I have never been a poker tournament director, but I would imagine one of the most difficult aspects of the job is making rulings on hands in which there are both confusion and disagreement at the table. Especially in a situation where there are potentially millions of dollars at stake. Such was the case this weekend with a controversial hand deep into the 2012 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, a hand that may have shaped the rest of the tournament.
It was very late on Day 5, close to 1:00 in the morning, and there were about 100 players remaining of the original 6,598. The action at one of the tables folded all the way around to France’s Gaelle Baumann under the gun, who opened the pre-flop betting with a min-raise to 60,000. The button folded and then Andras Koroknai of Hungary moved all-in for somewhere around 2 million chips from the small blind. Gavin Smith then folded from the big blind and the action was back to Baumann, one of the tournament’s chip leaders.
But it wasn’t. As soon as Smith folded, Koroknai mucked his cards, thinking that the hand was over and that he had won. For whatever reason, he didn’t realize Baumann had raised or even bet anything at all. He thought he had been the first to act, so when Smith folded, the hand was finished. When he realized what he had done, he tried to retrieve his cards from the muck, but was only able to positively locate one of them.
Tournament Director Dennis Jones was called over and after some thought, he decided that Koroknai would lose the 60,000 chips that would have amounted to a call, but he would get to keep the rest of his stack. The players, particularly Baumann and Smith, were confused by the ruling, so Jones called WSOP VP Jack Effel, who confirmed the decision. Jones cited the “integrity of the tournament” as the reason for not requiring Koroknai to lose all of his chips.
As it turned out, Koroknai would go on to eliminate Baumann in 10th place a couple days later, dashing the hopes the poker community had of seeing the first woman at the Main Event final table since 1995, when Barbara Enright placed 5th (he also eliminated Elisabeth Hille in 11th place). Koroknai goes into the final table 2nd in chips.
When this hand was originally reported, much of the poker community was up in arms. It was an angleshoot! He mucked, he’s done! Too bad, don’t be so stupid next time! The outrage was deafening.
But here’s the thing, it was the correct ruling. Official WSOP rule 89 states:
All chips put into the pot in turn stay in the pot. If a Participant has raised and his or her hand is killed before the raise is called, the Participant may be entitled to the raise back, but will forfeit the amount of the call. Any chips put into the pot out of turn fall under the action “may or may not be binding” Rule No. 88.
Koroknai raised all-in. His hand was killed before the raise was called, albeit by Koroknai himself, but it was still killed. According to the rule, he gets his raise back, but loses the amount of the call which was 60,000 chips.
So really, case closed.
But even if that rule did not exist, if the Tournament Director had to just come up with a decision out of thin air, I still don’t have a problem with the ruling. I agree with the “integrity of the tournament” opinion (which also makes it seem like the Tournament Director did not remember the rule quoted above and was, in fact, just making a judgment call). From everything I have read, it does not appear that Koroknai was trying to be devious, he wasn’t angleshooting. He didn’t know what Baumann had. It may have been the result of fatigue or the language barrier or any number of things, but it looked like he honestly did not realize Baumann had raised and he mucked as soon as Smith folded. He didn’t wait to see if Baumann might call and then mucked his hand. He thought the hand was over.
Sure, he should have known to protect his cards until the dealer shipped him the pot, but everyone makes mistakes.
In a case like this, when there was obviously no intent to cheat or angleshoot, it wouldn’t make sense to just say, “Sorry, even though we know nobody in their right mind would forfeit all their chips while all-in, we’re going to take them because, mistake or not, you mucked.” That wouldn’t be in the spirit of the game.
Things are more complicated because one card was irretrievable, but that doesn’t negate my point that the logical and reasonable thing to do would be to allow Koroknai to stay in the tournament. Maybe penalizing him an orbit or making him forfeit some additional chips (say, in the amount of a min-raise or something) would be appropriate, but to send him home for doing something that he obviously didn’t intend to do would be ludicrous.
Word is that Baumann eventually showed pocket Kings, so unless Koroknai had Aces, she likely would have won the hand, but that’s beside the point. Plus, who knows, it may have been a lucky break for her, as she might’ve avoided a suckout. But none of that really matters. The floor made the correct decision, even if it wasn’t laid out in black and white in the rulebook.