Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Rules from a player's perspective

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!

1) Antes
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!


  1. Hi Jamie,
    I found your post quite interesting and I'm delighted that a player has taken the time to post a blog about rules and rulings. There really isn’t many that would take the time to do so.

    If I may comment on some of your points and maybe clear up a few questions you have about why the rules are set the way they are. It’s quite a long response as I deal with each of your points individually, so I will have to break it into 3 posts.

    Some background on who I am. My name is Paul Fox. I have worked in poker clubs and at poker events around Ireland for over 10 years. I'm also a founding member of the Irish poker federation which is the Irish arm of the International Federation of Poker.

    Rules from club to club and event to event are mostly consistent, but as always, you will come across house rules that always seem to deviate. Usually these have been put in place because of instances with regular players and seem alien to visiting players. One such rule that comes to mind is from a Dublin club. When a player is away from the table for 2 rounds he loses a big blind every hand. Crazy stuff when you consider that the player paid for his chips and should be allowed play them as he so wishes!

    Anyway, your tip to players is spot on. I'll always tell players to be clear in their actions. If they are unsure, they should ask the dealer what their options are. If they announce what they want to do before they do it,(eg; call, raise, fold), then there is no ambiguity.

  2. 1) Antes
    There is a fine line when setting a structure with antes between the tournament becoming a crapshoot, having the perfect structure, and having a structure in which the antes are pointless.
    If you have a structure in place where the the antes are too soft, then the reason for having them is lost. If you have a structure where antes are too high compared to the blinds you're in danger of taking all play out of the game.
    As a rule you should be looking at an ante of around 10% of the big blind, or based on a 9 handed table the total number of antes should not exceed a full big blind but should not be less than a small blind. There will be exceptions to this, eg; 200/400/50ante, total antes would be 450.

    2) Maximum Information
    I have to totally disagree with you here. I hope I can clarify this and you'll understand the reasoning behind why.
    At its core, poker is a game of information, incomplete information. It is the players responsibility to collect the information they need to make the correct decisions.
    When a dealer starts giving players more and more info, they become an aid to the player.
    The only information the dealer should be announcing is call, raise, fold, re-raise, all in.
    It is up to the player to take responsibility for their actions at the table.
    If a player goes all in for 5000, by the dealer announcing the amount or any bet size for that matter it could be seen as the dealer encouraging another player to call. Players can clarify bets in turn with the dealer if they wish, but overall it is part of the skill element of poker.
    Selling bets: If player A bets 400 and player B raises to 1000, and the dealer announces '600 more to call', how much more appealing does that sound to player A? In essence the dealer is making the sale to player A.
    If in the same scenario the dealer announces 'bet'... 'raise', the dealer plays no part in the players exchanges apart from announcing the action. There is no chance for a dealer to influence the game.
    3) Raising
    The one rule that gets questioned the most is the raise from the blinds.
    The rule as it stands is clear. Any single large over-sized chip going into the pot with any announcement is just a call.
    An example of this would be; €1-€2 cash game.
    4 callers, Action comes to the small blind, player throws in a €25 chip, it is just a call of €2.
    Reason being is that it is an unclear action. If you want it to be clear, go back to your top tip. Always announce your action.
    The rules for raising are clear, one smooth continuous action.
    That is why when you see guys slide out a stack break it down and take some back on American events is perfectly acceptable. They are doing it all in one motion.
    Accepted ways to raise are 1) Announce riase and in one motion place the raise amount in. 2)Announce raise, place the amount to call in and then place the raise in after or 3) Announce the amount you are raising to (verbal action is binding) and place it in with as many motions as you like.
    I think we have to look at string bets also. Too many people seem to mis-interpret the rule.I have seen players pick chips up to raise and they drop one off their stack and dealers announce a string bet. It's wrong. Clearly where chips fall accidentially you have to let the player complete his action.
    Although the rule book says string bets are up to the dealer to call, it's amazing how many dealers don't properly understand a string bet.

  3. 4) Collusion
    While it is very hard to prove players are colluding, the Floor person or TD has the right to intervene and bring in measures to insure the integrity of the game is kept. If this means asking players to turn over cards that they mightn't normally have to then, so be it. Nobody wants to accuse anyone of being a cheat but if it comes to it the decision would have been taken with great care. I have seen guys muck winning hands to keep their mates in the game and they get upset because they've been pulled up over it. They end up getting angry, but hey, I wasn't the one cheating.

    Other rules to protect from colluding EG; You must bet the nuts on the river. Why wouldn't you unless you are soft playing?
    Guys asking to check down hands when others are all-in do it mostly out of ignorance and once educated as to why it's wrong don't usually offend again.
    Collusion rules are there to not only protect other players, but to protect the TD, the tournament and the overall integrity of poker. If your game doesn't have that, then you won't have a game for long.

    5) Consistancy

    If a club or game has a rule of no moblile phones at the table, the dealer should enforce it. So many times I have seen one dealer let it go and another the total opposite.
    I was working at the UKIPT in Nottigham where the rule was; No electronic devices allowed at the table. This included phones or ipads resting on the rail.
    As I was being pushed from table to table as I sat down I'd clarify the rule to the players as the previous dealer had said nothing. A few players were unhappy that the other dealers had said nothing but were understanding that it was a rule of the tournament.

    Usually you will find in situations like these that some dealers let things go that they shouldn't, and this causes problems with players when other dealers enforce the rules. The players feel like they are being picked on.

    The bottom line is education and training. Dealers should be trained to realise that it's not just about throwing cards out and switching off. There is a lot more to the job than that.

    6) Communication

    It's funny you bring this scenario up. I was on the recieving end of a diatribe from a player for the exact same intance recently at an event in CityWest.

