I have one more story from last night's post-tournament cash session at the Orleans.
I had been playing for an hour or so, and was down somewhat, due to a three-barrel bluff gone wrong. I was in Seat 7. Seat 6 was occupied by a young man obviously new to casino poker. The details of the hand don't matter; suffice it to say that on the turn I had top pair (king) with a queen kicker, plus a flush draw, and liked my situation very much. I was about 80% confident that I was already ahead, and I had the draw as backup in case I was wrong. Before my opponent acted, I had already decided to raise him all-in (about $110) if he bet, or bet about half of my stack if he checked.
He cut out some chips--$40 worth, in two stacks of four red chips. But he pushed them forward with two movements in rapid succession, a classic string bet. The dealer picked up one of the stacks, seemed to hesitate, not sure what to do, then put it back down and decided to say nothing. I don't know why. She clearly was a rather timid personality. But maybe she had looked away at the crucial moment and wasn't sure of what she had seen. Or maybe she had heard something before the young man's bet that made her think that perhaps he had announced an amount, though, in fact, he hadn't. (The latter is actually my best guess. The room was noisy, and her English was kind of shaky, so I imagine it's easy for her to be unsure of what she is or is not hearing.)
Of course, I was happy to have him bet $40 instead of $20, since I was hoping for a double-up. (He had me covered.) I did not protest the string bet and was glad that the dealer wasn't going to call it back.
But just as I started reaching for my chips, the guy in Seat 9 spoke up in protest. "He didn't announce an amount. That's a string bet." I said to the dealer, "It's OK, we can let it go." but Seat 9 would have none of that. "No! He can't do that! He has to take it back."
The dealer capitulated and reduced the bet to $20. I thought about reducing my raise to $50 or $60, but I thought that since he was obviously wiling to bet $40, there was a good chance he would call the all-in, so I continued with the original plan. But after my opponent thought it over for a minute, he folded.
Of course, maybe I was really behind (though that seems unlikely), or maybe if he had called he would have drawn out on me in some gross way. But the most likely thing is that the intervention of Seat 9 cost me at least $20, and may have cost me about $90 (the difference between the amount that I actually won and the amount that I probably would have won if Seat 6 had felt pot-committed with a $40 bet and therefore had called and lost).
I was understandably annoyed at him for sticking his nose in where it didn't belong and was neither needed nor welcome. Still, I wasn't going to say anything to him about it. But then he opened the subject: "Sorry if I cost you $20 there." This was not said in an apologetic manner at all. The clear sense I got from it was, "Tough luck for you, but I did what had to be done."
So I responded: "You know, between the dealer and the players who are actually in the hand, we can figure it out without you butting in." He said, "No, obviously you couldn't. The rule is clear, and his bet had to go back, and the dealer wasn't doing her job." I said, "How about this: You call the string bets on the hands that you're involved with, and I'll take care of the ones that I'm involved with."
The exchange concluded with him saying, "You can be mad at me if you want to, but if you had won that extra $20, it would have been by cheating. Just think about that."
There was no chance that I was going to change his mind, or he mine, so I dropped it and the game went on.
This incident raises some interesting questions, I think. The first is when and to what extent does one step into a problem in a hand that one is not involved in? This is a dilemma I've wrestled with many times. Just a couple of months ago I prevented a very large pot from being pushed to the wrong player when not a single other person at the table--player or dealer--noticed that there was a straight on the board and the pot should be chopped. I have no doubt that that was the right thing to do.
But other times I'm still not sure whether speaking up was (or would have been) correct, even after reflecting on it for a while later. I think the first time I wrote about this phenomenon was in a blog post in November, 2007, here. Most of that post was later incorporated into a piece in Card Player magazine by their former columnist Mike O'Malley, available here. In 2009 I wrote about an incident at the Venetian in which I intervened in order to clarify how much money a guy was playing, and essentially everybody who submitted a comment on that post thought that I should have kept out of it.
With that history, I'm not immune to a charge of hypocrisy in complaining about the busybody at the Orleans. Nevertheless, there are a couple of guidelines that I think should illuminate when to jump into the fray uninvited, which he was not following.
First, I see the main reason for speaking up to be to help protect the general integrity of the game and, more specifically, to help protect less-experienced players who may not know all the intricacies of the rules. In this case, Seat 9 was unquestionably a very experienced player who, after an hour of watching me, had to recognize that I was not a naif in need of sheltering. Just as obviously, Seat 6 was not an angle-shooter trying to take advantage of me.
Second, if it were to happen that after I pointed out what I perceived as a problem, those involved in the hand were all OK with the situation as it was, I think that I would back off and let them be. Here, Seat 6 wanted to bet $40, the dealer had, for whatever reason, decided to let him, and I expressed my assent to the small irregularity. Even if the interloper had justification to speak up initially, once those directly affected by the situation have all agreed to let it be, I think he should back off. As a similar example, a couple of years ago I wrote about a situation at Caesars Palace in which there was a question of whether one guy's cards had been mucked. The dealer thought the hand should still be live, as did both players involved. But an annoying guy at the table just wouldn't drop it, insisting that the hand be declared dead, even though he had no stake in the outcome.
The second point of possible interest is Seat 9's contention that if the bet had been allowed to stand, I would have been profiting from "cheating." I reject this out of hand, frankly. To include this requires a very different conception of what constitutes "cheating" from what the word means to me. I see it as comparable to a football team declining to enforce a penalty on the opposing team when it is to their advantage to do so. Of course I have the right to force the player to reduce his bet when it was made in a technically illegal fashion, but I don't think there is any grand principle that should require me to do so when I am not disadvantaged by his action. That is particularly true here when the reason for the existence of the rule (to prevent an angle-shooter from watching an opponent's reaction to the bet, then deciding whether to increase the size of the bet based on that reaction) is not even remotely in effect.
Almost four years ago I wrote about the problem of players who do some sort of tapping motion while thinking about a decision, and how hard it can be to tell sometimes if this is just idle, meaningless hand activity or is intended to signal a check. I stand by the conclusion that I had then: If I'm the one being put in an awkward position by the player's ambiguity (because I have to interpret his action and act on it in some way), it is my discretion whether to look the other way and let it go, or have it enforced as a binding action, the way the rules say that I can. I view an opponent's string bet in the same way, if I am on the receiving end of his violation: I can ask that the rule be enforced, or I can waive enforcement. And, of course, I can make that decision based on what is most to my advantage. That doesn't mean that I always will; believe it or not, I'm actually capable of extending grace and forbearance. But I submit that it is not cheating, not angle-shooting, not unethical to make the decision either way--to let the errant action stand, or to insist on the player being held to letter of the law--and to make that decision based on what is in my own best interest.
(Of course, most often the dealer takes the initiative and I don't have a choice to make, but I'm discounting those situations here. Had this dealer initially disallowed the second part of the bet, I probably would have said something like I did, and then if she had continued to insist on the reduced bet size, I would not have pushed the point further.)
Questions for readers to comment on: (1) Was the guy wrong to involve himself in the first place? (2) Was he wrong to continue to press the point after I had indicated that it was OK with me to let the string bet stand? (3) Was I being unethical/dishonest/cheating/angle-shooting to say that I was OK with overlooking the technical violation and attempt to let the bet stand?
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
I have one more story from last night's post-tournament cash session at the Orleans.