Friday, January 26, 2018

Yes, It Is English Only At The Poker Table

Over a year ago, I got upset when a dealer wouldn’t warn a player about speaking a foreign language during the poker game.  You can find that post here.  Well on the night I'm about to tell you about, I found out that there are still some poker rooms, some dealers, and some floor people who definitely believe in enforcing the "English Only" rule.  Ironically, this new story took place almost exactly a year after the earlier one. 

This time the venue was MGM and I had been waiting a bit.  Finally they decided to start a new game and I got my preferred seat (it was a night the club was open so you can figure it out).  There were actually four foreign speaking people at the table, all of whom seemed to know each other, one woman and three men. I'm guessing they were speaking Spanish although I wasn't sure and since I live in Los Angeles, it should be pretty easy for me to recognize Spanish even though I can't speak it.  But honestly, they didn't look Mexican or South American to me.  While the dealer was selling everyone chips and swiping everyone into Bravo, these Spanish-speaking  folk were talking to each other in (presumably) their native tongue.  The dealer diligently told them that once the game started, it would be English-only.  The guy who spoke the best English said, "Right, whenever we have cards, we'll only speak English."

The dealer corrected him.  "No, it's not just when you have cards.  Any time you're at the table it's English only."  Hmm….not sure I heard that strict interpretation before but ok.

Anyway, the very first hand of this new table, the woman flopped a straight flush.  Yeah, she had Ace-3 of clubs and the flop came 5-4-2 all clubs.  Better for her, two of her buddies each flopped flushes.  I think she felted at least one of them.

Now, even though I wasn't in the hand, this turned out to have affected me.  The room has a high hand promotion. The four highest hands between 4PM and 10PM win money--$300 for first, $200 each for second and third and $100 for fourth highest.  I had already noted that the four hands on the board by the time we started (at around 8:30) were two different people with quad 9's, quad 7's and quad 3's.  So this put her in first place and knocked quad 3's off the board.  In order to be eligible for a high hand payout, you would need to beat quad 7's (or get quad 7's with a better kicker than the hand already made had).

So a short time later I had 4-3 of diamonds in the small blind.  There were a bunch of limpers so I threw in a buck to complete.  The flop came Queen-4-4.  I checked/called $5.  It was down to four-ways.  I was planning to bet the turn, but then I saw that it was another 4, giving me quads.  So I checked.  I called $20 and it was three-ways.  The Jack of spades put a third spade out there on the river.  This time I led out for $30.  I got one call but he mucked when I showed my 4.

It had been quite a while since I've gotten quads, so that was nice.  Now, I wasn't sure what the rules were for the high hand promo—did I need a pocket pair for my quads to count?  But then I double checked the board and it didn't matter.  The fourth best high hand was quad 7's so I was out of luck anyway.  But I figured I would check to see if it would have counted.  I asked the dealer who, disappointingly, had no clue.  "Ask my boss."

So when the boss came around for the rack count, I asked him.  Yes, it would have counted.  But my hand would have been quad 4's and a 3, not quad 4's and the highest card on the board.  Both my cards had to play, in other words.  If I had made quads with a pocket pair, then my kicker would have been the highest card on the board, but if you only make quads with one card in your hand, you have to use your other card to complete the hand.

So let's review.  After a long drought, I finally got quads.  I even got quads in a room where there's a high hand promotion going on.  I even qualified for that promotion despite using only one card from my hand to actually make the quads.  And yet, I still managed to miss getting paid any bonus money for my quads.  Just bad luck….bad timing, really.  You have to get your quads at the right time. 

The only other memorable hand from this night, for me, was flopping a set of 8's in a limped pot.  I got my $6 flop bet called by everyone (three players) and my $20 turn bet called by one.  But he folded to my $35 river bet.  By the time I left the game, I was able to book a solid $10 win.

But let's go back the woman who flopped the steel wheel.  By now two of her three friends had left the game but the other guy was still there, the guy who was most fluent in English.  He was also the most aggressive player at the table.  He loved to open pots for $20.  Anyway, apparently these two had been spoken to at least one other time about using "English Only" at the table.

