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Barny Boatman
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Evolution of the Golden Goose

I see that there is movie out based on the Darwin Awards which honour those who selflessly select themselves out of the gene pool by contriving to bring about their own demise in the silliest imaginable ways. Having heard some of the ways that people got themselves knocked out of the WSOP main event I think it may be time for poker's own version of these awards. Let's call it for the moment the 'All-in awards'.

The bestowing of this honour would be – naturally – selective and you would not qualify simply by moving over the top of an under the gun raiser with Jack three off; a move which, whilst reckless, can often work. You would get yourself a gong though if you moved all-in after the dealer had mucked your cards, or called on the river with three high because 'I knew he was at it'. I would probably already have one for the time I misread a bet because of my tinted shades. One definite recipient would be a Main Event player Neil Channing told me about, and I apologise if this has already been related elsewhere:

The player in question had been dealt aces and was feigning disinterest in his cards by turning away and chatting to a friend on the rail. He turned back and, seeing that there had been a raise in front of him said 'Oh, is it on me?....Um,...I'm all-in'. He then looked back at his cards to discover that, due to a miss-deal, his aces had been replaced by seven three off suit. (I've had that dream but in my case the aces usually turn into a bowl of soup!)

Now, the original raiser had still to act and our hero gave him a little assistance in his decision by crying out 'Wait a minute, these are not my cards! Call the floor!' Two minutes later he was standing by the rail asking his friend if in retrospect there had been anything he had noticed whilst they were chatting which he felt might have been worth mentioning.

Another candidate would have to be the poor sod who accidentally flicked his Milwaukee-Lite 'All-in button' across the line whilst in possession of a ten five off. And this brings me to my latest rant against Harrahs, because there but for the grace of God, went I.

I have been critical of some of the rule changes introduced for the WSOP and in some cases, like the round for round bubble rule, I have reconsidered my position having experienced it for myself. I do think they introduced some good innovations, such as the staggered break and the new improved method of bringing in alternates, but one thing really does take the biscuit. I thought they would never top the odious 'F bomb rule' but for sheer pointless stupidity you have to hand it to whichever corporate nincompoop came up with the All-in button.

Now, you can believe me or not but I wasn't around on day's 1A to 1C and when I sat down to play on day 1D I had never heard of the thing. I am told that on previous days there had been an announcement about it before the start of play but although I, unlike some, did not come into the room late, I heard nothing said. This is not to say that no announcement was made on my day. The PA was notoriously unclear and perhaps I was chatting to someone at the time. I would say though that if you are going to introduce something like this into a ten grand event the dealer should hand it to each player individually and either explain it or hand them a piece of paper to read and, preferably sign.. It's that important to ensure that absolutely no-one misses it, as I did. Even if everyone in the room had heard and understood the announcement there would be those such as alternates, and Phil Hellmuth, who were not present to hear it.

I do not remember whether I was given an all-in button, but if I was I must have presumed it was one of those promotional card protectors and put it in my pocket (I already have a lovely gold Hendon Mob protector available for a snip at themobpokershop.com). I remained blissfully unaware of the innovation until someone used one on my table about halfway through day three. This meant that for around two and a half days of play I had been in danger of calling or raising without knowing that a player had already gone all-in. Or perhaps of doing what the poor bloke with the 10,5 did.

If you are going to introduce an All-in button then the only possible rationale would be to simplify things. Use of the button would have to be the only way in which a player could go in. Pushing all your chips across the line without putting the button in would be considered a stroke designed to fool your opponent into thinking you had more chips. Verbal all-ins would not be allowed in case the fella with the i pod didn't notice. But no, what we had was an extra way of going all in, thus multiplying the potential for errors and confusion. Brilliant.

However daft, unnecessary and badly implemented the all-in button was though, it was by no means the worst of it. Everyone has their examples of appalling dealer errors and crazy floor decisions but in such a huge event some of these will have been inevitable and you have to assume that all decisions however bad, were made in good faith. This can not be said about a decision made at the end of day three.

I don't know how many times that day I heard a player asking the floor how many levels we were playing but the answer given was always the same. 'We are not playing a set number of levels, we are playing down to six hundred players.' Exactly as advertised. At midnight a level concluded with the field having been thinned to 590 or less. Players will have been mentally winding down for the night. Some will have been playing defensively on a difficult table hoping to come back with a better draw on day four; Some may have been recklessly going all-in so they could either get that flight they'd booked or come back with chips; Some will simply have switched off for the last few hands feeling too tired to make tricky decisions; Some may have eaten a huge load of carbs or even dropped a couple of sleeping pills in anticipation a night's sleep that was now only minutes away. So, the sudden unexpected announcement that play would continue for another one and a half levels will not have seemed inconsequential.

John Gale at this point had around 350k and was dog tired. He blames the schedule change for his departure later that night. He tells me he challenged it at the time and had a lot of trouble establishing who had made the decision and why. It seems from what he was told that it came from ESPN, who presumably spotted an opportunity to engineer a day off. 'After all,' John was apparently told, 'they put a lot of money into the event. They are entitled to have a say.' Oh really? I don't know how much they are paying Harrahs for the rights but I do know that both parties are profiting from the arrangement and that however much it is it is dwarfed by the almost one hundred million put in by the players, most of whom end up ten grand down. I think it is about time the players got a contractual commitment from tournament organisors not to make arbitrary changes to rules schedules or structures at the behest of third parties.

In business, as in poker, there is no justice. If there were, then a year or two from now Harrahs could well be receiving a corporate Darwin award for strangling the Golden Goose that is our beloved Word Series of Poker.

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