‘First card off’ dominates Poker TDA Summit discussion

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By Scott Long

A controversial rule known as First Card Off, adopted two years ago, dominated this year’s two-day Poker TDA Summit in Las Vegas in June. In the end, the TDA retreated from the rule, which had killed the hand of players not in their seats when the dealer deals the first card instead of the last card.

A number of tournament directors, board members and pro players took turns addressing the group in a discussion over the First Card Off rule that easily lasted more than four hours over two days. In the end, board members Matt Savage of the World Poker Tour and Johnny Grooms of Beau Rivage Resort and Casino persuaded the group that it would be in the best interest of the TDA politically to go back to Last Card Off, at least as the “preferred” method, since the change set off a firestorm of criticism from pros who have been vocal about their disappointment over the past two years.

Pros, led by Daniel Negreanu, who addressed the Summit on the first day, have argued poker is a social game and being able to get up to check on and chat with friends at other tables is an important part of that social aspect. Tournament directors in favor of FCO, led by board member Neil Johnson, head of live poker operations of PokerStars Europe, argued that “first card” has many procedural advantages that result in more hands per hour being dealt and better safety and integrity for players.

It became clear early in the discussion that a number of poker rooms and series, most notably the World Series of Poker, never adopted the rule after it was approved at the 2013 Summit, or quickly switched back to the old rule, thereby meaning many players never got to experience the difference. A number of straw polls were taken during this year’s discussion, showing shifting opinions and leaving the board in the waning hours at a stalemate over three options:

• Keep FCO and encourage more rooms and series to adopt it
• Go back to LCO as the TDA’s “preferred” standard
• Remove FCO and let each room and series decide which to use

When consensus on any of the three seemed bleak, board member Linda Johnson reminded attendees that the TDA doesn’t dictate rules and that if most don’t agree on a rule, the TDA doesn’t take a stance. Most directors indicated that in that scenario, they’d likely go to LCO, and Savage, backed by Grooms, made one last plea for consistency, and polled the group on how many “could live with” going back to LCO and most said they could. Consistency, though, is far from certain. Final language is expected to state that LCO is the TDA’s “preferred” standard, allowing rooms and series some leeway, and Johnson pledged to go back to his PokerStars directors to see whether they’d agree to change their policy, but he said that would be doubtful since all of his TDs were united behind the benefits of FCO.

The Poker TDA is a voluntary organization of tournament directors from around the world that maintains a standardized set of rules governing poker tournaments. Every two years, members meet in Las Vegas to discuss and approve additions, deletions and changes. This year’s Summit not only included the attendance of some pro players, but also the results of a survey the TDA took of players on a number of issues, which helped guide the discussion.

One other big change, heralded by the group after board member Jack Effel, WSOP tournament director, agreed to adopt it, was made to Rule 16, stating that if all other players muck their hands face down, the last player with cards will be awarded the pot and does not have to show his hand.

No consensus was reached on whether to be consistent in how to handle silent overchip bets. Attendees appeared in agreement that a player in the blind who manipulates his chips before introducing a silent overchip is intending to raise, but were split on whether to treat it as a call to be consistent with other silent overchip bets. The “bettor beware” language of former Rule 44 (now Rule 47) that recommends that players verbalize their bet amounts will remain the guiding rule.

Left unresolved were how to handle inadvertent exposure of a hand to just one player and what amount a player who calls an undefined raise will be obligated to bet. Discussion on those issues will continue on the Poker TDA’s forums.

Where do we go from here?

By Elliott Schecter

Judging by the events and discussions at its past two summits, the Poker Tournament Directors Association has reached a critical point. What is the TDA’s function now? What’s its mission since most of the rules have been settled? Who should have the most sway or ownership of the discussion and decisions, the casinos that host events or the players who provide the prize pools? Is agreement at any cost lasting and worthwhile?

The TDA is down to figuring out which issues haven’t been adequately addressed and agreeing upon rules for those last few issues. This has turned into a rather contentious political battle among some groups and factions within the industry.
First, there’s the World Series of Poker, acting every bit the industry leader and virtually never compromising on anything that might affect its televised product.

