Monday, July 23, 2012

Verbal is Binding

One of the rules of the poker room is this:  “Verbal is binding.”  This means that if a person says “call” instead of putting out his chips in front of him, he is obligated to put his chips into the pot.  If he or she says “raise” he must raise the required amount, regardless of any action he takes with his chips (in a no limit game, without stating an amount, the person saying “raise” would have to put out the minimum required to raise).

But that’s not where it ends.  If a person has yet to act, and the person who will be acting next says something about calling or raising, that too is binding.  Even if he doesn’t realize it.
And that little rule created quite a ruckus at BSC last week.  And it was your humble correspondent who was up against the guy who didn’t know the rules—or at least, claimed not to know them.
I was sitting in seat 4 and had about $250 in front of me.  A brand new player took seat 5 immediately to my left and bought in for $100.  This was his very first hand.  He was coming in right behind the button. 
A bunch of limpers in the pot, the action went to me holding 6/7 suited, so I limped also.  Seat 5 raised to $10.  Two or three called in front of me, so I called as well.
The flop was 865, rainbow I believe.  It checked around to the new player, who had last action from here on.  He bet $30.  A guy in early position called as well.  I had him covered but he had close to $200 in front of him.  I felt with the pair and the open ender it was enough to call, so I did.
The turn card was a beautiful 9, given me the second nuts.  Only a 10-7 could beat me.  First guy checked, and I decided to check too.  If I bet there, it would scream “straight!” and I probably wouldn’t get a caller.  If I checked, I thought the new player might bet and then I could figure out what to do based on whether the other guy called and how much the bet was. 
But the guy disappointed me, tanking for a bit, saying, “Wow, you put a straight out there huh?”  After thinking about it some more, he finally said he was just gonna check.
Oh well, I knew that was the risk.  The river was a totally harmless deuce that didn’t change anything (and there was no flush possible).  First guy checks, and, I knew I had to bet to try to get any more value for my hand. 
I started counting out chips and was trying to figure out what bet would be called. Before I got very far in my thought process of what the right amount to bet would be, the new guy, seeing me reach for chips, said something like, “Oh if you’re betting, I’m gonna call whatever you put out.”
OK, if that’s the case, no more calculating on my part was necessary.  The third guy was a good player; I didn’t figure he’d call the two of us unless he had a 7, or worse for me, 10-7.  If this guy was gonna put his last $60 in the pot, I was satisfied with that.  So I said, “In that case, all-in.” 
The dealer was Brent.  Brent is not just a dealer pal of mine but the very dealer who gave me the great story about “protecting your hand” that resulted in my all time most popular post, located here.  Now, we were about to get yet another lesson in poker rules and etiquette courtesy of Brent.
Brent immediately took out the “all in” card and threw it in front of me, and took out the “call” card and threw it in front of seat 5.  Seat 5 said nothing. Brent posed stoically and the action turned to the third player.  But nothing happened for awhile and I looked at Brent and he was still frozen.  So, for a nano-second, forgetting about the third player, or perhaps thinking he must have folded as I assumed he would, I grabbed my cards and said, “Is that in then?”  I hadn’t come close to exposing my hand tho, when Brent stopped me and pointed to the third guy and said he still had to act.  I immediately slammed my cards face down, no one had seen them.  I had barely gotten them an inch off the table.
I then looked over to the third guy for a second, and he was still tanking.  I looked away.  During all this time, seat 5 said absolutely nothing, made no motion, was totally still.  He was definitely not acting like a guy who had a decision to make.  Finally the other guy says, “Well, I guess at least one of you has me beat,” and mucked.
Brent looks at both of us and says “lets see ‘em” or whatever.  I show my hand, he said, “straight,” and then, and only then, did seat 5 speak up. 
“Call? Who called?  I didn’t call.”  Brent told him he most certainly did call.  He told him that what he said before I bet was binding, verbal is binding, and that he said “I’m gonna call whatever you put out.”  That’s binding.
