Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Horsing around at Binion's

If you follow my Twitter feed, you saw about a jillion posts from Binion's yesterday while I played a tournament there. It was event #9 of the 5th Annual Binion's Classic, the $200 HORSE. There were 71 players, 8 spots paid. I finished in 6th for $625.

It was both pleasing and disappointing. Pleasing because I made money and, even more, because I twice had to make comebacks from being nearly eliminated, and I was proud of how calm and patient and calculating I was at picking spots.

But at the same time, disappointing, because once at the final table I had plenty of chips and could have finished higher, if not for what turned out to be an ill-timed bluff, the only three-barrel bluff I attempted in the entire 12 hours. It made me ultra-short, and I was out two hands later. Had I just continued my regular game, I might well have outlasted at least one or two more players and substantially improved my finish. On the other hand, I went with my read that the guy was on a draw that missed (either low draw or flush draw in an Omaha hand), and I was just wrong. That's going to happen sometimes, and if I never three-barrel in such situations, I'm leaving a valuable tool out of the box. Hence the mixed feelings.

It is nice to get tangible proof that I'm not just deceiving myself when I think that over the past three years or so of online play I have managed to teach myself these five games with a reasonable degree of competence.

There were two rules issues that came up. In an early round of Omaha I flopped top set on a board with no straights or flushes possible, and still held the best possible hand on the turn. I bet the requisite 600. Next guy called. Last guy intended to call, but did so by putting out one 1000 chip and one 100 chip in order to make it easy for the dealer to give him change by sliding him back a 500 chip. But he failed to announce "Call" before putting out these two chips.

The "half bet rule" says that in limit games if a player puts out an amount (other than a single oversized chip) that is greater than one half of the difference between a call and a raise, it will be deemed a raise, and he will be required to put in the rest of the raise amount. That seemed to apply here. I was about to bring it up, but an off-duty Binion's dealer playing at our table beat me to it, so I let him take the heat of the affected player's ire.

[Note added June 22, 2011: In retrospect, this isn't quite accurate. I think that proper terminology would restrict the use of the term "half-bet rule" to situations in which the player is all in, not a situation as here where there is either a mistake or an ambiguous number of chips put in. The analysis and ruling are correct as described, but I shouldn't have used the term "half-bet rule."]

The floor was called, and he said it would be considered a raise, despite the player's angry protestations that he was only calling, and was just trying to make the dealer's job easier. Well, bub, then you should have verbalized your intention. Uttering a single word before putting the chips out would have solved the problem. As it was, his raise allowed me to reraise, and both opponents called, so I captured four extra big bets than I otherwise would have. It may be a technicality, but poker is all about making fewer mistakes than your opponents, and taking full advantage of the ones they make.

In the second instance, many hours later, I had the 1500 bring-in for a stud hand with limits of 5000 and 10,000. A guy at the far end of the table picked up a 5000 chip and asked the dealer how much a call would be. Dealer answered, "1500." The player then asked, "And if I raise, it's to 5000?" Dealer responded, "Yes." The guy then dropped his 5000 chip on the felt.

The next guy to act asked the dealer, "So he raised, right?" I spoke up. "No, he didn't announce a raise. He just asked whether a raise would be to 5000." The player protested that he had intended to raise. Floor was called, facts were recited to him, including the player's exact questions to the dealer. When he heard that the player had made no announcement after receiving answers to his two questions, the floor man instantly and definitively closed the case: It's a call. The free card I earned by getting this ruling ended up not helping me, and I folded to a bet on 4th street, but it was worth a shot.

I think both rulings were clearly correct. Both actions are ones that would be an angle-shooter's paradise if the decisions were made based on what the player claimed his intentions were. In the first case, the guy puts out 1100 and watches to see my reaction. If I eagerly reraise, he can protest that he only intended it to be a call and the action was not reopened. If I look like I don't like it, when queried he can say that of course it's a raise, and he just accidentally left out one of the chips.

Same thing with the "If I raise..." question. If a later player treats it as a raise and reraises, he can say that he had not announced a raise, but was merely asking a hypothetical question, and lose only the call amount. But if it gets others to fold, he silently lets them keep thinking that it had, in fact, been a raise.

I don't think that either player intended such shenanigans in this tournament, but the rules exist to prevent shady players from taking such shots. Unless somebody does the same trick repeatedly, we can never be sure whether he's telling the truth when asked what he had intended. For the rules to be effective in preventing such ambiguity, they have to be enforced the same way every time, even if it upsets players who inadvertently run afoul of them.

I feel no sympathy for them. Both men were in their 50s, obviously experienced players, not novices. They have an obligation to know and follow the rules. The simple expedient of verbally announcing intention before acting solves the problem in both cases. If they fail to take such an easy precautionary step, tough--it's their fault, and they rightly suffer the consequences. They had the capacity to prevent the ambiguity with a single word, and they couldn't be bothered, so the rules prescribe how the ambiguity is to be resolved. End of story.

There was one other rules controversy, though I only know about it secondhand. My friend Katie Baxter tried to raise by announcing "all in" before tossing in her last chip--an oversized one. The floor apparently ruled that it was just a call. This seems to have been based on the bizarre notion that "all in" is not functionally equivalent to "raise"--but it sure seems to me that it is. "Raise all in" would obviously be acceptable, so why isn't just "All in"? Both unambiguously signal the same intention to the other players. If I've understood the facts of the situation correctly, it seems a terrible decision, though apparently Katie thinks that the opposite ruling wouldn't have changed the outcome.

OK, that's enough rants. It's late, and as Tony Big Charles always says, I must sleep immediately.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I enjoyed reading your tweets on the tournament. Congrats for cashing (although I was pulling for a top 3 place for you), especially after getting hit with the set over set hand.

Your analysis with the floor rulings is right on in my opinion, both situations to me (a relative novice) seem right in line with rulings I would expect at a table. Glad they went correctly.