The final table of the 2019 World Series of Poker Main Event made all the poker headlines this week, but the day that the final table was actually determined, a controversy threatened to put a damper on the celebration. Much has been made of it in the days since, so let’s take a look at what happened, as it can be a good lesson for poker players.
There were only eleven players remaining in the tournament, play at Dario Sammartino’s table was six-handed, and tensions were high as the bracelet was in sight and pay jumps were severe. With blinds at 400,000/800,000 and an 800,000 chip big blind ante, Sammartino raised pre-flop to 1.7 million with pocket Tens.
Former chip leader Nick Marchington moved all-in for 22.2 million and Sammartino considered his decision. He asked the dealer for a chip count, but she miscounted and said Marchington had shoved for 17 million. Sammartino called, but shortly after officially committing his chips, the error was noticed and the floor was called.
The ruling was that the “accepted action” rule applies and that Sammartino must call the 22.2 million. Here is the rule from the 2019 WSOP rulebook:
Accepted Action: Poker is a game of alert, continuous observation. It is the caller’s responsibility to determine the correct amount of an opponent’s bet before calling, regardless of what is stated by the dealer or Participants. If a caller requests a count but receives incorrect information from the dealer or Participants, then places that amount in the pot, the caller is assumed to accept the full correct action & is subject to the correct wager or all-in amount.
The rule is pretty straightforward and clearly the correct judgment from tournament officials, but that didn’t mean that Sammartino wasn’t upset. He was up against Marchington’s Queens and after the flop was dealt, he asked to go higher up the ladder for further clarification.
WSOP Vice President Jack Effel came out and agreed with the ruling, but Sammartino continued to protest, saying that the chip difference may have changed his decision to call.
From there, the problem became what Effel said to end the discussion. As Sammartino continued to argue, Effel tried to halt the conversation and get the hand going, especially because the tournament clock was rolling and the final table was near. But as a final word, Effel said to Sammartino, “If you’re calling 17, you’re calling 22.”
Sammartino and the others at the table were taken aback by that, as they thought he was taking a jab at Sammartino for complaining, for possibly regretting his decision to make the call. They expressed their displeasure with Effel’s comment, agreeing with their opponent that those few million chips may have made the difference.
Eventually, emotions cooled and Sammartino went on to finish second to Hossein Ensan in the Main Event. Later, third place finisher Alex Livingston posted that Effel apologized to Sammartino and there seem to be no hard feelings.