Other tours such as the World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour, generally agree on enough issues as to be considered one bloc. Rounding out the gaming industry groups are the remaining casinos outside Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

As for tournament players, you have the well-known pros, a group that’s closely aligned, almost symbiotically, with the WSOP. The next group consists of lesser-known pros, most of whom almost completely agree with the well-known pros on the issues, though a good number align with the non-WSOP tournament tour bloc.

Amateurs make up the third group, which isn’t vocal but is represented by casinos and smaller poker rooms.

The most important question yet to be asked is: Should TDA rules apply to every tournament regardless of buy-in, venue and field size? It seems this concept is at the heart of the remaining issues the TDA has been contemplating. In a perfect world, the same rules would apply to a $50 daily tournament, a $100K high roller or a $1,500 event. No casino or poker room would rationally treat such different groups of players identically. The expectations and needs of these tournaments from the casinos or players’ perspectives are radically different and the rules don’t yet account for that.
I wish I had the answer.

— Elliott Schecter is director of poker at Snoqualmie Casino and is a member of the TDA.

TDA rules changes
Here’s a summary of most of the preliminary additions, deletions and changes to TDA rules approved in June. Final language is expected to be approved and posted at pokertda.com before September:
Rule 2: “Calling for a clock when warranted” added to player responsibilities.
Rule 4: Players should make music and ring and alert tones on electronic devices inaudible to other players.
Rule 7: Late-entry players will be randomly seated and can get a hand except when in between the small blind and button.
Rule 9: Players from broken tables will be assigned new seats by a double-random process.
Rule 12: “Pot being awarded incorrectly” added to mistakes players should speak up about.
Rule 13: Proper tabling defined as turning both cards face up and waiting for the hand to be read, and players must protect their hands at showdown.
Rule 15: All players in main and side pots must table their hands in an all-in showdown.
Rule 16: If all players muck their hands face down, the last player with cards will be awarded the pot and is not required to show his cards.
Rule 17: Callers of the last aggressor when betting takes place on the final street have a right to see the aggressor’s hand upon request, if the requestor still holds or had tabled his cards. Other requests to see cards are at a tournament director’s discretion.
Rule 21: If a hand ends during a break, the right to dispute the hand ends one minute after the finish of the hand.
Rule 22: A new hand begins with the first riffle of the cards, the push of automatic shuffler button or at a dealer push.
Rule 27: Any player in a tournament may call the clock on another player and tournament directors have more power to reduce delays.
Rule 29: The TDA recognizes “last card off the deck” as the preferred method for determining when the hand of a player not at the table is dead.
Rule 36: Floor must be called when four cards are flopped before a dealer takes any action and guidelines added for dealing with premature cards.
Rule 37: Split into Rules 37-39: methods of betting, acting in turn and binding declarations.
Rule 43 (former Rule 41): Putting out chips or declaring an amount of less than 50 percent of a raise, without first declaring raise, is a call; declaring a bet amount is the same as pushing out that amount; saying, for example, “raise, 9,000” means a total bet of 9,000.
Rule 47 (former Rule 44): Pulling back chips already committed to the pot binds a player to call or raise.
Rule 50 (former Rule 47): A preflop short all-in blind doesn’t change the calculation of the maximum preflop pot-limit bet.
Rule 52 (former Rule 49): Tournament directors can use factors such as pattern of recent betting increments or size of the pot in determining actual bet from a player who makes an unclear bet of, for example, “5,” when that can mean 500 or 5,000.
Rule 55 (former Rule 52): Action must be on a player before he can ask for a count of an all-in player’s chips.
Rule 60 (former Rule 56): If a player’s hand is accidentally mucked and cannot be identified 100 percent, then the hand is dead and the player has no redress. Players should protect their hands even at showdown.
Rule 62-A (former Rule 58): A player can be blinded or anted out of a tournament while on a penalty.