During this summer’s WSOP, the Poker Tournament Director’s Association met in Las Vegas.  At that time, the TDA distributed the annual revision of suggested guidelines for poker tournament procedures and rules.  The critical word here is “suggested” as the most important agent for tournament rules is the gaming agency that oversees the poker venue. However, I think it is worth taking a look at the changes, as poker directors continue to adjust to the ever evolving technological and personal challenges that tournaments provide.

Here are some highlights of the more substantial alterations/enhancements, along with a few comments:

  • “Betting apps and charts should not be used by players with live hands. Other electronic devices, tools, photography, videography, and communication must not create a nuisance and are subject to house and gaming regulations.”  The first sentence is likely a rare event, but certainly in an era where shove/fold charts and the like can easily be accessed, a key control for leveling the tournament playing field. The second is likely more critical: you can’t put your volume up to a Spinal Tap 11 and disturb all around you.
  • “If a player bets then discards thinking she has won (forgetting that another player is still in the hand), the dealer should hold the cards and call the floor. If the cards are mucked and not retrievable and identifiable to 100% certainty, the player has no redress and is not entitled to a refund of called bets. If the player initiated a bet or raise and hasn’t been called, the uncalled amount will be returned to her.”   Nothing worse as a player than making these mistakes of inattention and they can be costly. Interesting here that the dealer is instructed to be attentive to try to preserve the the discarded hand and preserve it as identifiable if at all possible, and thus the hand continues unimpaired.  But even if you mucked a non-retrievable hand, you can at least recoup your opening bet or raise amount which seems like a fair ruling. Kudos to the Solomon-like wisdom of the TDA here!
Checking the exclusive nuts when last to act on the river is not an automatic soft play violation Click To Tweet
  • “If in TD’s judgement reasonable time has passed, he or she may call the clock or approve a clock request by any player in the event. A player on the clock has up to 25 seconds plus a 5 second countdown to act. If the player faces a bet and time expires, the hand is dead; if not facing a bet, the hand is checked…TDs may adjust the time allowed and take other steps to fit the game and stop persistent delays.”   We’re looking at you Will Kassouf !  OK, Kassouf was not the only instigator for examination of how to speed play up, but reducing the time to 30 secs (from a minute previously) is more a symbolic move than one that impacts most tournaments (how often is clock really called?).  But the TD discretion part, which has always existed (not new to this year other than a minor word tweak), is important to underscore.
  • If a declared bet can reasonably have multiple meanings, it will be ruled based on the highest reasonable amount that is less than the pot size before the bet. Ex: NLHE 200-400 blinds, 4900 in the pot, player declares “I bet five.” With no other clarifying information, the bet is 500; if 5100 in the pot, the bet is 5000. ”  This situation was witnessed by Heather in a tournament this weekend, and they apparently got it wrong.  At the  200-400 blind level with a pot of about 25,000 on the river, a guy through in a 5000 chip and said “Four” as he did so. While he obviously meant 4,000 (which was a a pretty thin value bet to begin with), the opposing player said that it had to be $400, the lowest possible interpretation, and the dealer agreed.  No floor was called. Given the above, it clearly should have been interpreted as 4,000.
  • Checking the exclusive nuts when last to act on the river is not an automatic soft play violation; TD’s discretion applies based on the situation.”  The TDA is protecting player error once again. Every time I have seen this mistake made there has been a warning and no penalty. This rule change reflects the reality of the situation: most of the time this is an honest mistake, not an indication of collusion.
  • Payoff eligibility starts at the announcement: “finish the current hand you’re on then hold up, we are going hand for hand.” If enough players bust on the current hand to break into the money, the busting players will be eligible for a share of the place(s) paid on the current hand. Example: NLHE tournament paying 50 players. 52 players remain when the announcement is made and during the current hand 3 players bust. All 3 players will share in the 50th place payout.”  Not sure what the old rule actually was, but I had always thought “the largest stack before busting gets the money” in this example. I like this solution much better, especially with large MTT fields.

While these changes do not substantially change the nature of tournament poker, I think they show that the TDA is thoughtfully addressing the trouble spots that do arise, or could conceivably arise, in tournaments and continue to take a player-friendly approach.

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