No, seat 5 said, he didn’t say that.  “I said, ‘I’d probably call.’  I said ‘probably’.  I didn’t say I’d call.”   Brent said he didn’t hear him say “probably.” Anybody hear him say “probably,” he asked the table?
No.  A few people shook their heads and said definitely that they didn’t hear him say “probably.”  I said what I knew to be true, that he never said probably.  The rest of the table said nothing, presumably not hearing what he said.
The guy insisted he didn’t call, so Brent held up the action and called the floor over.  We’ll call the floor person “Bill” and like most anyone who works floor this time of day at BSC (or evening, actually), he knows me by name (and has helped me a few times on comps issues, among other things).  He even knows my last name, which surprised me because I didn’t think he’d ever seen my players card.
Seat 5 started making his case and Bill silenced him.  He got the story from Brent first, who accurately re-enacted what happened.  He also pointed out that his comment affected my action, which was true—just not the way the guy had hoped for.  Brent said he was trying to get me not to bet.
Bill turned back to seat 5 and said that “verbal is binding” and that since he had made the call, he had to put all his chips into the pot, as I easily had him covered.  The guy continued to protest, and rather loudly.  He said, “Why would I call when there was a four-card straight on the board?”
I didn’t say anything, but of course, that four-card straight was on the board when he said he was gonna call whatever I put out.  He had noticed the straight on the turn; that’s why he didn’t bet.  But he still said he was gonna call me.
He continued to talk.  He said, “I’m a man of my word,” and thus was trying to act insulted that he was being questioned like this.  He insisted he said “probably.”  Then he went on to say that this was his first time in Vegas and he just came into BSC to see the show in the main showroom and was trying to have a little fun before the show started. 
Somewhere along the way, Bill took the same survey of the other players that Brent had and found no one who recalled saying “probably.”  When Bill once again asked him politely to put his chips into the pot, he again refused and asked to speak to someone else.
Bill said fine, he would call the Shift Supervisor over.  Which he did.  Of course, “Nick,” the Shift Supervisor, knows me too.  I should point out that during the entire discussion, Brent, Bill and Nick referred to me only as “seat 4” and never by name, even tho they all know it.  I assume this is standard operating procedure, and it is an excellent idea.  Since they were siding with me, it only would have made things worse if the guy knew that I was a regular in the room who everyone knew.  He might have felt that as a regular, they were giving me preferential treatment, although that wasn’t true.  They were calling this one by the book.
Pretty much the same thing happened, Nick asked the other players after hearing Brent’s version of the facts.  Then, after hearing seat 5 tell him he was a man of his word several more times, and how this was his first time in Vegas, and how he said “probably” and why would he call a four-card straight and he was just there to see the show…..Nick very, very politely and calmly told him that he had indeed called my bet and to please put his chips into the pot.
Now I must admit, at some point I seriously considered just saying, “It’s ok, let him keep his chips.”  I really did.  The guy was clearly upset and who knew what would happen if this situation was allowed to escalate.  And it was only $60, even if it was $60 that was rightly mine.
But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As Brent had pointed out, his words had indeed affected my action.  Plus, he had all kinds of time before seeing my hand to say something about not calling.  The “call” card was sitting in front of him for a couple of minutes. Then he saw Brent remind me that another player, the one following him, still had to act.  Why would we be waiting for him to act if seat 5 himself had not already acted?  Of course, even if he protested as soon as he saw the “call” card placed in front of him, there still would have been an issue as to whether or not he had called, but at least it would have been adjudicated before he saw my hand.
