For those of you who might have been away from an Internet connection over the past week, World Series of Poker officials may have given a little insight as to how far they are now willing to go to rein in contentious behavior.
At the first event of the current WSOP Circuit stop in Atlantic City, a player who held the chip lead at the final table was disqualified when, despite repeated warnings during the first day of the event, he continued his antics (improper stacking of chips, string betting and other cantankerous actions) at the final table.
If you think officials overstepped their bounds, the WSOP has been very straightforward on what it considers appropriate conduct. At the WSOP Web site, there is a 15-page PDF document that details all aspects of how etiquette breaches at the World Series (as well as other events like the Circuit tour) will be handled this year.
The area of the document to look at is Section IV, entitled "Player Conduct and Tournament Integrity." While the section has the usual guidelines in it (use of abusive language toward other players or tournament staff in particular), it is Rule 36 players should pay the most attention to.
The rule: "Excessive celebration through extended theatrics, inappropriate behavior, or physical actions, gestures, or conduct may be subject to penalty. Any player that engages a member of the tournament staff during the celebration or utilizes any property of Harrah's will be penalized in accordance with Rules No. 31 and/or 51. Harrah's property includes but is not limited to chairs, tournament tables, and stanchions."
Rule 38 also talks about some of the finer points of poker etiquette and outlines penalties for those who want to abuse them. It is also this section of the rule book that seemingly applies to the situation in Atlantic City last week.
Rule 38 reads, in part, "repeated etiquette violations such as touching another player's cards or chips, delay of game and excessive chatter will result in penalties." The penalties talked about here, as well as in Rule 36, start with sitting out a rotation of hands at the table and go all the way up to disqualification from the tournament - even being banned from future tournaments at Harrah's.
Now that WSOPC officials have opened up the Pandora's box of tournament disqualification for repeated violations of etiquette and public displays of jubilation, you have to wonder if the same rules will be applied by tournament directors and floor managers at this summer's World Series.
Let's be honest. The tournament where the expulsion took place was a $300 preliminary buy-in event on the Circuit schedule. Imagine the uproar if a notable professional poker player (and there are many out there to whom these rules might apply) is disqualified for violating the "rules" in a preliminary event in the most watched tournament series of the year.
While I'm not against spontaneous, excited celebration (a Tiger Woods-esque fist pump, a powerful "YES!" or even a high five with a buddy on the rail), some of the displays in tournament poker recently have been over the top. Part of the reason is the television cameras of ESPN, which seem to have turned poker into a schlocky amateur hour in some cases.
I'm also not against talking at the tables; psychology is as much a part of poker as the cards. But when a player badgers another player in a hand or takes an inordinate amount of time to make a decision (more than three minutes according to the WSOP Rule Book), then action has to be taken and penalties enforced.
Players have to realize that poker, even when played for stratospheric amounts of money, is still a place of decorum. There are rules of etiquette, social interaction, proper conduct and simple human decency to uphold while you're at the table.
While the disqualification at the WSOPC in Atlantic City is a good first step, we still need to keep up the pressure in all poker tournaments to return the game to the more gentlemanly (or ladylike) pursuit it once was.
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