Tuesday, February 15, 2011


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?


Graeme said...

I've been reading your blog for a long time, at least 2 years. You are a stickler for playing by the rules, and that's putting it mildly.

This post is a little hypocritical, don't you think?

Ryan said...

(1) Was the guy wrong to involve himself in the first place?

I'd say that like your interpretation (or angle if you will), he could very much have a justification in his mind why he should say something, i.e. "That player is week, I want him to keep as much money for ME as possible", or whatever. So, per the letter of the law, he was perfectly in his rights to do it.

That said, it's a pretty nitty thing to do.

It takes me to my main point, which I have mentioned before, which is: What is the SPIRIT of the rule? WHY is that rule in place? To protect against people shooting an angle by getting info on what people are going to do behind them. This clearly wasn't happening here.

It's for this reason that at my home game we have disallowed the "all called hands may ask to be shown" rule, which was solely put in place to prevent collusion. To ask that in a home game, especially one in which all the players are regulars, is totally unrelated to the spirit of the rule, and as we know none of us are colluding, there's no point for us to have that rule 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?

Meh, whatever. See above.

(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?

It's an angle, in that you wouldn't have been consistent. If you only wanted to call the $20, you would have enforced it. Therefore, the rule was doing the exact opposite of what it was for, and allowed YOU to shoot the angle, the guy who was supposed to benefit from being protected.

The NFL keeps trying to come up with rules that don't require ANY human interpretation or judgment, and that's fine for poker too. However, when those same rules are exploited to give either side an unfair advantage, something is either wrong with the rule or the enforcement.

After following you for a little while here, I do agree that it's being a bit hypocritical on your part, as you have always come across as a hyper-stickler. I'd say that you probably failed this test of integrity per the letter of the law.

I could go on and on, arguing both sides. But I'll stop.

taximike44 said...

The very definition of angle shooting; if it hurts you, speak up and protest, and if it benefits you let it slide. And as Graeme says, hypocritical to boot. WP

Anonymous said...

I play in local LHE cardrooms in WA state. Some rooms, the player must call the string bet. Other rooms, the dealer is the only one who can call a string. In no rooms (that I know of) can an uninvolved player call a string.

Not sure what this means for your situation, other than the fact that it is odd.

Anonymous said...

I have been playing poker in cardrooms for 20 years. Your actions are not only hypocritical, but constitute angle shooting (passively).

Usually, the best course of action with a player clearly unfamiliar with the setting (and likely the rules) is to help him out and be friendly. Then he will want to come back and play again. Next time, please think of the long term effect your actions at the table have.

Eddie said...

From you Grump, it's hypocritical, since you are as anal retentive about the rules as anyone I've every heard (and they call me the "poker Nazi" in my home game, which means I know what I'm talking about).

The best way for you to have dealt with the situation would have been to ask out loud, before seat 9 got involved, "how much do you want to bet?". When he answers $40, tell him that next time it should be one smooth motion, then ask the dealer if the bet stands. When the dealer answers, it'll overrule the opinion of any busybody at the table.

Also, you cost yourself a lot of money by speaking up. When you said that you wanted the $40 to stand, then moved in on him, he knew you were super strong. You should have only cared about that extra $20 if you wanted him to fold. If you wanted a call, which seems like your plan, that $20 was supposed to get in there anyway at some point, so there was no benefit for arguing for it there.

Anonymous said...

hypocrite hahahaha

Anonymous said...

You wrote, "First, I see the main reason for speaking up to be to help protect the general integrity of the game"

Unlike football, there's nothing in poker about players getting to decide on rule enforcement. What if someone made an invalid "raise" (e.g., less than amount of previous bet)? Should the playes in the hand be the ones to decide if that re-opens the betting?

Principles only have meaning if you follow them even when it costs you.

Tarpie said...

We wouldn't be having this conversation if the dealer had done her job. Dealer sees string bet, dealer corrects string bet.

I don't blame seat 9 for speaking up in the first place. He saw a dealer not doing their job and spoke up. Once the dealer didn't immediately act on his observation, and you stated you were fine with the string bet, his job was done. Everyone was happy at this point: original bettor made the bet he wanted, dealer didn't have to confront the bettor, and you got more money in the pot. Insisting the string bet rule be strictly enforced at this point was not necessary for the integrity of the game.

I definitely would not call anything you did here cheating or even an angle. The bettor wanted $40 in the pot and you were fine with the $40 bet. I wouldn't have been all that upset at seat 9 if he had just pointed out the string bet and then butted out. The insistence on enforcement and then accusation of cheating were wrong.

P.S. It turns out all NFL coaches are angle shooters because sometimes they have a rule enforced against the other team, and sometime they do not. "The very definition of an angle shot." Definitely no human interpretation of the string bet rule, at least in this case. Maybe in the future the dealer could throw a yellow flag for a heads-up string betting penalty and you could choose whether you want the penalty enforced.

Pete said...

I don't think you were "cheating" in not speaking up. And i don't think the other player was totally out of line in speaking up.

