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Mask Mumbling: An Interesting Tournament Ruling

by Linda Johnson |  Published: Nov 17, 2021


As I write this, it’s that (different) time of year for poker players to make the trek to Las Vegas to partake in the WSOP and all the various poker series being held simultaneously at many of the top poker rooms around the city. I’ve even gotten out of the house to play in some no-limit, H.O.R.S.E., and Omaha eight-or-better tournaments lately.

While at the table, I witnessed an interesting situation that required a ruling.
In a no-limit hold’em tournament, seat 9 was in the small blind and seat 1 was the big blind. Everyone folded around and seat 9 completed the blind. The big blind checked his option, and the two players took a flop.

The small blind checked, and the big blind tossed in a 5,000 chip while mumbling something. Keep in mind, it is sometimes hard to hear what is being said when a player is wearing a mask. The dealer, however, announced it as a 5,000 bet. The small blind announced, ‘call’ and put out a 5,000 chip to match.

It was then that the big blind objected, stating that he had said, ‘all in’ as he threw out the single chip. (He had about 60,000 in his stack.)

The floorman was called and he asked the players if they had heard the big blind say, “all in.” The players in seats 2, 3, and 4, the ones closest to him, agreed that he had said it. Everyone else, however, said that they heard him mumble something but couldn’t make out what it was.

After hearing the situation, the first floorman ruled that the small blind could either forfeit his 5,000 chip or call the all-in. Not liking those options, he protested and asked for the tournament director to weigh in.

The tournament director came over and then ruled that since the small blind had announced a call, he would be forced to call the all-in.

How would you have ruled?

I don’t like either ruling. I think the bet was obviously “unclear.” TDA rule #40 says, “In unclear situations or where verbal [declarations] and chips are contradictory, the TD will determine the bet based on the circumstances and rule #1.”

I am a huge proponent of rule #1 which says, “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. Floor decisions are final.”

So, let’s look at the circumstances here in order to make a fair ruling.

The dealer, (the most important witness at the table) who was sitting right next to player 1, did not hear him say all-in.

The majority of players at the table did not hear him say all-in.

The dealer announced the bet as 5,000 and the player did not immediately correct him.
The big blind only put out a single 5,000 chip.

Based on the above factors, I would have ruled that the big blind bet 5,000 and the small blind called the 5,000. The player should not have to call the all-in bet, in my opinion.

This is also an important lesson for players. Make sure that your intentions are understood and speak clearly. I also recommend putting out more than one chip when going all-in.

In my next column, I will write about the most egregious penalty I have ever witnessed. Until then, let the cards break even!

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