So I said nothing.  My only contribution to the discussion was my statement, several times, to several different people, that he didn’t say “probably”.  He said he would call whatever I bet.
The guy was very agitated and repeated all the things he had been saying several times.  Nick once again told him to put his chips (which he had been holding onto tightly since the ruckus began) into the pot.  He said he wouldn’t because he hadn’t called.  Then Nick said he would have to call security.
“Security?  You’re gonna call security?  Are you serious?” he said.  I envisioned this guy hurriedly getting up from his chair and bolting the room (and casino), chips in hand.  Meanwhile the rest of the players were getting impatient, some complaining that this was holding up the game. Finally, he took his chips and flung them towards Brent.  Most of them landed in the rack in front of him. I don’t think any of them hit Brent. Brent calmly and professionally took them all out of the rack and placed them into the pot, which he then pushed to me.  I tipped Brent $5 for his troubles (it was a nice pot, but it didn’t really justify that kind of a tip—I was tipping him for the aggravation and for taking my side—which of course, was the correct side).  I dunno if the guy saw the tip, as he immediately got up and stormed out of the room, presumably to see his show.  But in hindsight, I shouldn’t have given that big a tip in front of the guy.  I should have given him a normal tip and then given him the rest later in the evening, when the guy was long gone.  I suppose he might have thought there was some collusion going on when he saw that tip.  But in fact, nothing was said, or even noticed.
That was the end of Brent’s down, and he moved on.  The new dealer saw just the end of what happened and asked what all the fuss was about it.  We all filled him in, and of course he agreed that the guy had called my all in bet. It took about 20 minutes for anyone to talk about anything else.  One guy expressed concern the guy was gonna come back later and gun us all down!
In fact, that’s not the last I saw of the guy.  Hours later, I noticed him talking to Nick peacefully, away from all the tables.  I saw them talking calmly for about 20 minutes.  I had already had private conversations with Bill and Brent about the incident, both of whom thought the guy was just angle-shooting and was just trying to pull a fast one.  Bill saw me in the Mens Room and asked, “What were the chances that guy said ‘probably’?”  I told him that the guy definitely did not say “probably.”  Brent said that he said to the guy “that’s binding” when he heard his initial comment and threw the “call” card in front of him.  I didn’t remember that and I didn’t remember if Brent had told that to Bill or Nick.
So I asked Nick if that was the indeed the guy I thought it was and he confirmed it.  He had calmed down considerably, he said, but he still didn’t agree with the decision.  Further—and I have to admit, this bothers me a little—he didn’t think the guy was a sophisticated enough player to be trying to angle-shoot.  He actually thought the guy was totally ignorant that he had done anything wrong or that his comment was even intended to affect my action.  But Nick did thank me for my concern, and I thanked him for making the right decision.
I’m glad he calmed down, but I do feel a little badly if he really wasn’t trying to pull a fast one.  But still, he had more than enough time to correct things—or at least to attempt to—before he saw that he was beat.
Near the end of the night, Jack game to deal.  I asked him if he had heard all the commotion and he said he had, he was actually at the next table over at the time.  He didn’t realize, however, that I was the other player involved in the controversial pot.  Since he hadn’t heard the whole thing, I explained it fully to him.  By now, no one at my table was left over from the incident, so they all chimed in.  Jack said that the decision was an easy one, he makes that ruling every night.  He recalled one time it cost someone over $500.  He said the guy was angle-shooting even if he never heard that term.
And hat-tip to Jack, he reminded me that from the next table over, he heard the guy say, “I’m a man of my word” at least three times.  I had actually forgotten that by this point.  He even suggested I use that phrase as the title of this post (and give him a credit for the suggestion), but, while I liked that idea, I decided to go another way, to make sure that the real point of this post is reflected in the title.
Just another fun night of poker at the BSC.

