Rules in poker are something that seem to come up and play a part way too often when it comes to poker discussion. The club in Limerick are currently writing up new house rules so there's been a bit of discussion about rules lately. I also read about what's been called the worst ruling ever in poker. So rules and rulings have been on my mind so I decided to make this post. This is basically my advice and my thoughts on certain rules, rulings etc.
(Fwiw, I have never been a professional dealer or TD - the most I have done is run a few pub games. So these tips are largely from a player's point of view)
Before we start...
I) A tip to players
If you want to avoid ever having a ruling made involving you, just be totally clear and simple when acting. If everyone was totally clear and unambiguous with every action at the poker table, there would almost no need for a ruling ever. So make it easy on the dealer and make your actions clear!
Antes in a tournament structure should ideally be 1/8th of the big blind. If it is not possible to have antes 1/8th, it should be as close to 1/8th as possible. So this means, a 25 ante at the 200-400 level is BAD. Also, antes should be consistent throughout the tournament. The ante at 400-800 and 4000-8000 should be proportionally the same. This means, if the ante is 100 at 400-800, there is no reason why the ante should be 500 at 4000-8000 (it should be 1000 obviously).
This seems like such a simple thing, but then why do so many tournaments manage to get it wrong (the flagship tournament of the year The Irish Open, no less)?
So for all the TDs out there, really simple change to make.
2) Maximum amount of information should be available
The biggest reason for problems and rulings arising is that people are unaware and make mistakes based on lack of information. I remember when I first heard the rule that dealers were not allowed announce the size of a bet (they were simply supposed to say 'raise' - i.e. they could not say 'raise to 2700'). Why should dealers not be allowed say this? Obviously players should watch the action, but nothing slows up a game more than "Raise", "how much is it?", "500", "500?", "Yes", "more or altogether?", "total", "so 300 more", "Yes", "Oh, OK. I'll fold".
Obviously a bit of hyperbole there, but I don't understand why dealers cannot lead with all the free, open information that is out there. The all-in rule is one I never understood either. In some places, if a player is all -in, the dealer is only supposed to announce 'all-in' as opposed to 'all-in for 5750'. What's the reason for this? If the reason is "well if Johnny Badplayer in seat one hears raise to 5750, he might call coz it's such a small raise, but if he hears it's an all-in raise, he won't check how much it is and fold". If this is the justification for this rule, I ask, why? One could say that a reason like this for a rule is there to favour the 'better players'. Why? Surely the other way speeds up the game and is completely fair since all the dealer is doing is announcing free information that is there for all to see should one want to see it?
Also, it's worth noting, I don't mean the dealer has to count out every single all-in bet (I understand that part of the rule). What I mean is, someone shoves for around 50k. It folds to the BB. The dealer should announce "All-in raise of around 50k, would you like an exact count?". Most competent dealers can eyeball a stack correctly to around +/-10%.
3) Rules have to be fair to dealers
I have a specific rule in mind when I mention this, but first, I'll explain generally.
If there is a rule in place, it should be fairly black and white and should not have to rely on too much interpretation from the dealer.
The specific rule I'm thinking of is a house rule in the club in Limerick. The rule is basically, if you pull your current bet back without announcing raise, you can only call. E.g. you have 1euro in the SB, someone raises to €10, if you say nothing, pull back your €1, cut out €30 from your stack, and put that in the pot, it does not count as a raise, you can only call. Aside from the rule itself, the reason I take issure with a rule like this, is because it is unfair on the dealer. If you cut out €30 from your stack, put it in the pot first, and then take back out your €1, it is a raise. If you do it simultaneously, is it a raise? If you have €30 in your left hand, and the €1 in your right, and do it all in one continuous instantaneous motion, is it a raise or only a call? It's unfair for the dealer to have a make a decision when it comes down to the milliseconds of actions.
So when making rules, how easy it is for the dealer to handle and interpret the various scenarios is important.
4) Most rules that are there to 'prevent collusion' are stupid
The most ridiculously used justification for rules are the 'it prevents collusion' rule. Two things, most of the these rules don't actually prevent collusion, and if people wanted to collude, they probably will.
5) Rulings have to be consistent
The validity or reasoning for rules are one thing, but all card rooms and tournaments have to make sure to enforce their rules on a consistent basis. Rules are usually there for a reason, but for them to be any use, they must be enforced. There's nothing worse than having rules that are enforced on a case-by-case basis or 'when it suits'. For example, if you are not allowed use a phone during a hand, then if you use your phone during the hand, your hand should be dead. Simple. No ambiguity, that's the rule. At the start of a hand, if a player is on the phone, the dealer should warn them that their hand will be dead if they continue to use it. If a player's phone begins to ring during a hand, the dealer should warn the player should he answer the phone, his hand will be dead. Having some player-dealer communication never hurts either.
Which brings me onto...
6) Player-Dealer communication never hurts
Here's a quick example of what I think is okay:
Blinds are 100-200, player A raises to 525. Player B puts in one 1000 chip and one 25 chip.
Rules say, this is a raise. However, in practice, many people see this as a call (the player puts out the extra one 25 chip to make it easier for the dealer to make change - ie the dealer must only give player B 500 not as opposed to 475).
So, should Player B be forced the raise?
The easiest solution to this imo, is, after putting out the 1025, the dealer should immediately ask 'Is that a call?'. Usually the player will immediately respond with 'Ya' and the game will continue.
Again this is such a small thing but something that would prevent a lot of headaches for dealers, players and TDs. With the dealer proactively managing the game, the dealer can prevent any confusion before it arises. If player B throws in the 1000 chip and the 25 chip, player C may then ask 'is that a raise', in which case the dealer can go back and ask player B, but now player C is fully entitled to insist that player B did make a raise. So basically, it opens up a whole can of worms of possible angleshoots, possible tells etc from player B and player C.
All this could be solved by a quick comment from the dealer. If the dealer immediately asks 'is that a call?', player C doesn't get a chance to give his reaction, gauge player B's reaction etc. and if player B was angling, the angle is very short lived as he has to declare his action before gaining any information.
7) There has to be a reason for having a rule
Again, this sounds so simple, but I often hear of rules that I simply cannot think of a reason for why they are there.
8) Common sense and intent
This is probably the most difficult part of making rulings. Common sense and intent do take some interpretation, which ideally, there would be no need for (in the perfect world, all rules and all actions would be black and white and an easy and correct ruling could be made everytime). However, that's not how life is!
Common sense is an absolute must. Intent may be pushing it according to some people. I've often seen players (esp in seat 1 and 10) say call and then put in the big blind. Then the dealer informs them there was actually an all-in shove (but obv they can't say how much the all-in is :P). Common sense and player's intent dictate here the player meant to call just the big blind. But what should the ruling be?
I think these are the most difficult decisions in poker. In the spirit of 'fairness', the player should only have to call the BB. But how far do we push it? Does this leave things too open to angleshooting? How can the dealer or floorperson really judge a person's intent? Should they be required to judge a person's intent and use common sense or should they just apply the ruling rigidly? Unfortunately, I can't come up with a right answer to all that. All I can say is, it probably is best to judge these on a case-by-case basis. There are no rules for common sense or intent, but they definitely should play a part in the ruling process. How big a part? Well, your common sense should be able to answer that question!