How lax rules enforcement hurts poker

By Bernard Harris

Can there be any argument that players deserve an honest game? It is the casinos’ responsibility to provide said game; otherwise, we’d play at Bob’s home game down the street. The principle duty of running a fair table falls to the dealers. The majority of dealers I encounter are professional, pleasant, and run clean games. Unfortunately, there are enough weak dealers out there to warrant the writing of this article. Whether they are uncomfortable with confrontation or feel that being the heavy will cut into their tips; their failure to enforce the rules makes their tables an angle shooter’s paradise. The result leads to the below common rules violations that cost players countless pots and hurt the poker community as a whole.

1) Purposely betting out-of-turn. Angle shooters live and breathe with this “mistake” by purposely betting out-of-turn, feigning confusion, and then using the confusion to their advantage. There are multiple angles here: A) freeze potential bettors, B) get valuable information for who will call or fold, C) take back their bet, check, and see a free card. The way to defeat this angle shot is to adhere to what has become the norm in the poker community—that out-of-turn bets are binding (provided action doesn’t change prior to the out-of-turn bet). Unfortunately, weak dealers will let the above angle shooters take back their out-of-turn bets, check, and see that free card.

2) Letting players violate the “one player to a hand” rule. This rule is a bedrock principle of poker. Every player is responsible for their own hand from the preflop action to showdown. Weak dealers often let players run amuck: commenting on likely holdings, showing cards in multi-way pots, and instructing other players (i.e., call the “bluff”) while not in the hand.

3) Violating the English only rule. The English only rule is essential to ensuring a fair game. Unfortunately, weak dealers turn a deaf ear to this problem and let players talk in other languages while a hand is in progress.

4) Collusion against the all-in player. A common occurrence at weakly run tables is for players (Player Y and Z) to collude against an all-in player (Player X). It is unfair for Player Y and Z to collude or overtly discuss checking it down since their play will have a direct impact on whether Player X wins or loses. For example, Player Y flops a flush draw, bets, and Player Z folds his baby pair. Come river, Player Y ends up missing his flush draw but Player X wins with Ace high.

5) River calls that aren’t calls. This angle shot happens in big heads-up pots on the river with dealers who fail to clarify ambiguous actions. Typically, there is a big bet by Player X. The angle shooter (Player Y) will then make a non-binding comment like, “Nice try, you can’t bluff me,” then ­table his hand as if he made the call. Player X will assume Player Y called and if Player X has a lesser holding he will usually muck his hand. Conversely, if Player X has a better holding he will turn over his hand but then the angle shooter will announce that he never called and muck his hand.

When confronted with the above rules violations or angle shots the biggest excuses are of the “Well, what can I do about it?” variety. Below are four simple yet effective steps to solving these problems.

1) Immediately inform the offending player of the rule the instant it is broken.

2) If the player breaks the rule again, inform the floor so they can issue a warning to the player and table regarding the rule.

3) If the player breaks the rule yet again, remove the player from the game.

4) Clarify all ambiguous actions (checks, calls, bets, etc.) and get clear and binding confirmation before the next action, street, or decision is to be made.

Players want nothing more than an honest game! Knowing that a casino will enforce the rules is not a curse but a blessing. Contrary to popular belief, it will not hurt dealer tips but actually help them as players appreciate that they are being protected. Running clean, honest games will ensure player loyalty as they will want to play in an establishment that is safe and has the players’ best interests at heart. Lastly, as a poker community, we need to support dealers whenever they are enforcing the rules.