(Edited to add....I posted this incident at All Vegas Poker for further feedback and discussion.  So far I started a five page thread there!  Many interesting comments.  So if you are intrigued by this incident, and not sure if it was properly decided, I urge you to check out the thread at AVP here.)


  1. As usual in the poker world, it's not black and white. Verbal is binding. Fine. But saying "next hand if I'm dealt any ace I'm going all in" is not binding. "I'm going to flip a coin in my head and if it comes up tails I'm going all-in". Try to make that binding. "If the turn is a seven, eight, or nine, and not a spade, and I don't see any contravening omens in the meantime, I'm going all in". So with silly examples we can demonstrate the absurdity of believing ANY if-then statement will be held binding.

    Many poker rooms will rule any statement along the lines of "if you X I will Y" as non-binding. It's effectively out of turn action. So let's look at what happened here. Action is on you, and your opponent says "I'll call whatever you bet". There's a rule used by most poker rooms that out of turn action is binding if the action being faced doesn't change. He was facing a bet of 0 when he made his out-of-turn action if-then statement. But the very act of you betting is changing the action. So that should obviate the requirement your opponent call.

    I've seen "I'll call whatever you bet" held non-binding much more often than I've seen it held binding. But I've also seen it held binding. And I've seen it ruled non-binding once, then the floor got fed up with the shenanigans and ruled it binding next time. So don't expect the same ruling every time.

    However, your story adds the twist that the dealer tossed the all-in button at you, the call at your opponent, and then your opponent allowed a third person to act behind after a long delay. Only THEN did he complain. Nope, that's not ok. If he thinks he hasn't acted, he has to object immediately, not wait until he sees how the third player will act, and then whether he's won or lost the hand. Action offered and accepted.

    So I woulda ruled the same way as the BSC floor staff, but for different reasons.

    1. Thanks very much for the thoughtful insight, Apollo. Interestingly, both dealers I discussed this with, "Brent" and "Jack" said that as soon as he said what he said, it was a call, automatic, no questions asked. They both pointed out that the comment was meant to influcence my action---he was trying to get me not to bet. We'll never know if that really was his intention or not. But it did affect what I did (perhaps that's a mistake on my part). Of course the player always has the right to ask the floor to overrule.

      And indeed, if he had questioned it immediately, I could easily see the floor saying, well, since you didn't understand and/or know the rule, we'll let it go this time. And tell me that he hadn't yet acted yet. But he had plenty of time to correct this before I exposed my winning straight, and did nothing.

      Now, I should point out that no one ever asked me if his comment affected my action, or if I would be "ok" with him not putting in his money. The whole debate was between him and the poker room staff. All they ever asked me was, "What did you hear him say?"

      If at the end of the day, they said, "Well, since you didn't understand, we'll let it go this time. Seat 4, we are going to let him keep his chips and he now knows the rules," I wouldn't have said anything. But mostly because this is my "home" room and I wouldn't want to make a big fuss there for $60. And I could certainly see the other side of it.

      If they had ever just asked me if it was ok for him to keep his money, I would have said, "I'm out of this, that's for the management to decide."

      Now,if this happened in a room I don't usually play, I might have registered a protest somewhat if they changed the ruling against me. At least I think I might have. Maybe not. I know that my thought process at the time as I was waiting for final outcome, the thought that this was "BSC" was always in my mind--and I guess that also made me think that whatever ruling they would come up with would be reasonable.

    2. So it effected your action. That does not matter. Players say stuff to affect action all the time. Maybe he should get a penalty for angling but but the call is not binding. Apollo is correct out of turn (OOT) is only binding if action does not change and action did change. Now once he does not refuse the call button then it is binding.

    3. Thanks, Unknown, I think it was his not reacting to the call button that was deciding factor in the end. Still, an interesting situation.

  2. Replies
    1. Coach, you are or were a poker dealer, right? How would you have ruled?

  3. Rob throwing his weight around now a days I see :)

  4. Replies
    1. "BSC" stands for "Big Strip Casino." In order to protect the identities of the people who work there and thus end up being mentioned in my posts, I call the room I play in most of the time that instead of by its real name. I also change the names of the people I talk about to protect their identities.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Flush Draw.

    2. I have heard/read the term BSC many times by you, Poker Grump, and Josie, and also wondered where it was. I think I have been in every room in Vegas, and the best guess I could come up with was that it was an endearing term used for "Bill's Social Club". :)

    3. Interesting theory, Sauza, thanks. But it really does stand for Big Strip Casino. I don't think Bill's qualifies as "big." It's bigger than that.

  5. Interesting situation. A few thoughts:

    1. Apollo is obviously correct that "verbal is binding" is easy to disprove as a blanket absolute. But as both of you point out, this case has other factors favoring holding him to it: His admission that he was trying to influence the action, the presence of a third player, and the all-in card sitting there without objection. Given those factors, I think the floor decision was entirely reasonable.

