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You are the Tournament Director Series 4: Checking the Nuts Last in Line

At the 2009 WSOP this was reported regarding checking the nuts last in line on the river:

Lady Penalized, Patronized 
An unfortunate lady was taken aside by a floorman who most apologetically explained to her that she was being penalized for checking the nuts. 
"You see, you had the best hand possible, so if someone bets you have to raise and if someone checks you have to bet, you have to create action. See, if you don't, then it's more like a home game, with everyone just checking and all friendly..." 
The lady in question looked suitably patronized, and was issued her penalty on top of that.

A debate ensured on the Mob forum whether or not a player should be penalised if: 

  1. They are simply not aware of the rule and there was no collusion intended. On a table of unknowns could you ever be sure this was actually the case? 
  2. They actually do it intentionally because they want to 'control the table' or because they don't want to eliminate a player, perhaps a shortstack close to the bubble. 

In poker tournaments, rather than cash games, players obviously have to play their hands to their own advantage but some players believe that they should be able to play their hands in any way they choose if it increases their perceived value in the tournament. 
How do you interpret this rule and the various circumstances in which it can happen? 

Matt SavageMatt Savage:
I have never been a fan of penalizing players unless it is clear that the player knew that he had the best possible hand which is of course tough to know in some circumstances. I have given penalties, warnings, and even instructions in this situation.

Thomas KremserThomas Kremser:
My decision would depend very much on the situation. From my experience I can tell that in most cases the player just didn’t realize holding the nuts and I would give a warning to this player and explain the reasons. If I am having a situation where I suspect collusion I will definitely give a penalty to sit out for one round. I have seen situation (b) and the player (the chip leader that raised 8 out of 10 hands and increased his stack dramatically by collecting blinds and antes every hand) actually made the right argument and I could never penalize him for this.

Jack EffelJack Effel:
Tournament officials have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the tournament at all costs. Checking the “nuts” on the river is considered soft play, which is collusion and against the rules.  Whether or not a player checks the nuts intentionally does not cover up the fact that they did it. This is clearly a case of whether they did or they did not check the nuts, and not their intent to do so. That being said, if a player checks the nuts on the river, they should receive a penalty up to and including disqualification or expulsion for repeated violations.

Nicolas FraioliNicolas Fraioli:
Checking the nuts on the river when you are the last to act it’s completely forbidden in poker especially in a tournament. I would ask at the players involved if they know each other and would explain the rule. I will try to find out if the nuts player is a beginner. Depending the answering of that lady I could give her a warning or a 10 minutes penalty.

Dave SimpsonDave Simpson:
Regardless how aware or experienced an individual player is all players assume the rights and responsibilities of the event.
In all circumstances the same result a one round penalty. There is no justification whatsoever for gaining an advantage unfairly at the expense of your fellow players for any reason, perceived value, angle shooting or soft play.

Tab DuchateauTab Duchateau:
We have no rule in place for a checking the nuts situation. I would handle this situation on a case by case basis. If I thought it was done intentionally, I would penalize the player. If I didn’t think it was done intentionally, I would not.

The Mob Verdict

There has to be a clear cut rule on this. It is never acceptable to check the nuts on the river when you are last to act.

Yes, there may be the occasional situation where it is possible to argue that a player is acting to their own advantage but for the sake of clarity consistency and fairness that is just not a good enough reason to muddy the waters on this issue.

However, as in all things, there is nothing wrong with using a bit of common sense and judgement when enforcing this rule. Like exposing cards, and acting out of turn this is one of those rules where the intention of the player can rightly be taken into account when dealing with an infringement. For this reason we prefer the flexible approach of Matt and Nicholas to the more consistent but somewhat harsh line taken by Jack and Dave.

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