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The Rules Guy: How To Conduct Yourself at the Poker Table

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Oct 25, 2017


What’s wrong? What’s right? What’s an angle? Got a question about how to behave at the poker table (or a comment about a column)? Email TRG at

Props to Daniel Negreanu

Is Daniel Negreanu good for poker? Duh! Of course he is. And a recent tweet demonstrates how and why. Read on.

Dear The Rules Guy:

I am 100 percent sure you’ve read about the mini-controversy at the PokerStars Championship Barcelona main event: When facing a river bet against Luigi Shehadeh, Patrick Leonard engaged in some table-talk and finally said, “You got it” – but didn’t muck his hand right away. In fact, he didn’t touch his cards while giving Shehadeh a Ben Lamb-like stare-down (minus the creepy, terror-inducing soul-read that only Lamb can deliver). Shehadeh retained his poker face and put his fingers on his card as if to whoosh them away, but then paused until Leonard did in fact muck. Shehadeh took the pot.

Daniel (@RealKidPoker) Negreanu subsequently mused on Twitter: “Do you think this was shooting an angle by @plenopads during Barcelona main event?” Negreanu posted a poll. Leonard took offense. Twitter war ensues.

What do you think, TRG?

- President, American Society for the Prevention of Angle Shooting


Sometimes, TRG hears of a situation that he literally can’t wait to write about – and this is one of them.


Because: The fact that there’s controversy about this hand is frankly incredible: Of course Leonard was shooting an angle.

Because: This hand and situation demonstrate so perfectly how the spirit of the rules differs from the letter of the rules (and the spirit of the rules is crucial to poker).

And because this situation is a reminder to players to be observant and protect their own interests at all times.

Of course, it’s perfectly fine for Leonard to engage in a bit of table talk before he says, “You got it.” He’s trying to get a read, and probably not even for use at that moment but for future hands. This is something good players do and bad players imitate. (A lot of table talk comes from poker poseurs who wouldn’t know a physical or verbal tell if it slapped them in the face.)

But when Leonard makes no move to muck his cards after saying “You got it,” he was shooting an angle, and he opened the door to a potentially nightmarish situation.
Leonard vehemently denied this was his intent in an Aug. 25 tweet to Negreanu: “What way could it possibly be an angle? You’re suggesting it’s possible that I’m trying to get him to muck and I win uncontested

Um, yes: exactly.

In fact, that’s the first interpretation a disinterested viewer – say, someone like TRG – would take away from this scenario. And when you view the clip (easily found), note that it’s almost the first thing one of the commentators says as the action unfolds.

And it’s the possibility of that scenario which is so troubling: Consider an alternate universe where Leonard says, “You got it,” and Shehadeh nods, flicking his cards into the muck. As he starts to reach for the chips, Leonard turns his unmucked hand face up and claims the pot as the only player left with cards.

This is entirely possible. Note well: Leonard did not say, “I fold” and he did not muck his hand – technically, his cards were live, so if Shehadeh mucks, Leonard could win.

As Matt (@SavagePoker) Savage pointed out in a tweet, citing Poker Tournament Directors Association rules: “Official betting terms are simple, unmistakable, time-honored declarations like: bet, raise, call, fold, check, all-in, complete, and pot (pot-limit only).” If Leonard says “fold,” the hand is over whether he has cards or not (because verbal declarations are binding). Similarly, if he mucks his hand (irretrievably), the hand is also over. Neither of these things happened, opening the door to a floor person’s nightmare.

TRG is confident that most floor people and tournament directors would say “that’s a fold,” giving Shehadeh the pot and giving Leonard a warning and/or a penalty.

Remember the first rule of the Poker TDA: “The best interest of the game and fairness are top priorities in decision-making. Unusual circumstances occasionally dictate that common-sense decisions in the interest of fairness take priority over technical rules.”

This is a tremendously useful rule in many situations, including this one. If Shehadeh mucks, it’s because he believes the hand is over and he is unopposed – and most players would agree that’s the common sense decision. Most rules buffs know that there are two cardinal, unassailable poker rules: “One player per hand” and “Cards speak.” Let’s add a third: “Common-sense decisions in the interest of fairness take priority over technical rules.”

Now, in Leonard’s defense, it appears that he was not trying to work that particular angle. TRG believes his intention was to gather information and induce Shehadeh to show his cards. Trying to get a read is generally fine; this particular attempt seems misguided from the start. But he took it too far and opened himself up to allegations of angle shooting – bad for him and his reputation and bad for poker.

So what have we learned?

First, we learned that Daniel Negreanu was 100 percent justified in offering up his question and his poll on Twitter. Note that more than 4,500 people voted, and an overwhelming margin of 76 percent agreed that “this was shooting an angle.”

Second, a lesson to all players at every level: Your cards are your receipt. Relinquish them only when you’ve been pushed the pot and you are confident that your opponents have ceded their claims by mucking or saying, audibly and clearly, “I fold.” It’s hard to know what Shehadeh was thinking when his fingers go to his cards, but his instinct to slow down and ensure that Leonard was mucking seems spot on. Be careful out there.

And finally, we learned what Leonard should have done: If you’re going to muck, just muck for god’s sake. Say “I fold” or even “you win” or “you got it” while simultaneously tossing your cards away to eliminate any ambiguity.

Patrick Leonard may believe himself to be completely innocent in this situation. But he acknowledged this was an issue when he said, “I regret the choice of words, saying ‘you got it,’ because ‘you got it’ does kind of mean you’re going to fold….It’s just a word and a phrase you shouldn’t use, and I won’t use it in the future.”

TRG regrets that he qualified his acknowledgement by saying “does kind of mean you’re going to fold.” (What else could it possibly mean, anywhere, ever, when facing a river bet?) But if the perpetrator can learn a lesson here, so can we. ´