    2. I agree with mostly keeping quiet when there is a floor decision being made that involves you. The exception is if there are pertinent facts that the dealer has not conveyed or has gotten wrong. The last thing a competent floor person needs is another opinion about what should be done. Also, it looks unseemly to be arguing to get to be able to claim his $60. Better to look like you're just an innocent bystander waiting for others to decide. But I'd speak up if they were getting things wrong either in terms or facts or rules.

    3. Suppose that you had been bluffing, and the guy's hand had turned out to be best. Do you suppose that he would have said, "Give Rob the pot. I had not actually called or intended to call his last bet." Not a chance. He would have been happy to claim it. He can't have it both ways.

    In fact, if the floor had ruled the other way, I'd have asked them just that: "So if he didn't call, then he folded, right? After all, those are his only two choices when I'm all in for more than he has left and he's next to act. So if I had been bluffing, and he realized that when he saw my cards, and then showed a better hand than mine, would you still rule his hand dead?" The floor can't have it both ways, either.

    4. The TDA rulebook recently adopted a new rule on this exact point. It's #46 here:

    5. In the future, probably the thing to do is seek clarification about whether the statement is binding as soon as it happens, before deciding what to do about it. Of course, the act of asking risks giving away information about whether you want a call. But you can use that to your advantage. Here you could reasonably infer just what he later admitted: that he was trying to discourage a bet, which meant that he wanted a free showdown. If he had zilch, he wouldn't much care whether you bet or not because he couldn't win. So he presumably has a weak made hand, probably one pair.

    So if the floor rules that it's binding, go ahead and shove, take his chips. If it's ruled non-binding, then the mind games start. Make a point of clarifying with the floor, "So if I bet now, he can still fold instead of calling, is that right?" If he thinks you had been hoping that a bet would make him fold, he may get suspicious of a bluff and decide to call.

    6. I'd guess that his comment is a remnant of a nasty habit he developed at a home game. Home games are Petri dishes for bad poker habits that players new to casinos bring with them. The list is endless: making their own change from the pot, string bets, saying things like "I'll call and raise," openly speculating on what other players hold, splashing the pot, etc.

    7. I'd like to have asked him why he still had cards in front of him. He presumably knew that you had bet, and that it was his turn next. If his intention was not to call, his only other choice was to fold. So why didn't he? When at some point he realized that everybody was waiting for the guy in first position to act, how could he not realize that meant that his action (a call) had been registered? In short, his still having cards--which he presumably considered to be a live hand--is fundamentally inconsistent with his claim that he wasn't calling.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Grump. One thing I wish to point out, and I hope this doesn't affect your entire analysis, is a misunderstanding you have. Perhaps it was my fault for not being clearer in my post or in my comment to Apollo, but the player himself never said his comment was intended to affect my action. I got that "observation" from the dealer of the hand, later after it was all resolved. Also, the other dealer I discussed it with said the same thing. But the player never admitted that. Sorry if I wasn't clear.

      That said, he still had all kinds of time to correct things if he really hadn't realized he had called me and all kinds of indicators that things were not as he was seeing it.

      I agree that the guy wasn't familiar with casino rules. He did say this was his first time in Vegas, perhaps he's never played in an actual poker room or they do it very differently where he's from. But he had plenty of time to speak up and sat there silently as everything else went down.

      My action based on his comment was probably too hasty. If I had thought about it I would have put a bet out that would have been conceivably reasonably for the 3rd person to have called me. Based on the size of the pot, that would have been more than Seat 5 had left anyway, and possibly would have gotten me more chips.

      Also thanks for the link on your blog.

    2. Just read TDA #46 and unfortunately, it is rather vague. I mean it says conditional statements are non-standard and strongly discouraged. Great. But it says they "may" be binding or may incur a penalty at the TD's discretion. So it is still up to someone's discretion. Since this was a cash game, that rule doesn't apply per se, but of course it was up to someone's discretion anyway, in this case, the Shift Supervisor. And he ruled in my favor and I have to hope that they weren't influenced by me being a regular in the room and his not knowing the other guy from Adam.

      I realize you can't spell every possible situation out in the rules, but I wonder if the TDA rules at least could be a little more specific?

