Poker Coverage:

The Death Of H.O.R.S.E.?

A Look At The Recent TDA Changes With Matt Savage

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Sep 21, 2022

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The Tournament Director’s Association was formed in 2001 by Matt Savage, Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, and Dave Lamb with the goal of standardizing poker tournament rules. Before the TDA, each venue would have their own ‘house rules,’ creating problems and unnecessary confusion for new or traveling players, while simultaneously suppressing the growth of the game.

In the two decades since, almost every licensed cardroom in the world has jumped on board, adopting the same policies and procedures for their own events. If you’ve played a live poker tournament in the last 20 years, chances are it used TDA rules. Today, the TDA has more than 4,000 members in 65 different countries.

Every two years, poker room managers, veteran dealers, tournament directors, and event organizers from all over the globe gather in Las Vegas for the TDA summit. It is there that rule and procedure changes are proposed, voted on, and ultimately passed or amended.

You can read the latest official TDA rules by visiting PokerTDA.com, or by downloading the app to your mobile device.

Matt Savage is not only a co-founder of the TDA, but also sits on its Board of Directors. The perennial Poker Hall of Fame nominee got his start as a chip runner and worked his way up to tournament director, running events at Lucky Chances, Bay 101, and Commerce Casino, the World Series of Poker, and ultimately the World Poker Tour as Executive Tour Director.

Card Player recently caught up with Savage for a special edition of the Poker Stories podcast to talk about the most recent summit and the latest rule changes to look out for.

Subjects from this episode include topics such as the big blind ante, player abuse, the end of H.O.R.S.E., stalling, tournament guarantees, chip stack sizes, table balancing, misdeals, player blacklists, and the use of real-time assistance, better known as RTA.

You can read some of the highlights below, or listen to the full episode on CardPlayer.com, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or any podcast app.

Julio Rodriguez: Let’s go over the 2022 changes and suggestions, the result of this latest summit. The issue that stood out to me was stalling.

Matt Savage: Yeah, that was everybody’s big issue this year. There’s a couple of different camps on that. There are some players that feel like they are putting up their own money, and they should have as much time as they want. There are others that feel like stalling and slow play basically kills their excitement and the fun of the game.

I’m more on that side. I think that there’s definitely a time and a place for people to take as much time as they need, but there’s also a time and place where people need to play the game faster. People that are constantly stalling or holding up the game are really a detriment, especially for the recreational and amateur players, and those are the people that I’m always looking out for.

There’s still definitely a lot of players out there that stall, and of course, with bubble situations and money jumps, it becomes more prevalent. You see this online, you see it in live tournaments. [Moving forward], we have asked floor staff, and other players, to police it better. One of the things we’ve done in the past is adding a rule that allows a floorman to call a clock on a table. In the past, it had to be done by another player.

JR: There was also a point made at the summit to make the game more welcoming to women.

MS: Definitely. It’s something that’s been needed for a long time.

JR: There used be a rule about not allowing phones at the table. Why isn’t that a rule anymore?

MS: It’s not a rule because it just can’t be in the year we’re living in. You got people watching videos, watching sports, doing other things on [their phone].

Charts at the table, that was a big issue [this summer]. Should people be able to use these charts at the table? In between hands? During a hand? All of these things are incredibly tough to police. We don’t have the staff across the board that can just sit there and monitor every single table, every single player, every single hand.

A couple of people in the audience even [suggested] that we pass out the charts to everybody or give them a website so that everybody is on the same footing. And a lot of people actually say that if somebody is using a chart between hands, and you see them using it, you kind of know how they’re going to play now.

So, we talked about being more vigilant about it, but in the end, there’s really nothing we can do right away. Only because we can’t stop it. I think as tournament directors, dealers, other players, we need to be more self-policed. In two years, will this conversation come up again at the next summit? Yes.

JR: One of the more interesting notes was the recommendation to change the order of games for stud and stud eight-or-better. Are you saying we shouldn’t play H.O.R.S.E. anymore?

MS: I think H.O.R.S.E. will still be played, but it’s going to be played in a different order. So, you won’t be playing hold’em, Omaha, razz, stud, and then stud 8. We wanted to break up stud and stud 8 because those two games are both low-card bring-ins and that is where the majority of the mistakes happen.

Now the funny thing is that a lot of people actually said to me that they like it when people make mistakes (by accidentally playing the wrong game), but I’m not going for that. They think that because you’re paying attention every time, you should be able to take advantage of that, but I’m opposed to that. I think if we can do something to [eliminate confusion], let’s do it.

And of course, this is a game that is played by a majority of people who are my age or older, so I’m always out to protect those people.

JR: Well then, we can’t call it H.O.R.S.E. anymore. We can’t even call it S.H.O.R.E. because the same problem would come up. How about S.H.O.E.R.?

MS: We’re going to go with H.E.R.O.S.

JR: Oh, yeah that’s better than S.H.O.E.R. Let’s talk about the big blind ante.

MS: The big blind ante is here to stay, not going anywhere, but the problem is there are some different little technicalities in the rule. One being should the big blind or ante come first when a player is all-in and [doesn’t have enough to cover both?] And we could never get a full agreement on that.

JR: And this is coming up a lot more in the high-stakes events where it has become more popular for players to bet all but one chip.

MS: Exactly, because it’s a strategy that people are exploiting, knowing that if they have just one chip left, they can still win the entire ante and come back.

There are some people that say it should be ante-first.

JR: Well that would make sense in Latin.

MS: Right, because ante means before. But even those players say it’s bad because if you happen to almost go broke on the hand before the big blind, now you can’t win the full amount [with a double up].

I was willing to change. I stuck my hand up, and I said that I was willing to go back to big blind first, only because I wanted everybody to do it the same way. No other reason. I don’t feel that it’s correct or the right way we should do it, but I was willing to change my own feeling so we can get everybody to agree.

[In the end] there was 50 percent that wanted it one way, and 50 percent that wanted it the other way. So instead, we just took it out of the rules.

JR: So, it is now up to each individual cardroom?

MS: Yes.

JR: I don’t know where I stand on that. I mean, as the short stack, I guess I would want to win more than just my own ante back.

MS: And that was one of my problems, was people trying to protect short stacks. Why are we trying to protect short stacks? We should be trying to protect the big stacks, the people that earn that big stack. But it is what it is. I don’t think we’re going to come to an agreement. Hopefully, we’ll try again in a couple of years and see what happens then.

For more from this interview, visit CardPlayer.com or download the full episode on Apple, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. ♠