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Contracts and Poker: WSOP Rules

by Scott J. Burnham |  Published: Aug 11, 2021

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The schedule for the 2021 WSOP is out, so maybe this would be a good time to look at the rules that govern play at that venue. The 2021 rules aren’t posted as of this writing, so we will base this column on the 2019 rules, which are found at wsop.com/2019, and we will report any changes, though substantial alterations are unlikely.

As is always the case, these rules, even though they run for 29 pages, aren’t the only rules that govern the events. Rule 49 states that “the WSOP is subject to all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations, including gaming, and all aspects of the WSOP are subject to the approval of appropriate regulatory authorities.” Furthermore, Rule 52 states that before playing in an event you will also have to sign a release form. An earlier series of columns discussed the contents of that release.

Section I is called “Tournament Registration and Entry.” Prospective participants might actually examine these rules, for they explain how to pay in advance of an event, which is a good idea in order to avoid standing in line with literally thousands of participants. You can also find information about payment methods under “Key Operational Notes” at wsop.com/2021. One option is to pay through Bravo Poker, which has its own EULA (End User License Agreement). Of course, if you are a user of the site, I don’t have to tell you that since you checked the box confirming that you had read it and agreed to it.

Section II, WSOP Event Scheduling, is the shortest section and you can skip it. It won’t surprise you to learn that the Rio reserves the right to cancel or alter any event. Some of the events are online, which means there are even more rules that we will not go into. Similarly, Section III, Prizes and Seating, contains nothing that would surprise you on those subjects.

Section IV, Participant Conduct and Tournament Integrity, essentially tells you not to cheat or otherwise misbehave, and outlines some of the terrible things that will happen to you if you do. These rules tend to be more specific than the Tournament Directors Association (TDA) Rules and were often adopted in response to a particular event that was not addressed by the existing rules. For example, after a player who had not bathed in a while was dragged away screaming, “Show me where it says in the rules that you have to take a bath!” the WSOP adopted Rule 40.d.:

This rule [requiring civility and courtesy] shall include, but is not limited to, any Participant whose personal hygiene has become disruptive to the other Participants seated at their table. The determination as to whether an individual’s personal hygiene is disruptive to other Participants shall be determined by the WSOP Tournament Staff which may, in its discretion, implement sanctions upon any such Participant who refuses to remedy the situation in a manner satisfactory to Rio.

And when Phil Laak played while disguised as an old man, they came up with this one:

55. Participants may not cover or conceal their facial identity. Tournament officials must be able to distinguish the identity of each Participant at all times and may instruct Participants to remove any material that inhibits their identification or is a distraction to other Participants or Tournament officials. Participants may wear sunglasses and sweat shirts with hoods, but may be asked to remove them if Tournament officials cannot identify them.

Technically, such specific rules are not required, for the general catch-all Rule 51 tells you that “[w]here a situation arises that is not covered by these rules, Rio shall have the sole authority to render a judgment, including the imposition of a penalty, in accordance with the best interests of the Tournament and the maintenance of its integrity and public confidence.”

Section V, Participant Likeness and Image, reminds us that, unlike most tournaments, this one may be televised, so the Rio wants to be careful about what you wear — even the size and placement of logos is regulated. For example, you might not be aware that the rules prohibit apparel “with images or logos associated with cryptocurrency and marijuana products, or entities in these lines of business” or that “[a]dvertises any non-prescription or non ‘over the counter’ drug, tobacco product, firearm or firearm ammunition.” If this rule also applies in 2021, Phil Hellmuth may not be able to wear the bitcoin company cap he wore during his High Stakes Duel with Daniel Negreanu. Before you wear sponsored gear or anything potentially controversial, you might want to check out these rules.

Section VI, Poker Rules, is the section that, like the TDA Rules, governs the play of the tournament. Players need to be familiar with these rules, which are often the subject of this column.

Section VII, Tournament Operations Policies and Procedures, contains nothing that will surprise you. Section VIII, Tournament Betting Formats, is concerned with the betting rules for each game. It is unlikely that you will enter an event if you don’t know how the game is played, but if you do, you will want to read those rules. The rules end with a five-page “Glossary of Poker Terms.” This section defines terms that are used in the rules and can help further explain a rule that is not clear to you.

Like you, I am looking forward to this year’s WSOP. And while rule controversies make great fodder for this column, let’s hope that few of them arise. ♠

Scott J. Burnham is Professor Emeritus at Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington. He can be reached at profburnham@yahoo.com.