Stack Controversy On Poker Night In America

1 year ago
Stack Controversy On Poker Night In America
24 May


Poker on a good day is a straightforward game. You gets your cards, you makes your bets and in the end either the last person standing or else the best five-card hand takes the pot. You can jot the basic rules down the back of an envelope, with room for the hand rankings on the flap.

But the rules aren’t the only rule there’s the great grey areas of sportsmanship and etiquette –  For a game about deception there are a hell of a lot of lies you can’t tell. And one of the most nebulous and difficult to enforce unwritten rules is that your biggest chips should be at the front of your stack where they can be seen and counted by the other players.

Since in no-limit games the effective stack is a major variable in every decision you make, keeping your big chips where they can be seen is the polite thing to do. How big a difference this makes in practice was demonstrated beautifully on Poker Night in America recently when a pair of $5,000 chips in Alec Torelli’s stack were tucked away out of sight and caught Daniel Wolf out for an extra 100 big blinds.

Disagreements over these sorts of rules are a great source of villains and martyrs in poker; Tony G has risen to fame for his dodgy angling, William Kassouf got into trouble for his relentless and repetitive taunting, and and recent discussion over when the clock can be called has resulted in the institution of shot-clocks in places as surprising as the Monte Carlo high-roller events.

The biggest chips out front is not a rule per se, but it is established etiquette and whether or not you want to boo or hiss Alec Torelli for the chip placement depends on if you feel he was hiding those chips on purpose or if Wolf was just having him on about not seeing the size of the stack.

In all fairness, Torelli seemed pretty genuine in not trying to hide the chips – they were just tucked a little out of sight and clearly visible to Torelli’s end of the table – and Wolf looked pretty horrified when he saw how much more he was in for than expected.

Wolf’s face in that moment is the exact reason why the rule about where you put your big chips exists. Look at how it changed the effect of the play, changing this marginal but not insane over-shove of a little over twice the pot with Ace-Ten off-suit into a shove of closer to five times the pot. 

What makes the hand even stranger is how clearly Wolf signals the mistake. Unless Torelli thinks he is being played, it means he is being offered one set of odds by the pot by an opponent who was trying to create a completely different set of odds.

So what should Torelli do? Probably exactly what he did. Get a ruling from the card room manager. Apologize. Then call.

But accidents do happen. and you’ve got to take that into account too. It’s why things like this have to live in the grey area. A hard and fast rule can be too inflexible, so house rules are always gonna rule.

And you want to check those rules when you grab your seat. You don’t want to find out too late that angle shooters are dealt with in the parking lot or back room.

What do you think about the controversy? And what would you have done in Alec Torelli’s spot? Let us know in the comments section.

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Jon is a freelance writer and novelist who learned to play poker after watching Rounders in year 9. He has been giving away his beer money at cards ever since. Currently he is based in Bristol where he makes sporadic donations to the occasional live tournament or drunken late night Zoom session. He ...Read more


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