A call for a committee

May 22, 2013

We have good tournament directors around the world, but sometimes they and their partners make really bad decisions, and often the reason that they do is they aren’t playing poker every day. What we need to have happen at all major events is to have a committee of players who can be called on to assist TDs with difficult decisions and thus avoid this problem.

A Committee to Consult

What I am suggesting is similar to what is often in place at bridge tournaments. There you’ll see five people who are known to be thoughtful, expert players chosen to serve as a committee to help rule on certain decisions that arise. Poker is different from bridge, of course, since in bridge every player plays to the last hand while in poker, players will bust out from the tournament. Even so, we could appoint a committee of players at each event and from those whoever is still around or on call could be consulted when difficult decisions arise.

The selection of such players should be carefully done, of course. You can’t just pick those who play tournaments once in a while to serve on such a committee, but need players who play regularly and thus have the most experience facing various situations that come up in tournament poker.

Let me talk about a few examples of what, in my view, were poor decisions by otherwise good tournament directors that might have been avoided if there were such a committee of players on hand to have helped.


Decisions, Decisions

Once I played in a televised tournament, and a three-way hand came up in which one player went all in, then the next folded his hand, but one of the cards flashed as he did. The dealer instinctively went to turn the card over, and I stopped her to say she shouldn’t do that, because doing so would give the third player an advantage — namely, extra information that the guy who went all in didn’t have.

Then, there was a meeting of the people running the event which concluded the card had to be turned over. Even on the TV broadcast they said I was wrong regarding the situation, but the fact is anyone who plays no-limit hold’em on an everyday basis would agree that if someone moves all in without seeing a flashed card, then you can’t let another person who, say, has a pair of sevens, get to see if a seven has been thrown away.

I think it would have been much better to have had those who play the game make the decision in such a spot.

More recently a situation came up at the EPT. A player would count up his chips for a call. As he started to move his chips forward, he’d say “raise.” Having seen it happen on at least one previous occasion, the tournament director warned the opponent involved by saying, “Hey, the last time he did this, he had the nuts.”

The tournament director may have thought that was a sufficient way to deal with the situation, but if you got a committee together to decide what to do, I think it would’ve quickly determined that the angle-shooter should not be able to profit from his angle.

Instead, the TD should’ve told the angle-shooter he wouldn’t profit from the move in the future. In other words, if his opponent called the so-called “raise” and had the better hand, he would get the extra chips. However, if the angle-shooter had the best hand, he would not get any more chips.

A third example came up in a tournament when Player A raised with two kings from early position. It folded to him in the small blind where Player B had not seen Player A’s raise. He then moved all in and when the short stack in the big blind folded, Player B mucked his hand before Player A could act.

The tournament directors decided that Player B would only lose the amount of their bet and no more. They went into the rulebook and found a rule to cover the situation, but these rulebooks are written by tournament directors not poker players. I discussed this situation with other players, and several other rulings were proposed, rulings which were different from what actually happened.

But whatever the right decision was, it should have been made by five expert poker players discussing it and coming up with a consensus, and not by tournament directors.

Another situation came up recently involving a Chinese poker tournament at the PCA. There was a rule that if someone had one chip left, he would play against people in order in such a way that he could double his one chip if he beat the next person, then he could double again to four if he beat the next player, and then double again to eight chips if he beat the third player. In other words, on just one hand the player could go from one chip to eight!

Now someone who doesn’t play Chinese poker may not realize how this rule makes the game not viable. Because if you are the last person who has action against the guy with one chip, the only way that you’re ever going to get to compare your hand to his is if the guy has a good hand that already beats two other people. In other words, if you’re last to act against the guy with one chip, you would almost never win the player’s one chip, because if he had a bad hand, it wouldn’t get that far. Meanwhile, you could conceivably lose four chips. In a cash game, the fourth player would just get up from the table and not even play the hand, because why play a hand in which you were either going to lose four chips or have a slight chance of winning just one?

They had the same rule at the Aussie Millions in 2012, and I had to stop the tournament and argue with the floor man about it.

Finally, some might remember back to the 2007 World Series of Poker and the introduction of those new “poker peek” cards. It was a marketing idea, that they’d introduce these cards at the WSOP then sell them around the world afterwards. My response beforehand was that introducing new cards at the first event of the WSOP was a big mistake. I’d seen such a thing tried a few times before, and every time players misread the new cards and problems result. You also always had the live ones complaining and claiming the new cards were unlucky somehow.

I remember going to Las Vegas to talk to the president of the American Card Company in person before the Series started. “Look at my face,” I said. “Don’t do this… you’re going to lose a million dollars.”

But they went with them, anyway. Then the first day of the WSOP came, and by that night they had already thrown the cards out because there was pandemonium. People thought sixes were nines and vice-versa, and it was chaos. It was exactly as I had told them.

Again, it all goes back to the need to have players who are playing regularly make such decisions. In that case, there was a Player Committee, but many of those on the committee were more involved with the online game at the time and perhaps not as in tune with the live game and what would likely happen by introducing new cards as they did.

How It Would Work

Now I know that there will be tournament directors reading this proposal who will be horrified, saying how often players come up to them with ridiculous ideas or complaints. But they don’t have to choose those guys for the committees. The TDs should have the authority to choose thoughtful, intelligent people who play live poker on a regular basis to make up the committees.

Obviously, if someone on the committee happens to be involved in the hand in which a question arises, that player would have to recuse him or herself from any decisions that the committee would make. And I’m talking primarily about special situations where the rulebook isn’t necessarily adequate — situations which do, in fact, arise, as the many examples I’ve listed here demonstrate.

As I say above, we have some excellent tournament directors who often do a great job at what they do. But having such players committees and people who actually play the games help with certain decisions during tournaments could make them even better.

Barry Greenstein is a member of Team PokerStars Pro


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