Let’s repeal World Series of Poker Rule 89

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Without rules, we’d have anarchy. But when rules are left open to interpretation and contradict other rules, we still have anarchy.

On a recent broadcast of the World Series of Poker Main Event, ESPN captured a controversial ruling that sent shockwaves through the poker community, and with good reason. It was Day 5 and Gaelle Baumann of France was one of the tournament chipleaders. From under the gun, she raised to 60K and action folded around to Hungary’s Andras Koroknai in the small blind. He shoved for about 1.3M. Gavin Smith, in the big blind, folded and Koroknai mucked while Baumann was still in the hand. She called, but Koroknai’s hand was irretrievably in the muck. Tournament director Dennis Jones, a legend in poker management, made a ruling and the table wasn’t happy, so Jones called WSOP TD Jack Effel to ensure he made the right call. The ruling stood, as Jones cited WSOP Rule 89: All chips put into the pot in turn stay in the pot. If a participant has raised and his or her hand is killed before the raise is called, the participant may be entitled to the raise back, but will forfeit the amount of the call.

Jones gave Koroknai his chips, minus 60K, which Baumann got. The players at the table were incensed. By using the word MAY in this rule, it leaves so much to interpretation. Floors always say players are responsible for their hands and, in fact, it’s TDA Rule 48/WSOP Rule 99: Players must protect their own hands at all times. If a dealer kills a hand by mistake, or a hand is fouled, the player will have no redress and is not entitled to a refund of bets. Jones believed it was an honest mistake and said it was in the best interest of the tournament, which falls under TDA Rule 1/WSOP Rule 55 that essentially says floors can make rulings to be fair to the game.

This ruling was in the best interest to only one person, and unfair to the scores of players still alive vying for that $8.5 million payday. Baumann, who had pocket kings and likely would’ve won the pot, just missed becoming the first woman since Barbara Enright to make the main-event final table. That pot made a difference. Just ask Koroknai, who made the Octo-Nine instead of being eliminated on Day 5. This ruling negatively affected history, something you never want to do, (NFL, are you reading this?). We could’ve crowned our first female world champion. Instead, she finished 10th, one spot from immortality, and guess who eliminated her … yes, Koroknai.

Rules should be rigid; that’s why they’re rules. They’re made to protect players, not just the player acting but the players those actions affect. It’s not that Jones or Effel made a bad ruling. They didn’t. It’s that the rule is a poor one. Rule 89 contradicts other rules, plus it opens the door to angle-shooting. Let’s muck this rule and write one that makes sense.

We’ll see you at the tables.

— Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long