A Softer Warning System for Poker

So I am headed to my seat in the 50k Euro Super High Roller event and at the same time, the smaller 1k Euro Estrellas main event was going full force. The event was a massive success with loads of amateurs and pros alike.

As I walked by one of the tables, a Spanish gentleman said he was a big fan and asked if I’d pose for a picture with him. He was in the Estrellas main event and currently sitting in the big blind. He asked the player in the small blind if he wouldn’t mind snapping the pic. So they stood up and I stood next to the gentleman posing for the pic. As this was happening the dealer started dealing the hand. They were literally standing with their legs almost touching their chairs, certainly within reach of their chairs and not in a position to hurt the integrity of the game in the least.

Well, after the picture was snapped, the dealer quickly grabbed both of their hands and threw them in the muck. No warning. It’s just cold blooded man! The dealer made a mistake, because the way the First Card off the Deck rule is written, you need to be withing arms reach of your chair. Neither player broke any rules, but the dealer clearly didn’t understand the rule and mucked both their hands. Poor guy in the small blind gets punished for being a nice guy and taking a pic for the guy next to him. This is wrong. This is more common than I’d like to see, and it really upset me. It had no effect on my tournament, but the question dawned on me, “What are we trying to accomplish with such harsh penalties for harmless infractions?”

This isn’t the only rule where I think the penalties don’t match the “crime” and while I understand the need for rules to protect the integrity of the game, I also don’t see why we can’t enforce these rules by first giving a warning.

A perfect example was a hand Alberto Tomba, the famous skier, played in EPT San Remo several years ago. He was a novice and didn’t read through the entire rules sheet before playing. (Question: is this something we want to force amateurs to do before entering an event, or should we be more welcoming to these types of players?)

So Alberto is in a hand, he bets the flop and thought everyone had folded so he showed his cards face up on the table. He had AK and the board was T-6-2. An honest mistake and quite a penalty to have to play the rest of the hand out against an opponent he didn’t see had called! Alberto ends up losing the hand, and then the floorman comes to him and issues him a one round penalty for exposing his cards before the action was complete.

I spoke with Alberto last year about this very incident while playing in a celebrity event with Rafa. He hasn’t played any tournaments since and his reasoning was that he didn’t really know all the rules and didn’t want to keep getting penalties.

What is so wrong with allowing dealers and floormen to exercise common sense? I know that in the TDA rules, it often says, “Player MAY be issued a penalty,” but I’ve personally never seen it be anything but automatic in the most obviously harmless of situations. How that should have been handled was like this: The dealer/floorman should have said, “Alberto, you are not allowed to show your cards until the hand is over. If it happens again you will get a one round penalty which means you’ll have to step away from the table and sacrifice your blinds and antes.”

By biggest problem with the auto-penalty mentality is that the vast majority of infractions being penalized are harmless mistakes made by amateur players. Another example:

Heads up pot
Board reads TKJ 4 Q

Player A checks and then player B checks and turns over AK for the nuts straight. Often amateur players get excited in the moment and don’t even realize what they have and that’s typically what is happening in cases like this. He sees his hand as top pair top kicker and is just excited to get the hand over with, not realizing he made a straight. What should happen is a warning, “Sir, you are not allowed to check the nut hand if you are the last to act.” Instead, what I’ve seen happen in every instance, is this player is issued a penalty. Enforcing this penalty under the guise of protecting the integrity of the game is maddening and outright silly.

I’m asking, I’m pleading for a change in focus in these types of situations. More leniency, more understanding, more player friendly. Less rigorous, less harsh, and less cold blooded.

If you are a dealer or a tournament director, before you issue a penalty ask yourself this one important question: do you believe that the players intent was to cheat, angle shoot, or breach the integrity of the game, or was it a relatively harmless error on his part?

We all want the same thing I would imagine. A safe, friendly, fun environment to play these tournaments in, so industry wide lets reexamine some of the ways in which we are enforcing penalties and take a deeper look at what it is we are trying to accomplish.