Sunday, November 04, 2012

String theory

At Mandalay Bay today I saw what I thought was an interesting situation that called into question the way I have thought of the string-bet rule.

A player had all of his chips in two stacks. He was first to act on the river. He picked up one stack with his left hand and moved it forward. Without letting go of it, he then moved the second stack forward with his right hand, with it ending up next to the first stack, and then he released both of them at the same time.

Was this a legitimate all-in move, or an illegal string bet?

I asked this on Twitter and got quite a variety of responses:

If you think the answer is perfectly obvious one way or the other, then consider these variations.

1. Does it matter to you if the interval between the forward motion of the two stacks is, say, 10 seconds versus half of a second?

2. What if he verbalizes "all in" between the two motions?

3. Does your answer change if the first stack was all of his red ($5) chips, and the second stack was all of his blue ($1) chips?

4. Does your answer change with the size of the second stack, i.e., a big stack of 30 chips versus one or two stragglers?

I do not like having the application of a rule depend on discerning a player's intention, because (1) it's too subjective a process, and (2) the process can be abused and manipulated by experienced players to their advantage.

Here, however, I'm forced to conclude that there is no way to do anything but attempt to figure out his intention. If he was betting, say, close to $200 with the first stack, and had left behind just one blue chip, and it appeared that he noticed it only after he had already moved the first stack into position and was doing his best to rectify his oversight, and he did so almost instantly, it's hard to assign to him any angle-shooting motivation. But the more you stretch any or all of those parameters, the murkier his intentions become.

If he had two equal stacks of red chips, and clearly paused for a long time to think after moving the first one forward, then we have to conclude that he did not form the mental intention of putting himself all-in before he started his move.

In between those rather clear-cut cases on either end of the spectrum, it's all kind of murky.

It's easy to pontificate that if he hasn't verbalized his action first, then if he is using both hands to move chips, they have to be synchronized. But that just moves us to the question of exactly how perfectly synchronized they have to be. We humans aren't capable of actual simultaneity. Shoot a sufficiently high-speed video of the action and you'll find some discrepancy, even if only tiny fractions of a second. It would be absurd to write the rule in a way that requires the two stacks to hit their final resting point within some precise interval of time of each other. But if you're not going to do that, and yet you agree that some intervals are short enough to be OK as an all-in while others are too long to deserve that supposition, then you've necessarily reduced it to a subjective judgment call.

What actually happened today was that the first stack was all of his red chips, and the second was all of his blue chips. But they were roughly equal, maybe 25 or so of each. So he couldn't have just overlooked the second stack. Furthermore, he paused briefly with his left hand on the first stack after having moved it forward, announced, "All in," then picked up the second stack with his right hand and moved it next to the first before releasing both of them. I think that what happened was that at first glance he thought that his red chips alone were enough to cover his opponent's stack, but then he realized a beat too late that the two of them might be closer in total chips behind than he thought, and he probably shouldn't leave his blue chips out of the bet, so he did a quick mid-move correction.

In other words, it makes no sense to attribute to him any actual ugly angle-shooting, because the difference in the total amount of the bet was not enough that it would make much difference in an opponent's decision. Furthermore, his mid-move correction came quickly enough that he couldn't have been trying to gauge his opponent's reaction before deciding whether to add more chips to his bet. But it also wasn't just the classic "oops I meant to go all in but I forgot the one blue chip that I'm using as a card cap." He had a real change of mind, I think, but one that didn't actually alter the situation by very much.

Because of that, I think a reasonable argument can be made to let the bet stand (because it changed the absolute amount of the bet by a fairly small percentage, not enough to plausibly affect whether an opponent would call), AND a reasonable argument can be made to make him take back the second stack (because he probably did not start his move with the intention of including it).

The dealer didn't hesitate at all. She disallowed the second stack. Nobody argued the point, and I was probably the only one that thought it even pointed to an interesting question.


FlushDraww said...

What was your first instinct then? Did you feel it was a string or a simple all-in. I thought it was NOT a string since he never let go of the first stack.

Rakewell said...

I thought it was OK, would not have called it a string bet.

Pete said...

Different rooms may have different rules. Where I broke in if you put one hand in the betting area with chips .... you could come out with the other hand and even back and forth with the other hand... as long as you did not take the first hand out of the betting area. I like this particular approach. In my current room, once you set chips in the betting area you can't bring any more in (nor add more by verbal betting .... but until you set the chips down in the betting area you could bring out more).

Fundamentally I think many people misunderstand the string bet rule. I think they believe the rule exists to prevent people from trying to "get a read" on opponents and adjusting the bet. I do not believe this is the case. I think if that was the purpose of the rule then you would not be allowed to count out a call and a raise while watching your opponent for a reaction ..... and then decide not to call or raise.

I beleive the purpose of the string bet rule is to set moment that ends your turn so that opponent knows when it is safe to begin their action ..... and if this is the purpose your opponent should know that while you still have your hand in the betting area .... it is not yet his turn.

Memphis MOJO said...

I think the dealer did the right thing. If she rules like this, it's consistent and avoids problems. Although I see counter-arguments, I like what she did.

phrank said...

The rule where I deal is that one motion is required. This situation constitutes more than one motion. I side with the dealer.