    3. Rob - Rule 46 is a fairly recent addition to the TDA rules (may even have come in the last time they revised the rules). My understanding from reading comments from Matt Savage at the time the new rule was published was that they specifically wanted a lot of discretion built into this rule.

      I think your case shows the reason why discretion can be a good thing in this area, things can change and vary greatly based on all the details and in this case that difference can be one between someone really trying to shoot an angle and someone just making an innocent joke.

      I do think (and recall Matt Savage making similar comments previously) that this rule does make quite clear that these cute little statements are made at the speaker's risk. Get cute if you want, but realize that it may mean the floor coming by and saying you have to put chips in the pot.

    4. Thanks, Glenn, great to hear from you again. I was beginning to think you'd dropped off the face of the earth.

      I see the pros and cons of discretion. You don't want to unfairly someone who was totally innocent, but can you ever be sure they were all that innocent?

      The trouble with discretion is that this exact same scenario could have happened in another room--or perhaps even in the same room, with a different crew--and had a totally different result.

      The other guy here isn't the only one who learned a lesson, btw. I learned one too. If that happens again, I will be much more thoughtful about my next move, my next comment, etc. You could argue that I misplayed the situation by going all-in there....even if I was 100% sure they guy had "pre-called" me.

  6. I had a similar incident while playing in one of the popular nightly Sahara donkaments a few years ago. I wasn't involved in the hand, but was as annoyed by the obvious angle shooting as the rest of the table. Player 1 bet. Player 2 was considering their action when player 3 says, "When it's my turn I'm gonna go all in." Player 2 folded and player 3 just called the bet of player 1. Player 2 rightly complained that he only folded because player 3 said he was going to go all in.

    The floor was called and didn't force him to go all in this time, but warned him that any future statements of that sort WOULD be binding. Player 3 argued that he could say anything he wanted if the action wasn't on him. His lynchpin argument was, "I can say I'm the god damn queen of England if I want." Oh yeah...that cleared it up and made us understand your point of view perfectly. The floor even brought over the then current TDA rules and showed him where it stated that action out of turn may be binding. When the guy continued arguing even after the hand the dealer said, "Dude, look, the floor ruled. It isn't going to change and you're only going to hurt your chances of getting a fair ruling if you need one later, so you should probably just let it go."

    1. And it was a direct result of this dispute that the Sahara closed down completely soon thereafter. :)

      Interesting that it was Player 3 that continued to gripe, considering they ruled in his favor. I am curious to know who won the pot. Because if it was Player 1, he would have every right to protest since he not only didn't get Player 3's chips, he was denied Player 2's chips (assuming he would have beaten Player 2 if he had stayed in). If Player 2 could have won if he just called, he had the bigger complaint.

      All in all, Player 3 seemed to possibly hurt Player 1 and/or Player 2, and should have been penalized in some way, at least from your description.

      This is why at most tournaments they announce a list of rules to follow (which most people don't listen to).

  7. And two dealers confirmed that it was the house rule, that his comment made it binding. Obviously at other rooms it might have been different.

  8. IMO, this guy was totally angle shooting you...regardless if his demeanor was that of a newbie.

    Let's look at the evidence:
    1) If he was a newbie, he would have said something like, "it wasn't my turn when I said that" or "I never said 'call' when it was my turn". In other words it wouldn't have been intuitive for him to add "probably" to his statement....a newbie simply wouldn't think that quickly.
    2) This is re-inforced that he didn't say ANYTHING until he saw that he was beat. He clearlyknew he called when the dealer threw the "CALL" button in front of him.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Wynngolfhatguy!

      Will never know for sure if he was angleshooting or just inexperienced. The Shift Supervisor, who had a long chat with him afterwards, and who has been in poker for a long time, thought he was just too inexperienced and unsophisticated to know what really happened.

      But the bottom line is, he had plenty of time to question things and never did.

  9. What a story! Maybe that guy was really just trying to pull a fast one. Whatever it was, you deserved that pot and Brent deserved that tip.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, Brent definitely deserved it.