In the 21st century, our digital lives have become almost as important as our physical ones. We’ve begun to lean on many applications – or “apps” – that borderline a dependency (when is the last time that someone just DROVE somewhere without asking for directions?). It is the wave of the future, but there are some areas where it can become problematic.

Such a situation arose earlier this week in a poker tournament and a significant one too. It was the World Poker Tour stop at the Gardens Casino in Bell Gardens, CA, and late in the event a situation occurred that has riled the entirety of the tournament poker world. It may be too late to put the digital genie back in the bottle, but there are signs that more needs to be done.

Did He, or Didn’t He?

On Day Two of the WPT Gardens event, a commotion arose after it became apparent that a player had a poker “solver,” a program that presents the best optimal play for a situation, opened at the table. That player was Andrew Esposito and the app he was using is a highly popular one with all poker players, GTO Wizard. The problem was that Esposito was allegedly sitting at the tables and using the program while he was playing in the $5000 buy-in tournament.

There is video around of the confrontation that occurred at the tables. Peter Cross, who was sitting next to Esposito at the table, was the one who called him out and brought it to the attention of the floor. Esposito, for his part, said that he did have the app open and was looking at it while he was not involved in hands. The floor staff at the Gardens decided to give Esposito the benefit of the doubt and declared that he did not break the rules because he wasn’t using his device during the play of a hand.

It isn’t like Esposito is some hack, either. He has nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in earnings, albeit a sizeable chunk of that history comes from a runner-up finish in the Wynn Millions Main Event last year. But the resulting discussion around the poker world indicates that there is much more to this story than meets the eye.

Devices at the Tables Expanded Over the Years

The usage of electronic devices at the tables has expanded over the years. Arguably before the Aughts, there were no “electronic devices” at the tables because they weren’t small enough to bring to the table with you. As cellphone technology and its usage as more than just a way to make phone calls expanded, however, tournament directors have been chasing the dragon between allowing the players to have their devices and keeping the integrity of the poker tournament in place.

Originally, it was allowed for players to wear headphones at the tables for players to have entertainment for themselves. When cell phones morphed into audio devices capable of playing music, then it was further expanded to include the cellphone. Today, players can bring iPads, and other notebook-sized devices, and use them – with a caveat; the tournament directors and casinos can set rules regarding WHEN they can be used and, usually after the money bubble is popped, there is no electronic usage at all.  

Tournament Director Association founder and World Poker Tour Executive Tournament Director Matt Savage pointed out, in several posts on the subject, that there is already a TDA rule about devices on the felt. But is it time that there was more done regarding the electronic issue?

Electronics Aren’t Going Anywhere

There is no way that the days when electronics at the table were banned will return. People are far too dependent on these electronic devices for contact through social media, chats with family, and even their music choices – it isn’t going to happen. What can be done, however, is that these devices should be left on the tables for all to see. When someone picks it up, it should be kept in full view of the table, its participants, and, in particular, the dealer and floor staff.

There’s another area that might be given a bit more power…the dealers. As the situation is now, the dealers must defer to the floor staff in calls at the table – the dealer, who is supposed to be observing all the action on the felt, cannot make any decisions regarding the rules or the conduct of the table. Yes, one dealer may be strict and another one may be more allowing, but that is somewhat along the lines of other sports – the players must learn what officials push and what they’ll let go.

Giving the dealers more power to make these calls at the table will eliminate having to have floor staff scurry over to every little conflict that arises in a poker tournament. When it comes to electronics, the dealer sees who is doing what and can either take a moment to speak to the player or, if they don’t feel comfortable with that, then they can call the floor to come over. It will take more work to train the dealers, but it might make the game even better.

The bottom line is that, if the electronic devices rules are being enforced and players aren’t on their devices in the play of the hand, then there isn’t a violation of the rules. It is a little suspicious to see someone with such an app on their phone (you wonder if they ARE using it to make their decisions easier), but without catching them in the act directly it is going to be difficult to prove. It is just another part of the 21st-century tournament poker world that players have to deal with – but it is also something that players could make easier by not having said apps downloaded on their phones!

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