Table Talk: Rules are Rules, Even for Top Poker Pros

Know The Rules

It seems that I have a case of the summer flu, so just pour a glass of Nyquil on the rocks for me. If you’d like a refreshing beverage, wash your hands first and then enjoy whatever sounds good. There are no rules that apply to your drink choice.

There are rules in poker, on the other hand. In addition to regular game rules which have been generally accepted through the years for the multiple variations of poker, there are rules by which poker rooms and tournament directors around the world adhere. While every room and director can devise and practice their own sets of rules, it has become general practice that most recognized poker entities around the world adapt the Poker TDA rules.

The Poker Tournament Directors Association was founded in 2001 by Matt Savage, Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, and David Lamb in order to form a set of rules by which poker room managers and tournament directors can agree. From there, they began to host the World Poker Industry Conference so that those members, as well as players and media, would be free to propose or reverse rules in order to devise the most comprehensive and accepted set of rules in the industry.

More than a decade later, there are more than 1,400 members in 39 countries, and the TDA is respected on a global level. There are now 44 rules that members have discussed and on which they have voted to adopt.

The most recent conference was held this June during the World Series of Poker, and it was widely publicized as an open meeting where anyone was welcome to attend. While many poker room managers and tournament directors attended, very few players chose to include their voices in the proceedings.

During the meeting, one of the rules that was adopted and since created the most controversy was Rule 29 regarding seating during a hand deal. It reads in full:

Rule 29: At Your Seat

A player must be at his seat when the first card is dealt on the initial deal or he will have a dead hand. A player not then at his seat is dealt in, he may not look at his cards, and the hand is immediately killed after the initial deal. His blinds and antes are posted and if dealt the bring-in card in a stud-type game he will post the bring-in*. A player must be at his seat to call time. At your seat” means within reach of your chair. This rule is not intended to condone players being out of their seats while involved in a hand. [*Note:][In][stud,][house][rules][may][require][additional][card(s)][be][dealt][to][the][killed][hand][in][certain][situations.]

Some players were vehemently opposed when they discovered the rule had been approved and was in use by many card rooms and tournaments around the world. Daniel Negreanu was one of the most vocal in his opposition. However, he had not gone about the proper channels to be part of the decision making in the first place nor garner enough support to petition the TDA for an actual rule change.

For someone like Negreanu, who is known for his tendency to walk around tables and tournament areas, and talk to other players, fans, and media, the rule was an issue, though the purpose of the rule was to protect other players’ hands during the deal and protect the order of the game. The dealer makes the decision as to whether or not the player is “within reach of your chair,” and the floor decision is final.

Negreanu was faced with this rule at the EPT Barcelona this week in the €10K High Roller tournament. PokerNews reported that Negreanu was talking to Philipp Gruissem at another table, returned to his seat to post his small blind, and stood behind his chair while talking across the floor to Gruissem. The dealer dealt the cards and immediately mucked Negreanu’s hand. Negreanu immediately protested that he was at his chair – “one step behind my chair” as explained to the floorperson – but the floor agreed with the dealer that the TDA and European Poker Tour rules were enforced properly in that situation.

On Twitter, Negreanu then explained that he quit the tournament and noted, “I was 100% aware of the rule and did NOT break the rule. It was ruled 100% incorrectly by the TD because the rule is absurdly stupid.” He then went all-in blind on the next hand and exited the tournament.

He then wrote a blog post to explain his actions and say that the “VAST majority of players don’t like the first card off the deck rule”. Further, he wrote, “My rage had to do less with the situation then [sic] it did the realization that currently the players are powerless. I’m committed to changing that and making sure that the players are heard before the games rules are tampered with further without player input.”

What Negreanu fails to realize is that he had the chance, as did his fellow vast majority of fellow players, to provide input to the rules during the summer but indicated no interest to be a part of the TDA proceedings. Even after the summer meeting and his awareness of the new rule, he made no effort to strike up a petition, put forth an organized effort to institute change, or have meaningful dialogue with members of the TDA in order to affect change. Twitter complaints and video rants will not do the job.

The TDA has been an open organization with members and directors who want the best for the poker community. None of them are paid for any of their efforts, as it is all done on a volunteer basis for the good of the game that many of them have played and worked with for many, many years. The vast majority – to borrow a phrase – of attendees at the summer meeting agreed to the rule, as even initial objectors saw the benefits and voted for Rule 29 in the end.

In order to affect change, one must be a part of the change. Insulting the members of the TDA, giving up a tournament and stomping away from the tournament area… these are generally not effective ways to garner support for one’s position. Sometimes, change actually takes hard work.