Interesting Dilemma

There are many times during the course of playing poker that a situation comes up and many players at the table are not aware of the rules of the game and have very little experience in the game to draw from. I have played about 10,000 hands of live poker in brick and mortar card rooms and I have seen just about everything possible and I have seen some of the worst floor rulings ever made. A simple situation came up the other day and I was surprised by the number of people who do not know the rules and their opinion of what they thought the ruling should be.

The following hand came up during a $1-2 blind no-limit hold’em game. Six players had called before the flop. The dealer put the flop up and action started to his left with a couple players checking. The third player to act had scooted away from the table and had his head turned and was obviously distracted. He had placed his left hand on the rail of the table and left it there while he was tending to other matters. A player at the table asked, “Do you check?” The player turned and acknowledged that the action was on him. While he did not say anything or even make a clear motion to check the player behind him seeing his hand on the rail assumed that was him checking in turn and checked. I followed with a check and the dealer checked. As the dealer was putting up the turn card the distracted player bet $15 claiming he had not acted. All Hell broke loose at this point.

The question becomes what is the proper ruling for this situation?

There are a few simple concepts that should guide you in your decision on this hand. First and foremost is the player must protect his own hand. Simply put you are responsible to know the rules and follow the rules and when you see yourself being passed up without acting you need to speak up. The common rule applied in card rooms is that if two players acting after you have acted and you have not stopped the action you lose your right to make a bet.

The second concept is the player must be at the table to act on their hand. While the player was at the table technically, he was distracted and not paying attention to his hand. A dealer is well within their rights to muck the hand of an absent player; in this situation the player leaving one hand on the rail complicates the situation and the player is entitled to some small amount of latitude but if the dealer is unable to get his attention with a verbal command I do not believe the dealer needs to wait before killing the hand. An example of this is a player that has fallen asleep at the table. The dealer has no obligation other than speaking in a normal voice to let the player know that action is to him. If the player does not respond the dealer can kill the hand and keep the game moving. Repeated incidents should merit a floor man asking the player to leave the game. In this case the dealer saw what he believed to be a check and the action continued.

The third concept and one that has far reaching implications in the poker world is the concept that the offending party should never benefit from a rule interpretation. Simply put the person violating the rules should not benefit from the rules. A player must immediately point out any violation or he will lose his rights to the relief provided by the rules. An example of this was when a player was dealt two cards that were both the eight of hearts. The player made a large re-raise pre-flop and tried to steal the pot. When his raise was called he turned over his cards and claimed the deck was fouled and everyone was entitled to their money back. I argued convincingly that he was the offending party and he was trying to take advantage of the rules and had he been able steal the pot he may not have mentioned the deck being fouled. The floor man understood the concept and ruled that the player had forfeited any right to the pot and lost his chips by making the raise. All players except the offending player were given back their chips and the offending players chips were split among the players in the hand at the time of the offending action. While this is a harsh penalty it should serve as a deterrent to angle shooters.

The fourth matter of discussion at the table was whether the turn card needed to come back and be shuffled back into the deck. Obviously, I feel strongly action was complete and the card should have remained. The dealer did make the ruling the card was coming back and to make my day complete he immediately shuffled it back into the stub and put up a new turn card. A quick note here to point out that the proper procedure for a burn and turn before action is complete on the flop is to set the card aside and burn the card that would have been the burn card prior to the river card and put up the card that would have been the river card as the turn card. Then if needed the turn card that was put up early is shuffled back in and a new card is put up for the river. While I have to accept that the ruling of the floor man is final, I do not have to allow them to make an additional mistake to compound the problem.

I know this was long winded and tedious but I hope it helps you understand how poker rulings are made.

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