There are some places where string bets can only be called by a player in the hand .... the dealer can not stop a string bet unless a player objects (I'm not aware of any rooms in Vegas that use this rule).

One reason I do not like that rule is that it seems to trap an unwary player who does not know the rule against string bets so that they get the worst of it no matter what.

If they string bet and their opponent wants the bet to stand no one says a word and they are allowed to bet that way. Then an hour later they bet exactly the same way they have been doing it all night, and their opponent doesn't want it allowed so he speaks up and suddenly now he isn't allowed to bet this way after doing it all night. It seems dishonest to me to selectively enforce this rule in this way (I don't have this objection if the player involved is clearly someone aware of the rule .... but 90% of string bets come from new players who aren't).

That being said I'm also not a huge fan of strict enforcement of the string bet rule. I think when a player in No Limit makes a bet in a manner in which it is reasonably obvious that he intended to make this bet and he does not in fact cause action behind him based on the first motion then the bet should stand. The rule as it was traditionally applied to No Limit poker (and as it appears in Robert's Rule of Poker) is :

"a player who says "raise" is allowed to continue putting chips into the pot with more than one move; the wager is assumed complete when the player's hands come to rest outside the pot area. (This rule is used because no-limit play may require a large number of chips be put into the pot.)"

I think this is a preferable rule to the one which has become more standard today (the result of people not familiar with No-Limit applying limit poker rules to No-Limit games).

As a player I would not get involved and call the string bet here, but I understand why some people do. I think your Seat 9 guy may just be a rules nit and not necessarily someone sharing my concerns.

Michael said...

I like the football penalty comparison. Here's my thoughts.

I think the player not in the hand should have stayed out of it. This is a dealer and players in the hand call in my opinion.

I don't think it's a case though where you can accept or decline to have the string bet enforced. It's a procedural issue here and not one where I think you wind up with the option to allow it.

I don't think you are angle shooting in this case, I see your point, I just think it's one of those situations where procedure rules.

Having said all that, I don't think you are wrong for being upset, as ultimately I think the busybody intervened when he shouldn't have. I think the question I'd pose though is if the dealer called it, would you be upset. (I'm guessing you wouldn't based on how you typically have handled things) Which is the reason I don't think it's an angle shoot.

edivad said...

You're incorrect Grumpy...but big mouth should have advised of the string bet right away , or atleast before you acted.

Shrike said...

Classic case of hypocrisy, given your interventionist history of strict enforcement of the rules. You knew a string bet had been made; your behaviour constituted a mild form of angle-shooting to earn an additional $20. You deserve a mild slap on the wrist. Start calling string bets in hands you are involved in, even when doing so is not to your advantage. :)


Anonymous said...

(1) Was the guy wrong to involve himself in the first place?

No, but he could have done it much more tactfully. Asking the dealer whether a string bet occurred allows him to back off gracefully when/if she answers no or she defers to you.

(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?

Yes. And it's a total judgment call for the reasons you stated in your post, akin to the NFL rules allowing declining penalties when advantageous.

In small stakes games, it's often better for the atmosphere if minor rules violations are overlooked. The bettor clearly meant to bet $40 and you were willing to accept the bet of $40, so there's nothing to be gained from pressing the point other than slowing down and nitting up the game.

This is definitely not a game integrity issue.

(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?

Dishonest? Absolute no.
Cheating? Solid no.
Angle shooting? Marginal no.

Unethical? Maybe. Depends on your ethics. Some people think it's unethical to take money (at the poker table) from drunks.

George said...

No he was not wrong to initially point it out. But I can think of instances where a string bet being allowed to stand would benefit the string better in contrast to this case where for sake of argument we are assuming it would have hurt him.

No he was not wrong to press the issue. Although I think most reasonable people would not have pressed it given that the sole opponent wanted the full bet to be accepted and that was obviously the string better's intention.

No you were not be unethical at all. If anything you gave the string better some information.

Anonymous said...

Obviously hypocritical, considering the post you mentioned about the Venetian. Seems really weird coming from someone I thought was really honest.

James said...

(1) Was the guy wrong to involve himself in the first place?

No. Objectively I've heard it said that a lot of rules, like the string bet, are there to stop the person getting information from anyone ... which means if 9 players got dealt cards, then the 7 who have folded can be gamed for information (and so should be allowed to object).

Also, subjectively, if he thought it was "cheating" I think it's fine for him to speak up.

If he was just doing it so the weaker player would likely have more money ... that's much greyer.

(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?

No, people disagree ... he's allowed to be unconvinced by your argument :).

(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?

I think this is more grey than you paint it. If you didn't care because the intent was clear, and would thus. allow the string bet, under the same conditions, even when you would prefer the bet be $20 ... then I would say that's 100% fine.
If you would object, for the first offence when the intent was clear and the player was obviously less experienced, that's clearly an angle shot (and bad for the game) ... but it's not cheating.

Wayne W. said...

I found this situation very interesting, particularly your take on it since as others have pointed out it seems counter to your usual inclinations. I read through all of the comments hoping to see your response - is a final "wrap-up" coming?