So on this hand, I believe it was on the flop, she led out with a bet.  And this older guy shoved.  It was a sizeable amount (maybe close to $200) but because she had won that big straight flush hand, she had him covered at least 2-to-1.  And here's where things got interesting.

She tanked for quite a bit.  I had gotten the impression that she wasn't a very experienced player.  Finally she said something softly—in Spanish.  Her buddy, who wasn’t in the hand, said something back to her in Spanish.  The dealer spoke up immediately, "No, no, English only."  The guy was about to explain what they were saying when the player who was all in pitched a fit. "One player to a hand….they were warned before, several times."  The other guy said, "We weren't talking about the hand."  The player in the hand said, "We don't know that!"

He was very upset and the dealer asked him if he wanted her to call the floor and he said yes.  So the floor came over and heard everyone out.  The lady's buddy said that she had asked how much more to call and all he did was tell her how much.  Nothing else. 

So the floor said that this hand would be completed—obviously there was nothing that could be done about the illicit conversation.  But that after the hand was completed, the two Spanish-speaking players would have to leave.  Not just the table, but the room.  The guy asked if they could just go to different tables.  No, the floor said.  They were welcome to come back tomorrow but they were through playing there that night.

I was surprised.  I didn't expect him to be that hard-assed.  Not that I am saying the punishment was too severe, just that I was surprised.  I don't think I'd ever seen a player kicked out of a room for violating that particular rule.  Have you?

Anyway, the lady eventually folded.  I'm sure the guy who took the pot thought that he was cheated out of some of her money.  Perhaps.  My own best guess is that the guy was telling the truth about what they said during the hand.  But who knows?

Do you think the punishment fit the crime?


  1. no. i think the punishment was too severe. i wonder if this was a repeat offense?

    1. I can't be 100% sure, but I really think this was their first time playing at MGM. In fact, I think for the woman it was her first time in a poker room. But I could be wrong.

  2. As much as this may sound wrong unfortunately this is the correct rule. In the USA English is the rule at every table, BJ , Poker, whatever. This is so the dealer can be sure nothing underhand has happened.
    Which is fine till you play craps with an English accent and your new Chinese dealer friend cannot tell the difference between a 5 and a 9 and flips when you suggest that you would like to move your chips.

    1. Great story Ben.

      I was really surprised as I'd never seen anyone kicked out for that, and this being very PC times, I was sure they'd let them off with a warning. My thought was that if they sent them both to different tables it would be ok. But I didn't lose any sleep over seeing them removed from the room.

  3. It's always been English only when a hand is in progress regardless of if you have cards or not. Nobody knows if others understand whatever language they are speaking. The guy's comment is perfect in "We don't know that" which is why anything other then English is not allowed when a hand is in play.

    The other comment "One player to a hand….they were warned before, several times." is probably why they were asked to leave. I've done it enough times myself when I was there. You can only warn them so many times before you have to do something or else warnings would be useless. I've seen the play dumb routine as well so you can't always assume they don't know better.


    1. Yeah I know the rule and support it. I was thinking between hands it would be ok to speak another language but not from what the first dealer said.

      I guess I was surprised to see the rule enforced so strictly....but I wasn't unhappy about it.

  4. I don't have a problem with the floor's decision. She could have asked that same question to the dealer in English and while I think nothing nefarious was happening, there's no way to tell for sure unless you understand what they're speaking. So they violated both the one player per hand rule and the English only rule.

    1. Thanks, Neo. Maybe they could have just been sent to two different tables?

      The action the poker room took is legitimate, but maybe there was another way?

  5. Let me put it this way : Say the player in the hand had cupped her hand around her mouth and whispered to the player next to her something inaudible. And then the player next to her had whispered back.

    And this is while she's considering a major call / fold decision.

    Would claiming 'I was just asking what it was to call' get them out of trouble? Of course not.

    I would have ordered her hand folded for clear collusion with another player. AND thrown them out.

    1. Thanks, Aussie, valid point.

      My take is a bit different having actually been there at the time, that's all.