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Unwritten Rules

by Lucy Rokach |  Published: Nov 01, 2006


Every game and sport, from Scrabble to softball, has a codified set of rules that can be consulted whenever a dispute arises, but poker is the odd man out. Sure, sets of rules exist in different cardrooms, but to the best of my knowledge, there is no book of poker rules that players in every country could use, confident that no matter where they were playing, each situation would be covered by exactly the same laws. Furthermore, due to the ever expanding size of tournaments, both online and in brick-and-mortar cardrooms, the need for an authoritative set of rules is, in my opinion, urgent.

Here, for example, are a few situations that do not appear to have been considered by the poker legislators. They have great relevance to both tournament poker and cash games.

Stacking Chips

It's a universal "law" that all bigger-denomination chips be visible to every player at the table. In other words, you cannot hide your $1,000 or $5,000 chips behind stacks of $25 chips. If a player is thinking of betting, he is entitled to see how much you have in front of you.

A variation of hiding bigger-value chips behind smaller ones is to interleaf them with a much bigger stack of small-value chips. The intention is to hide how much you have. Another twist to this camouflage strategy is keeping chips, usually those of high value, in your hand during rounds of betting. An opponent sees, say, 3K in front of you and bets that amount, only to have a 10K raise magically appear from your hands. How right is this? I've seen players do it, but I've never seen them penalized. The pot's over, the victim's in shock, the culprit pleads innocence, and the cardroom manager hands out a verbal slap of the wrist. A fat lot of use that is.

Rearranging Cards

In stud games, it is obviously critical that the order in which players receive their open cards is preserved, but I have never seen this written down anywhere. What protection does a player have if some smart-aleck opponent shuffles the order of his open cards?

Cards Off the Table

As far as I know, it's a fairly standard rule that any card that goes off the table, usually as the dealer is distributing players' cards, is dead; it cannot become an active card for that deal. Very often, it becomes the first burn card for that hand. However, what happens if a player removes his cards from the table and deliberately takes them outside the perimeter of the table – very often out of view of the other players? In some of the games I have played in, that hand, once it leaves the outside perimeter of the table, is dead. I think this is a good rule that should be adopted. Otherwise, you could have a situation in which several players hold their cards well away from the felt, leading to all sorts of confusion about who is in the pot, who should act next, and so on.

Passing Out of Turn

There are three of you in a pot and you've just acted from under the gun. The last player passes out of turn and now the remaining player knows he cannot be raised, so whereas he might have passed a marginal hand, he may now hang around. Conversely, he might now pass because there's no value in the pot heads up. Either way, it's a pain. But do these inconsiderate players get punished? Not on your life.

Having said that, one pot-limit Omaha final table at Bellagio provided the incomparable Jack McClelland with an opportunity to flex his muscle. Scotty Nguyen (the chip leader) had decided to enter the seven-card stud tournament that started two hours before the Omaha final table. His stud table was conveniently situated next to the final table, so without too much effort, he could keep running between the two tables. At this point, Jack told him that he could not pass out of turn at the final table in order to play a stud hand. I'm not suggesting that Scotty was going to do that, but Jack could see the potential for trouble and acted accordingly.

I haven't come across too many tournament directors who pre-empt problems. Far too many react to situations, and in my experience it's the player who shouts loudest who gets results, which is not very satisfactory. spade