July 13, 2010

Crossing the Line in Pennsylvania

Three Rivers Poker posted this week about the recent implementation of live poker at Pennsylvania casinos.  Apparently, early reviews are mostly positive, though there were a few areas of concern, including:

-- Apparently, the tables at Rivers don't have a betting line, which is leading to some confusion amongst players and dealers.  This is greatly disturbing to me, as I tend to count out my bets and raises just back from the line, in front of my cards. From the sounds of it, that's not going to fly at Rivers, and players will be best served by announcing their bet before moving any chips forward.  Annoying.
The betting line concern was also raised by the Pittsburgh Poker Blog
However, the second problem is the lack of a betting line. This is causing many problems, as a lot of poker players prefer to cut their bet out of their stack. The rule at the Rivers however is that the first cut from a stack in front of your cards is considered your bet. Therefore, if you want to bet, make the cut behind your cards and then go forward with your action. Or, in the alternative, just announce the amount you wish to bet. This is causing much confusion and a lot of complaints from players, new and experienced. However, the word from supervisors is that this is the boss’ rule and it will not be changed.
Similar concerns echoed from the 2+2 forums, including HERE:

2. As said before, there are no bet lines on the table, HUGE OVERSIGHT. All dealers handled this differently, as far as some folks received a warning when they brought out a stack and began counting off chips in front of their cards. Some said, your bet is $5, since that was the first chip to hit the felt, others issued a warning and let them count it out. Just be sure to verbalize all best prior to counting so that nobody calls BS on you.
... and HERE:

not having a betting line is just going to create TONS of problems and unnecessary floor calls.

this will be an issue. i kept my cards out in front of me a few feet creating my own betting line and a few times pushed chips to a spot right BEHIND them and the dealer took them and threw them in the pot. i wasn't angle shooting, just testing the dealers and the rule. also a dealer swept the chip on top of my cards into the pot. i was in the 9seat but keeping my cards like that in the 5 or 6 would be totally confusing to all.
[Editorial Note: Testing dealers and rules is playing with fire.] ... and HERE:

Bet line wasn't a huge issue but it did come up a few times.

One time, the guy cut his chips in front of him after announcing a raise and he had to min raise. After that, the dealer explained why to everyone and all were cool with it.

Later on, I cut chips BEHIND my cards, which I stuck further out in front of me than I normally do because of there is no bet line and some guy who wasn't in the hand started complaining to the dealer about it. Dealer said my action was fine. The guy tried arguing the one motion thing but didn't call floor. His argument was terrible anyway. He expected people to keep their chips a foot or so from the table rail so they could work with their chips behind their stacks.
The response from the casino-authorized representative on 2+2 was:

You will not see a line on the tables. Our boss doesn't want it.

Our rule for betting is a one motion to the pot rule. If you bring out 100 and make a first cut of 25 without saying anything then that is your bet. It can be confusing at times because our dealers are break in and very nervous.

Feel free to see any member of the staff for better clarification in house.
I just don't get the obsession with betting lines.  Most casinos where I play do not have betting lines, and games run perfectly smoothly.  Generally, players are allowed to cut chips (or fiddle with their chips) behind their cards, and in the area to the sides or immediately in front of their cards—what I would call the "staging area"—without committing those chips to the pot.  Chips pushed or cut further in front of the cards—maybe a couple of card lengths toward the pot—are considered a wager (call, bet, or raise, depending on the circumstances); this is what I would call the "betting area".  Also, players can generally take one or two stacks of chips, cut off their bet in the betting area, and return the remainder to their stack, with the cut chips serving as the amount of the wager. 

On the other hand, some casinos I've played do have betting lines, but they are either "courtesy lines" (meant to help get the chips closer to the dealer, and to clarify bets), or are not rigidly enforced (chips landing on or behind the line may still be considered part of the wager if it's obvious they were intended to be a wager).  One notable exception is Mandalay Bay, a poker room with a long history of quirky rules, where chips crossing the betting line—even in the air—must remain in the pot.  However, a strict betting line is a bright line, and bright lines lead to angle shooting.  For example, a player pushes a bunch of chips near the betting line, next player to act thinks it is a wager, and rolls his cards over, folds, or raises.  The player whose chips did not cross the line can then pull them back if he chooses, or raise, or bet less, since he has not yet officially acted.  Or, he can push a stack across the line, cut a small bet, then be "forced" to leave in the larger amount, creating an illusion of weakness to induce a call or raise.

