Sunday, August 03, 2008

No jackpot for you!

Last night at the Palms, it was a $1-3 game. In a limped pot, I had pocket 10s, and the flop came A-10-x, rainbow. All three of us in the hand checked. The turn was the fourth 10. When both opponents checked to me, I put out a smallish bet, hoping that one of them had a weak ace that had just improved to two pairs, or possibly a flopped set that had just improved to a full house (not very likely, I'll admit). They both folded.

I knew enough to stop the dealer before he swept the board cards away, and showed my quads. But I had forgotten something: The house jackpot rules require there to be $10 in the pot to qualify. Three of us limping in had made it just $9, and uncalled bets are not considered part of the pot for purposes of the jackpot requirements.


I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I did know that there was a minimum pot requirement, because that's pretty common--but even if the general idea had occurred to me in time, I wouldn't have known offhand what the qualifying amount was. Almost all of the high-hand jackpots I've won were at the old Hilton poker room, just because I spent so much more time there than anyplace else. There was no pot size requirement at the Hilton. That's why I never developed the habit of checking it. On the few occasions that I've hit a qualifying high hand at other casinos, the pot has been well over any stated minimum, so again I just have had no reason to think much about it--until it was too late.

As it turns out, the quad-10 jackpot had just been hit a short time earlier, so the jackpot amount had been reset to its minimum of $50. Not the costliest mistake I've ever made playing poker, but certainly one that could have been avoided had I been thinking more clearly.

What could I have done differently? Well, I see three possibilities.

First, making the absolute minimum bet ($3) instead of the $6 or $7 that I actually put in might have gotten a nibble. Checking the turn and only betting on the river might have allowed one of the other two players to catch something with which they could call, but, conversely, it might have put another scare card out there (like another ace) and made them even more inclined to throw their hands away. It's impossible to know.

Second, if I had been consciously aware of the minimum pot needed, and after a bet it looked like both opponents would fold, I could stop the last one and say something like, "Please call. If you lose, I'll reimburse you." Most players are alert enough that they would pick up on what this meant and cooperate. That would achieve the pot size requirement.

But I'm uncomfortable with that. It's probably not strictly against the rules, but it's skating on thin ice. Most jackpot rules have an explicit stipulation that the players cannot discuss the possibility of the jackpot during the play of the hand, precisely because such comments will tend to queer the action in favor of the jackpot paying out. That's not fair to those who meet the hand requirements without having discussed it, because every payout reduces the jackpot for the next person to hit it, so all should have to play by the same rules.

It's clear that I can't say something like, "I have four 10s, so I'd really appreciate a call so we can get the pot size above the minimum required, and I'll pay you your bet back." Now, in reality, lots of dealers will turn a blind eye (or, I suppose, a deaf ear) to such remarks, because they don't want to deprive a player of a jackpot and themselves of the resulting tip. One could probably get away with it, without the dealer (or anybody else) snitching to management about what occurred. But I'd feel sleazy about that, knowing that it was a direct violation of the rules.

The alternative mentioned above, which falls just short of being explicit, is a gray area. For the same reasons, one could probably do it, have it work, and have nothing said or done about it, but it would make me uneasy.

The third possibility that has occurred to me in retrospect is, I think, the best solution. I could ask the dealer, "What is the minimum pot size requirement for the high hand jackpot here?" Since I really didn't know, it would be a perfectly honest and legitimate question. And there's certainly no rule against asking the dealer what the house rules are at any time. If this question were not combined with a direct request to another player to call or an offer to reimburse a bet, I think this is far enough above board that it would not trouble me ethically.

The timing of it is tricky, though. I'd prefer to make a bet and have it called in the natural order of play, and not have to resort to secondary means. That means that I'd rather not ask that question before I make my bet. This is not only a rules consideration, but one directly related to the poker. If one of my opponents has, by chance, just made a full house, and he's slow-playing it, hoping to check-raise me, I sure don't want to scare him out of putting a lot of money into the pot by virtually announcing that I have four of a kind.

That means that I'd pretty much have to make the bet, then be prepared to jump in if it looked like the last remaining opponent was going to fold. I would then have to tell that person to wait, then ask the dealer the question, and hope that the other player caught my drift and was feeling cooperative.

On a few occasions, I have seen a thinking-ahead player suggest some code word to the entire table to be used in just such a situation. I've never seen it deployed, though.

Actually, I think that the best solution is just not to have minimum pot sizes for high-hand jackpots in the first place, because it pretty much ensures that all sorts of gray-area maneuvering and outright open negotiation will take place to get around the rule. I assume the minimum pot size is there to prevent two players from checking it down anytime one of them has a pair or two suited cards within the range of a straight, just trying to hit the jackpot. But I think that's a pretty small consideration, when you take into account how rare it is for those possible starters to actually develop into a qualifying high hand.


Pete said...

Typically the ppt size requirement for a jackpot coincides with the point at which the jackpot rake is taken. This seems to make a lot of sense to me. And without this requirement you can actually have a group of jackpot chasers play real small - never contribute a single $ to the jackpot drop but basically only be playing for the jackpot. And while you don't see this sort of behavior in No-Limit games, it definately does occur in locals limit games.

Anonymous said...

"..I could stop the last one and say something like, "Please call. If you lose, I'll reimburse you.""

One particular dealer at the Monte Carlo, (the older big guy with the grey mustache - who's generally kind of a jerk anyway, but that's another story) told my table once, that if anyone "tries something that" he'd call collusion and no jackpot would be awarded.

Anonymous said...

Getting quads, winning, and still feeling like you lost a bit not getting that jackpot.

randy tucson said...

I have seen players show the newbies the "secret" sign (praying hands) directly after the dealer explains the rules. I think the praying hands also mean " please don't bet big, I'm one card from a royal. Hit quads last nite, felted a $45 stack but jackpot was only $20 because it was hit earlier for $500. Grrrr, anybody got a toothpick?