Monday, October 31, 2011

Verbal is binding. Or not.

Late last night I was playing at the Golden Nugget with two friends. Poker Lawyer was on my left, Jen across the table. (The ladies love me, ya know. P.L. even dropped trou for me before she left town. OK, it was via Twitter, but it still counts.)

I had 4d-5d on the button, and so joined a chorus of limpers. The flop was 9-4-5. P.L. checked, next guy bet. I think it was $11. I decided to just call. This was partly slow-playing, partly waiting to be sure P.L. wasn't going to put in a big check-raise after having flopped a set or bigger two pair. She folded, so I was heads-up.

Turn was another 4, filling me up. Guy checked. I bet $22. He called.

I don't remember the river card--a jack maybe? Anyway, it didn't seem to change anything. He checked. As I was reaching for chips, he said, "I call."

It's getting rare that I'm faced with a poker situation that is new to me and that I don't know what to do about. I was sufficiently confident of having the best hand that I would have been willing to get my whole stack into the pot if I thought I would get called. But would he actually call? I wasn't sure of that.

My first impulse was to ask the dealer to call the floor over and get a ruling on whether my opponent's call was binding. If it was, I'd move all-in. But in the roughly five seconds I took to think about my options, I decided it was most likely that the floor would decide his declaration was done out of turn and was therefore not binding, and the very process of trying to get him hooked for his whole stack on that basis would show him how badly I wanted a call, he'd fold, and I'd end up with nothing.

I decided instead to proceed as if he hadn't said anything. I made a standard-sized value bet, about 2/3 of the pot ($45), and he called. He flashed a 9 before mucking.

The questions raised are: (1) If I had stopped the action after he said, "I call" but before taking my turn, what should the floor decide? I.e., is he committed to calling whatever I bet up to the full amount of his stack? (2) Strategically, what is the best way for me to have handled that--as I did, or take a chance on the floor saying that he is committed to a call no matter what I bet, which wins me his stack, or some other approach that I haven't thought of?

I think if he had been deeper, I would have taken a shot at the floor ruling. But as it was, his river call was for about half of what he had left, which means that the potential gain wasn't a lot more than I stood to make from ignoring his words.

He was a very experienced player. He demonstrated thorough understanding of the rules of the game. He knew how the blinds changed when players moved in or out of the game, for instance. In fact, the way he talked early in the session had made me think he was likely an off-duty poker dealer, though I never got explicit confirmation of this. I feel about 99% confident that this was not an accidentally premature call on his part. I think it is much more likely that it was essentially a verbal version of the grabbing-a-stack move I discussed recently, here. He has probably either done this himself on previous occasions or seen it done, and has reason to believe that if it comes to a floor decision it will be ruled non-binding. If so, then I would label it as angle-shooting, a way of pretending to call without actually committing any chips.

I understand that before I got into poker, a common angle-shot was this: a player wanting to inhibit a bet or raise from somebody to his right would announce "raise" out of turn, but then check or call when action actually got to him. That was quashed by instituting the rule that out-of-turn action would be binding if the action to the player in question did not change between when he announced his action and when it became his turn.

If applied here, that would probably not commit my opponent, because, the argument would go, in between his verbal announcement and when he had to actually make his decision, the action had changed by virtue of my bet.

So I'm still not sure what the ruling would be if I pressed for one, nor how I should have handled the situation. I'd like to get it figured out before the next time I'm faced with it.

Addendum, October 31, 2011

I asked Matt Savage via Twitter how he would rule in this situation. He replied:
cash game rules vary, I can guarantee you I am charging him something to get him to stop this angle, probably size of turn bet.

in tournaments the @PokerTDA has added a rule for conditional statements so we have latitude to make him call your whole bet.
He is referring to this rule, added earlier this year:
47: Conditional Statements
Conditional statements regarding future action are strongly discouraged; they may be binding and/or subject to penalty. Example: “if – then” statements such as "If you bet, then I will raise”.
I knew of this change but hadn't thought of applying it here. But on consideration, it does seem pretty reasonable (if you ignore the cash game/tournament distinction). His statement was functionally equivalent to "If you bet, I will call."

Thanks to Matt for his quick response.


Anonymous said...

I had nearly the identical situation come up at Foxwoods a few years ago.

I raised OOP with 88, c-bet the flop on an A-high board, and got called. Turn was a sweet 8, and my opponent called before I had cut chips. Hmmm....

I asked the dealer if his out-of-turn call was binding. He assured me it was. We flipped our cards up, then my opponent called the floor. After a great deal of arguing, the floor insisted that his call was NOT binding. Cards face up now (wow, was I an idiot) I was given a chance to make a new turn bet. He folded, of course.

I was very upset with the floor ruling. I was even more upset with the dealer, for presuming to know more than he did. And of course I was livid with myself for the costly mistakes I made on this hand. It was the one that took about six hours to set up. Live & learn.

arniejokin said...

I came across this once too. A guy said call while I was deciding on how much to bet, and I asked him how he could call when he didn't know how much I was betting. The dealer told me he would have to call whatever I bet, so I went all in and his call stood. It wasn't an over pot sized bet though. Not sure what would have happened if he complained though?

Anonymous said...

8mins 40 onwards but watch the whole hand imo, was the jamie gold high stakes poker hand

i guess to prevent an angleshoot from villain (to get a free showdown by scaring you into not betting) the call should stand

Memphis MOJO said...

It's probably casino dependent. It might even depend on who is the floor person on a particular night.

I saw this in a ca$h game: A guy was thinking about how much to bet and the other guy said "If you bet, I'm going all in."

The first guy bet and now the other guy tried to fold. The floor was called and they made him go all in.

the man said...

Coming to this late, but I think you could certainly have asked for a ruling here without giving away information about the strength of your hand.

Say you had 7-6 and had missed your draw and were deciding whether to try bluffing the river - you obviously need to know if the guy's committed to calling any bet or not (and his premature declaration of "I call" seems like an attempt at intimidation borne of weakness, potentially making a bluff even more tempting).

There are obvious reasons why you would want to know if his statement is binding if you are either bluffing or holding the nuts (or close to it) - but I think there are excellent reasons for wishing this information regardless of your holding. I really don't think you give away any info at all by asking for a ruling here before declaring your action.