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Intentions Don’t Matter… Except When They Do

by Scott J. Burnham |  Published: Sep 07, 2022

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After playing in a number of events in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker, I can now report on the various rules problems that I witnessed. Here is a tough one to think about as you read on.

It is a tournament at Aria. We are at blinds of 200-300 and the big blind in seat 9 pushes out three black 100 chips. Seat 1, sitting under-the-gun, pushes out a raise of three red 1,000 chips. Seat 2 folds.

Seat 3, who sat down just before the hand was dealt, sees the three chips in front of seat 1, and says “eleven” as he pushes out a 5,000 chip. He then realizes his mistake and explains that he thought seat 1 had called 300 and he was raising to 1,100.

The dealer thinks it might actually be a raise to 11,000. What would you rule?

I can safely report that the most misunderstood rule in poker continues to be the oversized chip rule, even though players are often reminded of it in the announcements preceding the start of the tournament that no one listens to.

Players pretty much get it when the action comes to them before the flop. If the blinds are 100-200, they generally understand that if they push out a 500 chip, it is a call unless they indicate otherwise by stating “raise” or an amount.

The problem often arises with the blinds. Assume the blinds are 100-200 and the pot is unraised. When it gets to the small blind, she pushes out a 500 chip next to the 100 small blind chip without saying anything.

Is this a call or a raise? Even though the matter is often fiercely contested by players, most of the time the Tournament Director (TD) correctly rules that this is a call.

The rule is found in Tournament Director’s Association (TDA) Rule 44 (which is almost identical to WSOP Rule 97):

Oversized Chip Betting (Overchips)

If facing a bet or blind, pushing out a single oversized chip (including your last chip) is a call if raise isn’t first declared. To raise with an overchip, you must declare raise before the chip hits the table surface. If raise is declared but no amount is stated, the raise is the maximum allowable for the chip.

Note that the small blind, like the other players, is also “facing a blind,” so the same oversized chip rule applies – the small blind is merely making a call by adding an overchip unless he or she indicates otherwise.

I have to admit yours truly committed a possible infraction of this rule. The blinds were 100-100 and I was in the big blind. There were a bunch of limpers, and when the action got to me, I said, “I hate to spoil the party,” as I pulled back my 100 chip and replaced it with a 500 chip.

A couple of eyebrows went up around the table. The dealer asked me, “Is that a raise?” I hate it when dealers do that, because, as I have said a thousand times, my intention does not matter. She should have told me whether it was a raise or not without asking my intention. But of course I said, “Yes – raise,” and the hand played out.

Shortly thereafter, a player left the table and when he came back, he reported that he had asked the floor what they would have ruled in the situation. He said that the floor said it would be considered to be a raise “because it was my action.”

Now that seems to me a stupid explanation. When the oversized chip rule comes up, it is always your action. Looking at the plain language of the rule, I think it should have been judged a call.

I said afterwards that my intention was to make a raise, but who knows what went on in my head? Maybe my intention was just to get some change. Intentions don’t matter.

I did say, “I hate to spoil the party,” which certainly sounds like an intention to raise, but nonstandard language is discouraged. As stated in TDA Rule 3, “using non-standard terms or gestures is at player’s risk and may result in a ruling other than what the player intended.” I got away with it, but lesson learned.

Back to the Aria tournament puzzler posed earlier. The dealer said, “I’m not going to decide this,” and called for the floor. The floor said, “I’m not going to decide this,” and called for the TD.

The TD pondered and may have been influenced by the player’s intentions and cut him some slack when he ruled that it was a call. But this interpretation is also supported by the relevant rule, TDA Rule 57 (which is almost identical to WSOP Rule 60):

Non-Standard & Unclear Betting

If a declared bet can legally have multiple meanings, it will be ruled the highest reasonable amount that is less than or equal to the pot size* before the bet. Ex: NLHE 200-400, the pot totals less than 5000, player declares “I bet five.” With no other clarifying information, the bet is 500; if the pot totals 5000 or more, the bet is 5000. *The pot is the total of all prior bets including any bets in front of a player not yet pulled in.

In this case, there were blinds of 200 and 300, a big blind ante of 300, and a raise to 3,000. The pot therefore totaled 3,800 when the player said “eleven,” which could have meant either 1,100 or 11,000. Since 1,100 is less than the pot size, it would be ruled a bet of 1,100, but since that is not a reasonable amount, it will be ruled “the highest reasonable amount that is less than or equal to the pot size.” So ruling that it was a call of 3,000 seemed correct in this case – because that is what the rule says, not because it was the player’s intention not to raise.

Anyway, I’ll say it one more time: To make life easier for everyone, make your intentions clear using standard language. ♠

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