F is for Farce
2005 World Series of Poker, Las Vegas
Report by Barny on Wednesday, 29 June 2005 at 6:10 am
My table in the $2,500 pot limit hold’em was one of the friendliest I’ve been on this month. Michael Keiner passed a hand that would have made the nuts and I said that – just like the internet – the flop may have been different if he’d called. This prompted a discussion which lead from Pascal Perrault's theory that the card are blank until they are turned over, to the celebrated case of Schrödinger’s cat which – being in a sealed box – cannot be proved to be either dead or alive.
‘Mind you’ I mused philosophically ‘That F’ing cat must be dead by now, it’s been in the box for years’…
It seems like every year at the World Series of Poker they do a sort of special promotion where a new rule is constantly highlighted and dealers are encouraged to zealously enforce it to the letter. Last year it was ‘in your seat when the cards come down’ – a good rule when sensibly applied – which I fell foul of when I stood up to tip a waitress and had my big blind hand whipped away when I was so short stacked I would have played any hand. The year before it was the hand exposing rule. Again, an example was made of me when, not realising that the player next to me had chips tucked behind his coffee cup, I flicked my cards over, giving him a huge advantage. He was asked to keep his chips in view, and I got a ten minute penalty for exposing my hand! In neither case was the rule applied with common sense, ‘for the good of the game’.
This year’s crusade is against what is tastelessly referred to as ‘The F bomb’, most poker player’s expletive of choice. Before every tournament it is announced that ‘without exception’ use of the word will illicit a ten minute penalty.
‘Zero Tolerance’ is an ugly phrase, far more dangerous and offensive than the word not being tolerated. The sturdy Anglo Saxon verb is not racist, sexist, or graphically scatological. Whilst it shouldn’t be used in front of children it will not in itself cause offence in a poker room. The concept of Zero Tolerance directly contradicts the single most important rule in poker, which is that all rules can be overridden in the interests of fair play and for the good of the game. What would happen if Phil Helmuth suffered from Terrets syndrome?
In the middle ages you could be hung for stealing a potato or a loaf of bread. This was considered draconian even then, and many courts simply refused to convict petty thieves. Most dealers disagree with the ‘F-bomb’ rule which can bring them into unnecessary conflict with the players. Some ignore it completely and many give players a quiet warning not to use the word again.
I have heard the word used countless times in the past month and only once seen a dealer call the floorman. The quick thinking player insisted that he had ‘stopped himself half way through the word’ and despite the dealer pointing out that as the word only had one syllable the distance from the middle to the end was negligible, the floorman chose to issue a warning rather than a penalty.
Do you remember the ‘Yes No’ game on Take Your Pick, where you had to avoid saying each of those words for a minute? Well, imaging having to play that game for hours on end, day after day whilst simultaneously playing in the world’s most prestigious poker tournament. That’s what it’s like having this silly rule. And by the way, who is the rule for? Who actually wants it? Not the dealers and certainly not a single poker player that I know of. This is our game, and we are paying for it. Where do they get off making up rules that none of us want?
I have very strong feelings about threatening and abusive behaviour at the poker table. It’s not something I ever do, and I have certainly never been rude to a dealer. I think it is right that players should sometimes get penalties for being offensive, and it is important that staff and other players should be protected. But this rule in no way addresses that issue, on the contrary, it causes unnecessary friction. Just like my remark about Schrödinger’s Cat, it is quite simply a joke.
So what happened when I made that remark? Well, the Boy Scout in the dealer’s seat shot his arm into the air and yelled that nasty F word: ‘FLOOR!’
The floorman was not interested in the circumstances, or in whether any one had been abused or threatened. I had uttered the-the-word-that-can-never-be-said and I got the ten minutes. That may not sound like a big deal, but with $6,300 in chips I was the short stack at the table. The blinds were at $300-$600 and I lost $1,800 in those ten minutes. As it happens I made the money, but who knows how much further I might have got if I hadn’t been robbed of 30% of my stack.
Shortly after I got back to the table, we got a new dealer. A famously volatile player lost a big pot and uttered a sentence consisting entirely of the forbidden word – repeated each time louder the than the last. The dealer looked at him and said nothing.
On a lighter note, I have a great example of the way that Joe ‘The Elegance’ Beevers, just like Del Boy, maintains his air of sophistication in all circumstances. We went to the famous ‘In Out Burger’ on Tropicana the other day and Joe stood staring at the board which pictured the three dining options: Burger with fries, Double Burger with fries and Cheese Burgers with fries.’ Have you been here before?’ he asked me.
‘What’s good?’ He said. I half expected him to ask for the wine list!
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