'First Card Off Deck' dominates 2015 Poker TDA Summit discussions

July 08, 2015, Scott Long  

A controversial rule adopted two years ago killing a hand of a player who is not in his seat when the dealer deals the first card instead of the last card dominated this year’s two-day Poker TDA Summit, and in the end, the TDA retreated from the rule.

A number of tournament directors, board members and professional poker players in attendance took turns addressing the group in a discussion over the “first card off” rule that easily lasted more than four hours over two days. In the end, board members Matt Savage of the World Poker Tour and Johnny Grooms of Beau Rivage Resort and Casino persuaded the group that it would be in the best interest of the TDA politically to go back to “last card off,” at least as the “preferred” method, since the change set off a firestorm of criticism from professional players who have been vocal about their disappointment over the past two years.

Pro players, led by Daniel Negreanu, who addressed the Summit on the first day, have argued that poker is a social game and being able to get up to check on and chat with friends at other tables is an important part of that social aspect. Tournament directors in favor of “first card off,” led by board member Neil Johnson, head of live poker operations of PokerStars Europe, argued that “first card” has many procedural advantages that result in more hands per hour being dealt and better safety and integrity for players.

It became clear early in the discussion that a number of poker rooms and series, most notably the World Series of Poker, never adopted the “first card off” after it was approved at the 2013 Summit, or quickly switched back to “last card off,” thereby meaning that many players never got to experience the difference. A number of straw polls were taken during this year’s discussion, showing shifting opinions, and leaving the board in the waning hours at a stalemate over three options:

  • Keep “first card off” and encourage more rooms and series to adopt it
  • Go back to “last card off” as the TDA's "preferred" standard
  • Remove “first card off” and let each room and series decide on its own which procedure to use.

When consensus on any of the three seemed bleak, board member Linda Johnson reminded attendees that the TDA doesn’t dictate rules, and that if a large majority doesn’t agree on a rule, the TDA doesn’t take a stance. Most tournament directors indicated that in that scenario, they’d likely go to “last card off,” and Savage, backed by Grooms, made one last plea for consistency, and polled the group on how many “could live with” going back to “last card off” and most said they could. Consistency, though, is far from certain. Final language is expected to state that “last card off” is the TDA’s “preferred” standard, allowing rooms and series some leeway, and Johnson pledged to go back to his PokerStars tournament directors to see whether they’d agree to change their policy, but he said that would be doubtful since all of his TDs were united behind the benefits of “first card off.”

The Poker Tournament Directors Association is a voluntary organization of tournament directors from around the world that maintains a standardized set of rules governing poker tournaments. Every two years, members meet in Las Vegas to discuss and approve additions, deletions and changes. This year’s Summit not only included the attendance of some professional players, but also the results of a survey the TDA took of players on a number of issues, which helped guide the discussion.

One other big change, heralded by the group after board member Jack Effel, tournament director for the World Series of Poker agreed to adopt it, was made to Rule 16, stating that if all other players muck their hands face down, the last player with cards will be awarded the pot and does not have to show his hand.

No consensus was reached on whether to be consistent in how to handle silent overchip bets. Attendees appeared in agreement that a player in the blind who manipulates his chips before introducing a silent overchip is intending to raise, but were split on whether to treat it as a call to be consistent with other silent overchip bets. The “bettor beware” language of former Rule 44 (now Rule 47) that recommends that players verbalize their bet amounts will remain the guiding rule.

Left unresolved were how to handle inadvertent exposure of a hand to just one player, and what amount a player who calls an undefined raise will be obligated to bet. Discussion on those issues will continue on the Poker TDA’s forums.

TDA Rules Changes

Here is a summary of most of the preliminary additions, deletions and changes to TDA rules approved by members this June. Final language is expected to be approved and posted at pokertda.com before September:

  • Rule 2: “Calling for a clock when warranted” added to player responsibilities.
  • Rule 4: Players should make music and ring and alert tones on electronic devices inaudible to other players.
  • Rule 7: Late-entry players will be randomly seated and can get a hand except when in between the small blind and button.
  • Rule 9: Players from broken tables will be assigned new seats by a double-random process.
  • Rule 12: “Pot being awarded incorrectly” added to mistakes that players should speak up about.
  • Rule 13: Proper tabling defined as turning both cards face up and waiting for the hand to be read, and players must protect their hands at showdown.
  • Rule 15: All players in main and side pots must table their hands in an all-in showdown.
  • Rule 16: If all players muck their hands face down, the last player with cards will be awarded the pot and is not required to show his cards.
  • Rule 17: Callers of the last aggressor when betting takes place on the final street have a right to see the aggressor’s hand upon request, if the requesting player still holds or had tabled his cards. Other requests to see cards are at a tournament director’s discretion.
  • Rule 21: If a hand ends during a break, the right to dispute the hand ends one minute after the finish of the hand.
  • Rule 22: A new hand begins with the first riffle of the cards, the push of automatic shuffler button or at a dealer push.
  • Rule 27: Any player in a tournament may call the clock on another player, and tournament directors have more power to reduce delays.
  • Rule 29: The TDA recognizes that “last card off the deck” as the preferred method for determining when the hand of a player not at the table is dead.
  • Rule 36: Floor must be called when four cards are flopped before a dealer takes any action, and guidelines added for dealing with premature cards.
  • Rule 37: Split into three separate rules, 37-39: methods of betting, acting in turn and binding declarations.
  • Rule 43 (former Rule 41): Putting out chips or declaring an amount of less than 50 percent of a raise, without first declaring raise, is a call; declaring a bet amount is the same as pushing out that amount; saying, for example, “raise, 9,000” means a total bet of 9,000.
  • Rule 47 (former Rule 44): Pulling back chips already committed to the pot binds a player to call or raise.
  • Rule 50 (former Rule 47): A preflop short all-in blind doesn’t change the calculation of the maximum pre-flop pot-limit bet.
  • Rule 52 (former Rule 49): Tournament directors can use factors such as pattern of recent betting increments or size of the pot in determining actual bet from a player who makes an unclear bet of, for example, “5,” when that can mean 500 or 5,000.
  • Rule 55 (former Rule 52): Action must be on a player before he can ask for a count of an all-in player’s chips.
  • Rule 60 (former Rule 56): If a player’s hand is accidentally mucked and can not be identified 100 percent, then the hand is dead and the player has no redress. Players should protect their hands even at showdown.
  • Rule 62-A (former Rule 58): A player can be blinded or anted out of a tournament while on a penalty.