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Contracts And Poker: When Is A Raise Not A Raise?

by Scott J. Burnham |  Published: Jul 27, 2022


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I was watching the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in 2-7 single draw lowball championship, when a situation came up that often needs clarification.

It was down to three players with blinds at 20,000-40,000. Before the draw, Pedro Bromfman raised to 200,000 (a raise of 160,000). Cary Katz then went all-in for 290,000 (an additional raise of 90,000).

Scott Seiver was sitting in the big blind with a mediocre hand. He was worried that if he called, Bromfman could raise again, effectively squeezing him out of the hand. So, he called the floor and asked if Bromfman could re-open the betting.

Note that the same situation can occur in more commonly played games, such as no-limit hold-em. If a player raises and another player goes all-in with a raise that is more than 50% of the initial raise, can the original raiser raise again? What should the floor decide?

Before answering that, let’s look at another situation with which this one is often confused. I was playing in a tournament at Aria and the blinds were 100-200. The aggressive player to my right made it 400. I had a calling hand, so I came along for the 400. Another player reached into his stack of 100s, released a stack of them onto the felt, then quickly realizing he had put out five chips, said, “Oops” and removed one of them from the stack.

The dealer said, “call.” The vigilant aggro raiser immediately protested, claiming that since he had put out 50% of the amount needed for a raise, the player had made a legal and binding raise.

The floor was called and ruled that it was indeed a raise, and the player was required to put out 600. As I expected, the aggro player took advantage of the situation to make a large three-bet, and the rest of us were compelled to fold.

As much as it hurt me in that situation, the ruling was correct, and I have to admire someone who knows the rules and uses them to advantage. As I often say in this column, it doesn’t matter what is in your head. What matters is your objective manifestations – your words and actions. So even if the player put the five chips out accidentally, that is irrelevant. What matters is that he put out five chips and did not verbalize his intentions.

The relevant rule, Tournament Directors Association (TDA) Rule 43 states in part:
Raise Amounts

A: A raise must be at least equal to the largest prior full bet or raise of the current betting round. A player who raises 50% or more of the largest prior bet but less than a minimum raise must make a full minimum raise.

This is the same as WSOP Rule 95. So at this point it would appear that Katz’s bet of more than 50% of the previous raise would also be a raise, and therefore would reopen the betting for Bromfman.

But like legal rules, poker rules are full of exceptions. This situation is different because the raiser went all-in. The exception is found in TDA Rule 47, which is essentially the same as WSOP Rule 96:
Re-Opening the Bet.

A: In no-limit and pot-limit, an all-in wager (or cumulative multiple short all-ins) totaling less than a full bet or raise will not re-open betting for players who have already acted and are not facing at least a full bet or raise when the action returns to them. 

The floor correctly ruled that Bromfman could not reraise. Katz’s all-in, even though more than 50% of the previous raise, did not re-open the betting for Bromfman.
Of course, you also have to watch out for exceptions to the exceptions! WSOP Rule 96 goes on to say:

Exception – two or more consecutive all-in wagers that exceed the minimum allowable bet or raise. By way of example, Participant A – bets 500, Participant B – raises to 1,000, Participant C – calls 1,000, Participant D – moves all-in for 1,300, Participant E – moves all-in for 1,700. If Participant A calls or folds, then Participants B & C will have an option to raise. The minimum allowable raise will be equal to the last complete raise. In this example, the last complete raise was 500; therefore, Participants B or C would be allowed to call 1,700 and raise 500 for a total wager of 2,200. Also, Participants B or C could raise more than 500. (The half-the-size rule for reopening the betting is for limit poker only.)

Whew! That is a tough one. It may be a more clearly stated in TDA Rule 47.B:
If multiple short all-ins re-open the betting, the minimum raise is always the last full valid bet or raise of the round.

Applying this rule to our situation, if there had been another player after Katz, and she had gone all-in for 400,000 (a raise of 110,000), then the two raises of 90,000 plus 110,000 = 200,000 would be more than the minimum allowable raise of 160,000, so now the minimum allowable raise would be 160,000 and Bromfman would be permitted to re-open for a raise of at least that amount.

It pays to know the rules or at least, as Seiver did, to ask the floor for clarification.

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