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The Betting Line

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Mar 04, 2015


Bob CiaffoneIn poker, the betting line is an oval line drawn in the center part of the table. To the best of my knowledge, it was first used in the 1980’s. The purpose of it was to be a boundary line demarcating an area where wagered chips should be placed. Chips released over that line were bet; chips behind that line in front of the player were not in the pot area, and thus not yet a legal wager. My first impression was that the betting line was a useful idea that fulfilled a poker need. We would like to know at what point chips have been wagered. Many cardrooms now have a betting line drawn on all their poker tables.

As time went on, the uses for the betting line expanded, and now there are a number of poker rules that have been changed. We are going to discuss those changes in this article. I will give you some modern uses of the betting line and also discuss how the rule differs from when there is no line used.

The rule regarding the betting line which is the most strict and controversial is the one regarding string-bets (which should more accurately be called string-raises). Here is the rule I am used to, taken from my rulebook, Roberts Rules Of Poker:

At non-tournament play, a player who says “raise” is allowed to continue putting chips into the pot with more than one move; the wager is assumed complete when the player’s hands come to rest outside the pot area. (This rule is used because no-limit play may require a large number of chips be put into the pot.)

We old-timers often grabbed a handful of chips, reached into the pot, and started cutting them into stacks. When we had cut out the amount of a call, we would say “raise.” Then we would say the amount we intended to raise. This was not ever considered a string-raise back then because we always said “raise” before going back to our stack for more chips.

Tournament play was the first setting where the stricter rule is used. That rule was taken by me from the poker Tournament Directors Association rulebook and incorporated in Roberts Rules of Poker as the governing rule on string-raises for tournament play. It says:

“In tournament play, the TDA rules require that the player either use a verbal statement giving the amount of the raise or put the chips into the pot in a single motion, to avoid making a string-bet.” I think nearly all cardrooms who have a betting line now use this rule for their cash games as well.

When the betting line rules are used, they are often applied very strictly, saying that before your hand enters crosses an imaginary area that goes upward from the betting line, you must specify both the fact that you are raising and the amount of the raise. I have been restricted in the amount I could raise because my verbal statement had not specified the raise size I wanted because my hand entered the pot with chips before I gave the size of the raise, even though I had not released any chips into the area distinguished by the betting line as the pot.

I like the idea that you should say whether you are raising before you put any chips into the pot. At what point should you have to declare your raise size? This seems less important to me to need for clarification before you take any action. I like laws that inexperienced players are not going to suffer by being snarled in.

Another common use for the betting line is to combine with a strict rule that chips crossing the betting line must remain in the pot, whether or not the caller understood the amount of the wager. This rule is used instead of the less harsh rule which says: if you are unaware that the pot has been raised, you may withdraw that money and reconsider your action, provided that no one else has acted after you.

I strongly believe this newer rule saying the money must stay is too strict. Many things can interfere with a player’s perception of what betting action has taken place in front of him. Yet most floorpeople will not let chips mistakenly put into the pot be taken back out no matter what the reason for the misunderstanding. I think when it is clear the player did not understand the amount of the wager, he should be allowed to take those chips back as long as no action has occurred behind him.

I saw an incident a short time ago that illustrated perfectly why a harsh rule like this one is bad for poker. I was playing in a $1-$2 blinds no-limit game waiting for a seat in my regular game when this hand arose. A player in early position opened for a raise to $8. The player did not announce a raise (nor need he) and the dealer did not notice. I was preoccupied with giving the waitress my drink order. The player on my right put only $2 into the pot, as did I. At this point the dealer noticed what had happened. He called the floor, who ruled that the $2 wagers would have to stand because they crossed the betting line. We could call $6 more or fold. Doesn’t it seem a bit unfair to me to lose my $2 by forcing me to leave the chips in when neither the raiser nor the dealer announced the raise and the player in front of me wagered only $2, and the player on my left had not even acted yet? I hope it offends your sense of fairness.

Another place the betting line rules come into play is when a player throws his hand away and it goes over the betting line. The hand gets ruled dead no matter what the situation is. If an opponent overstates the value of his hand, even if it is a deliberate ploy, too bad. If the dealer misidentifies an opposing hand, such as by saying “flush,” too bad. If a player new to the game thinks the game is pot-limit Omaha and the game is actually Omaha eight-or-better, and the rookie throws his hand away face-up on the table, after which it touches a dead card of another player, too bad. All these incidents will leave you with a non-winner if your cards are over the betting line.

I have even had a grip on my cards and had a small portion of one card across the betting line, and had someone call the floor to try and try (unsuccessfully) to get my hand ruled dead. I will guarantee you that many poker players who inhabit a cardroom that uses a betting line are angle-shooters who will be only too glad if you lose a pot to them because you ran afoul of the rules. I will also tell you that the floor-people in such a place tend to be very literal-minded and seldom appear to have ever heard of “the spirit of the law.” ♠

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.