The rule being enforced in Pennsylvania seems rather draconian.  Any chips cut in front of a player's cards are a wager.  Also, if a stack is moved in front of the cards and cut—say, a stack of $80 in red chips is cut into three $20 stacks to raise from $20 to $60 total—the first chips cut from the stack constitute the wager—a $20 call in our example (or a raise to $40 total if "raise" was announced without stating an amount).  This rule as it is being applied is so contrary to any other betting rule I've seen or heard of that it will inevitably lead to confusion and arguments so long as it is in effect (though locals will eventually adapt to the rule and have an advantage over non-locals).  I frankly don't understand the rationale for this rule, but I also don't understand why players think a strictly enforced betting line is any real improvement.  Still, it always pays to know and follow the house rule, whatever its merits.

The Pittsburgh Poker Blog also raised concerns about another quirky house rule that will inevitably cause mischief:

One miscellaneous item that I and everyone else has come to hate is that if you show your cards to someone else not in the hand when you go to muck, the dealer must show the cards to everyone else at the table, even if there is action still going on! This is quite different from the standard rule that if a player requests to see the hand, it is set aside for the rest of the table to see AT THE END OF THE HAND. Exposing cards in this manner really affects the action and the Rivers needs to change this rule ASAP.
This complaint was also echoed in the 2+2 forums, including HERE:

There was a pretty big issue on a ruling which was very confusing. I might bring it up later but it has to with when there are 3 ppl in a hand, player a, b, and c. They are postflop and player a makes a bet, player b raises, and player c looks at his and before folding shows the hand to a player not in the hand.

Their rule is, "show one, show all'. SO player c has to show the whole table his hole cards, including the 2 still in the hand.
... and HERE:

Same thing happened at my table - the women to my left showed the guy to my right her pocket 4's before folding preflop to a 3bet. the dealer immediately grabbed the cards and yelled 'pocket 4s exposed' - everyone at the table was like 'what the hell?' and she got real defensive and said 'show one, show all.' To which the table said, that's good and fine, but wait until the end of the hand to show all - not while action is still ongoing. Nobody in the hand saw the cards and it just confused everyone. Floor was called to clarify just because all 10 of us were pissed at such a dumb rule and the floor said that the dealer was correct, and that nobody should show anyone cards at any point since it 'ruins the integrity of the game.'
This rule, or its application, is nonsensical.  Revealing cards while hands are live should only be done if a player with a live hand has information not available to the rest of the table; then showing the "exposed" cards levels the playing field.  But if the exposed cards have only been shown to a player without a live hand, then revealing the cards can affect the course of play.  For example, let's say that the flop shows Ad-Jh-7h.  A player bets.  Another player shows his neighbor Ah-Qd, or 6h5h before folding.  The dealer then exposes those cards to the entire table, including two players who have yet to act.  Those players suddenly have an unfair advantage.  Further, even if no more action were pending on the flop, the knowledge of the exposed cards might affect the play on the turn or river, as the probability of certain hands being in play has changed.

When it comes to rules, there's usually a fine line between "strict" and "absurd".  These two rules have crossed that line.


  1. And I thought the 1/2 game I played in last week that played with $2 chips was dumb.

    But that particular application of show one/show all is absolutely absurd. Someone folds an ace, and now someone knows that their king high flush draw is a nut draw.

    Holdem would be a much different game if every folded hand were immediately tabled. Sounds like a fun home game variant. The only way to keep your hand secret is to get to showdown.

  2. The betting line doesn't work. Various casinos in Tunica have tried it and given up. It's not necessary and adds an element of people playing lawyer (sorry, no offense).

  3. Best rant on the idiocy of betting lines: http://extempore.livejournal.com/90346.html

  4. Even though I'm much more comfortable with a betting line, I'm sure I'll adapt to Rivers' lack of one. The links you provided to angle-shooting examples opened my eyes a bit, Grange, though I've never seen anything like that happen at a table I was sitting at.

    The most important thing is that dealers make consistent rulings. If we have some dealers who count bringing out a stack of chips into a staging area as a forward motion, some who count the first cut as a forward motion, and others who let players do as the please before pushing a stack well into the middle of the table ... then that's going to be a problem and I'd rather just have the line.

    The "show one, show all, and show right the hell now" rule is idiotic.

  5. Betting lines are a waste of time. They are mostly ignored by players, and dealers don't know how to enforce them. A strong willed, experience dealer will be able to handle the occasional punk, but most will call the floor for a ruling slowing down play.

  6. nice blog btw... You're linked