After high-profile incidents in 2008 involving Scotty Nguyen and Phil Hellmuth, Harrah’s officials are determined to curb player infractions in 2009 at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). This week, tournament officials introduced player conduct guidelines for the 2009 WSOP, which kicks off in two months from the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
The 2009 WSOP rules, as you would expect, specifically outlaw any form of cheating at the poker tables. These include, but are not limited to, collusion, stealing chips, taking chips from one WSOP tournament and then using them in another, marking cards, switching out cards, “or the use of any kind of cheating device.” Examples of collusion include chip dumping, soft play, players overtly or covertly telling each other what cards they have, and “sending or receiving signals from or to another player.”
Breaking these and other rules can result in the loss of chips, forfeiture of prize money, or disqualification from the tournament. Infractions that could result in these penalties also include “any statement or action having… an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interest of the tournament as determined by Harrah’s.” Any players acting in “a disruptive or inappropriate manner” could also be subject to ejection from the tournament.
Last year during the $50,000 buy-in HORSE Championship, poker pro Scotty Nguyen acted abusively towards tournament staff. He made comments such as “The only thing I know how to say is nut nut” and harassed cocktail servers constantly. At one point, Nguyen told tablemate Erick Lindgren, a Full Tilt Poker pro, “I tried to protect your hand,” which raised issues of possible collusion. Nguyen later apologized, although the spectacle played out on ESPN. Phil Hellmuth, a front man for online poker room Ultimate Bet, talked down to his opponents fairly openly during the Main Event.
With regards to the use of inappropriate language, the 2009 rules state, “Harrah’s prohibits the use of obscene or foul language in any public area of the casino at any time. Any player who uses such language or makes a foul, profane, obscene, or vulgar statement, or speaks abusively or in an intimidating manner to another player, a dealer, or tournament staff member will be penalized.”
The excessive celebration rule, which was put in place after Hevad Khan’s boisterous run through the 2007 WSOP Main Event, will also return. It states, “Excessive celebration through extended theatrics, inappropriate behavior, or physical actions, gestures, or conduct will be subject to penalty.” Khan took sixth in the Main Event two years ago, banking nearly $1 million. He is now a member of Team PokerStars Pro. Another rule on the books includes “repeated etiquette violations.” These include touching another player’s chip stack or hole cards while in a hand, purposely stalling, or “excessive chatter.”
Penalties will range from a verbal warning to ousting from the tournament. Players can also be sidelined for one hand, one orbit, two orbits, three orbits, or four orbits. Poker News Daily columnist Linda Johnson, co-founder of the Tournament Directors Association, stated in a previous interview that many events have gone to penalties that force players to miss hands or rounds. Previously, tournaments had sidelined players for a predetermined amount of time. However, remaining players at the table would speed up or slow down their actions accordingly.
New for 2009 is a database that will keep track of player infractions. In its rules, Harrah’s states, “Harrah’s will maintain a written log of all penalties issued throughout the duration of the WSOP.” The database will allow tournament staff to identify habitual rule violators. In addition, floor personnel will receive extra training in 2009.
Other tournament guidelines include continued enforcement of the “English only” rule, which states that only the English language is acceptable at the table. In addition, rabbit hunting is strictly forbidden. Players must keep their highest valued chips visible at all times and only music-playing devices that are unable to connect to the internet can be used. WSOP officials note that iPhones, iTouch, Treos, and Blackberrys are not allowed at the table.
Finally, those who violate Harrah’s code of conduct may see their actions revealed to the general public. The guidelines state, “Any and all violations of this Code of Player Conduct may be publicly disclosed in an effort to deter future violations and to assist other poker tournaments in identifying players who engage in play or any action that is illegal, unethical, or constitutes cheating or collusion in any form.”