    Here's the thing, communication is a two way street. Dealers should not have to second guess what players are doing.

    I was dealing a cash game, The action was raised to €11. Three more people called, then a player in the small blind put in €26 (€25+€1). I announced 'raise' and the player flipped out. 'It's a call' they spat. Clearly it is a raise.
    No dealer should have to ask a player what is their action. In any game that is a raise. It's not even close to ambiguous.

    I called the floor over and told the player, '2 chips into the pot is a raise'. It is very simple.

    I had dealt another event the week before and the same player put a single €25 chip in and I announced 'call'. The player said they were raising, but I told them because they never mentioned anything that a single over-sized chip is just a call. The player got angry at me because they were not allowed to raise. This is not my fault, it is not the fault of any dealer to call the game as the chips go in.
    If a dealer knows the job the chips and the players actions do the talking, nothing else, it's the language of poker.

    Single chip in - just a call. Two or more chips in - raise. When players expect dealers to know what they are thinking rather than communicating clearly to the dealer their intent then we get ambiguous situations like the ones I've described.

  4. 7)Reasons for rules

    The only reason there should be a rule for situations in poker is to clarify abiguity. The rules are updated regularly as situations arise repeatedly. If the same confusion happens again and again the rule for that situation is reviewed to deal with it better.

    Like I described earlier, clubs have house rules, quirky rules that seem unusual to the casual visiting player.
    The rule I mentioned before about players being blinded every hand;
    This came into effect after a player would repeatedly build up a big stack and go off to the pub. By time he got back he was in the money without playing a hand. Regular players were unhappy with this and the club took action to stop it. It makes sense for the situation, but what happens if a player leaves to go for a cigarette and use the bathroom? Maybe it takes longer than expected and someone notices him gone for a while. He's getting penalised through no fault of his own.

    8)Common Sense and Intent

    Rule number one of the Poker TDA rules states:

    1: Floor People
    Floor people are to consider the best interest of the game and fairness as top priorities in
    the decision-making process. Unusual circumstances can on occasion dictate that decisions
    in the interest of fairness take priority over the technical rules. The floorperson's decision is

    In the situation you describe about the players in seats 1 or 10 not seeing action , Rule 41 of the TDA states;

    41: Accepted Action
    Poker is a game of alert, continuous observation. It is the caller’s responsibility to determine
    the correct amount of an opponent’s bet before calling, regardless of what is stated by the
    dealer or players. If a caller requests a count but receives incorrect information from the
    dealer or players, then places that amount in the pot, the caller is assumed to accept the full
    correct action & is subject to the correct wager or all-in amount. As with all tournament
    situations, Rule 1 may apply at TD’s discretion.

    Some good reading for you on rules and rulings:
    Roberts rules of poker:

    From these I think the EPT rules have the most clear lines regarding ambiguity.
    They have tweaked the TDA rules to a point where each situation is clear.

    Also I would recommend talking to JPMcCann, (@MccannJP on twitter),
    Nick O'Hara of Vegas Nights (

  5. Thanks for the response Paul, appreciate the input.
    Just for the record, the post was written as a constructive post and was mainly just my own general opinions and observations. Hopefully some people find it helpful/useful/interesting, especially new dealers or card room/casino managers who would be less experienced or not from a poker background. I hope it didn't come across as a rant giving out about all the rules, dealers and TDs in Ireland!

    I think the only area where we have any real disagreement is with how much information dealers should give.

    On point 3, I just wanted to say that my main point was simply whatever the rule, it should be easy for dealers to enforce. The specific rule I mentioned is an example of a bad rule because it's unfair on dealers (it's not a standard rule btw, it's a house rule).

    I'll just expand a little on the collusion point - obviously there has to be some rules in place to prevent collusion (betting the nuts on the river, not being allowed to say 'we'll check it down' is perfectly fine and I agree with those rules). An example of one 'collusion' rule I don't understand is the 'truth rule' which is seen in some venues - (basically, you can say anything heads up, but you cannot honestly declare your hand). Basically, my argument for rules like this are, yes, in theory, people could conceivably tell the truth to collude, but in reality, if people really want to collude, this rule will not prevent them from doing so, so therefore the rule is needless and pointless. I think the only real way to prevent collusion is for players/dealers/TDs to be vigilant, and like you said, if people are suspected of collusion, being forced to expose their hands under certain circumstances. In essence, I think there are too many rules that are brought in to 'prevent collusion' when in practice, they do very little to actually prevent players who really want to collude from doing so.

    On communication, I of course agree that players are responsible and the dealer shouldn't be expected to read minds, but I do think the specific example I outlined above is an acceptable action from the dealer (but obviously, if push comes to shove, the player is wrong and his action is a raise). I just think if dealers manage a game proactively, it makes the game more smooth and often deals with problems before they become problems.

  6. Hi Jamie,

    I think the main point of all this comes down to education and proper training.
    You can show anyone how to deal to 9 players and have them consider themselves a dealer, but it should never end there. Dealers should always be striving to learn proper procedure, table layouts, shuffles, chip handling, rules and in some cases specific house rules.

    Any good dealers I know have pushed themselves to learn and educate themselves, ask questions and practice as much as they can.

    There should be a certain standard to be achieved to be considered a dealer and not just turn up and be that 'meat in the seat'.

    I know some people have tried to start training schools here but the demand is just not there to sustain that sort of business model in Ireland.

    Until that happens you will always have a gulf in standard between the good, the bad and the couldn't care less.

  7. A very insightful post! Many thanks for this! This is a good read since you wrote from a player's own view! Two thumbs up for you!

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