing chips
into the pot is bound by that action. However, when facing a raise, if a player is unaware that a pot has been raised and places enough chips in the pot to call an unraised bet only, the dealer shall advise the player that the pot has been raised, whereupon the player may reconsider and change his action, provided that no one has acted behind the player. If someone has acted behind that player, that player has the option of forfeiting the chips he has released into the pot and surrendering his hand, or calling the raise he faces.
Admittedly, this doesn't exactly fit what happened here, but I think the general idea is the same. Misunderstanding the amount of a call is conceptually no different from misunderstanding a raise as a bet. (Cooke doesn't explicitly say that he's talking about limit games, but you can sort of guess that that's what he's thinking about. After all, he is almost exclusively a limit player himself.)
I can't see that it should make any difference whether the $17 all-in came before or after the $55 all-in. Either way, the guy misunderstood the amount of the bet, changed his mind when the action was pointed out to him, and the result was no different in any way than if he had correctly understood the bet and just decided to fold in the first place.
I didn't speak up, because (1) this is not a situation in which I'm confident of what the standard rule would be, and (2) floor people are not generally inclined to care what my opinion is, especially when I'm not involved in the hand.
But I'm curious what others think the best ruling would be.