Top 5 Terrible Poker Rulings

2 years ago
The 5 Worst Rulings Ever
28 May

Refereeing any kind of contest has always seemed to me to be the worst job in the world! Get decision right and who cares? Get it wrong and you can find yourself on the wrong end of all sorts of abuse! However, when you get it so badly wrong that everyone involved is staring at you thinking “wtf?” then perhaps it’s time to look for a new job!

Of course, in poker there will always be tough calls and decisions to be made by the dealers, casino floor managers, and tournament directors – so here’s a selection of the best – or rather worst – of them. Enjoy, but watch your blood pressure!

Angleshooting? Of course not – it’s all perfectly legal!

Losev v Cantu

There is a pretty clear set of rules in poker for pushing your chips into the middle, and everyone knows that if you then pull them back, you’re pretty much assured to be accused of angle-shooting: "trying to elicit a reaction from your opponent."

Not so according to the Main Event referees back in 2008. Watch the first 30 seconds of this short clip and see what you think about Losev’s actions on the river?

Forward motion? Well what else could it be? Losev pushes out a whole stack of chips, then retreats them and cuts of half before making his bet.

His opponent Cantu, of course, is having none of it and calls the floor, who, as the commentators describe, declares “it’s not a bet until the chips have been released”.

What the actual f*%? I mean, excuse my bad language, but as every poker player knows that is a crock of shit!

As Cantu and others at the table point out, the rule is not about releasing your hands on the chips at all it’s about forward motion, pushing out chips to get a reaction – to gain an edge or idea of how your opponent feels about your bet.

Unhappy with the first officials ruling, the players call for tournament director Jack Effel, and all the while Losev – whether he had been angle-shooting or not – sat there unable to speak hardly able to speak English, and awkward situation.

However, to the shock and surprise of the players, Effel sided with his floor and Losev – not letting go of the chips somehow makes it not forward motion! Watch it again and tell me that’s not a horrible ruling!!!

Here’s how it should have been ruled, a similar incident also at the WSOP – so it shows they have learned something from their mistakes!

All-in, opponent mucks and…wtf?

Baumann vs Koroknai

Naturally there are weird and less-than-wonderful rulings made in every casino and poker game, but with the WSOP being so high-profile and covered by TV, a fair share of the biggest controversies will come from their event.

Another eye-openingly horrible ruling came in the 2012 Main Event when Andre Koroknai raised all-in, and then mucked his hand thinking that everyone else had folded.

Unfortunately (for Gaelle Baumann as it transpired, holding KK pre-flop) she had actually called his all-in, so there was a serious problem! The more so because the dealer had failed to spot the mistake and the cards were now mixed in with the rest of the muck.

The general ruling is that you have to protect your hand at all times, and it’s up to a player to be aware of the action around them. Since Baumann had actually raised earlier in the round, quite how Koroknai failed to realise her hand was still ‘live’ is strange indeed.

As the officials descended to sort out the mess, the commentary team came out with the classic line:

I don’t know what the correct ruling is, but raising all-in and then mucking your hand can’t be a winning play in the long-run!”

Ok, let’s stop for a second and ask, is there any angle-shot which could be played here? After all, most of the rules in poker are to keep the game on the straight and narrow - clean and free of cheating and/or controversy.

Let’s say someone bets and you bluff raise all-in with the hope that everyone folds, but if they don’t, you have the back-up plan of mucking really quickly and pretending you thought they had?!

Would it work? It could, conceivably, and although Koroknai seemed completely genuine here, it still doesn’t make the ruling that came any better or correct.

Alright guys, here’s what we’re going to do. In the fairest interests of the tournament …you did release your hand…but in the fairest interests of the tournament we’re going to make you pay the 60,000 [Baumann’s original bet, and a mile away from Koroknai’s 1.3 million all-in!!]."

With the table joining in a chorus of ‘seriously? Wtf?’ - type mutterings, the TD continued:

I hate to eliminate him completely from the tournament.”

Well, a nice sentiment, but I wonder how he felt when later on Koroknai was the one who busted Baumann out of the Main Event! In 10th spot, one shy of the final table!!

Of course, any right-minded person would feel this can’t be the correct ruling. Whenever the person in an incident who has done nothing wrong loses out majorly, the rules need to be revised.

Timed out! Wait a minute...?

Bort vs Friedman

Again the WSOP, this time in 2010, and again a terrible decision - not helped by having two of the most annoying players in the history of poker involved.

Prahlad Friedman is notorious in WSOP history for coming very close to receiving a beating from Aussie pro Jeff Lisandro after basically calling him a cheat. Bort is simply one of those loud and obnoxious players who seems unable to control their bragging and general verbal diarrhea.

Anyway, this article is about dodgy decisions not poker’s biggest assholes (although it gives me an idea for my next assignment!) and the two men were on the river when Bort went all-in, a shove which would also put Friedman all-in should he call.

Eventually the clock had to be called on Friedman, and as the tournament director counted down the one minute and reached about one second, Friedman called. As he did so, Bort turned over his winning two pair – Friedman mucked his cards in defeat – and then the tournament director claimed he was timed out and the hand was folded rather than lost!

As you can imagine (well, you don’t have to – I’ve added video of the hand!) the rest of the table were in uproar as it was clear to all except the TD that Friedman had called the all-in before the countdown had ended.

Despite the protest,s Friedman’s hand was declared dead.

Apparently in later interviews:

Friedman had stated that the reason he called at 0 was because while he believed Bort had a strong hand, he did not know what Bort considered a strong hand to be and therefore was indecisive about his two pair. He also confirmed that if he had a winning hand he would have argued the point that he called at 0, but since the ruling stated it was dead at 1 he left it alone to keep himself in the tournament.”

As I said, a real douchebag of a player and a real stinker of a decision!

Are you stringing me along..?

Cates v Antonius

Of course, talking about douchebags and bad decisions can’t be done without mention of Daniel ‘Jungleman’ Cates.

Whatever the actual case may be, when he attempted an apparent string bet against Patrik Antonius in the Party Poker Premier League, things got very messy indeed.

Antonius, sitting with AK, opened for 40K with the blinds at 10K/20K. When it reached Cates in the BB he shoved forward two stacks of chips, knocked over some more and elicited a “string-bet” joke from Vanessa Selbst (out of the hand in the SB) and an instacall from Antonius.

The bet was declared ‘call’ by the dealer, and Antonius said, “I thought you were going all-in?” to which Cates mumbled something like “I was all-in”.

Antonius, smiling at the mix-up initially said, “OK, can we get a ruling on this?” while the commentators explained that what the players should simply do is agree to go all-in blind for the flop.

However, when the TD appeared, it became farcical as he decided that Cates’ all-in should only be a call. Antonius, very unhappy with this and trying to basically blame the dealer, had no choice but to continue the hand – and of course when an ace appeared on the flop, Cates’ pair of 9’s no longer seemed very appealing. He checked, Antonius pout him all-in and….Cates folded!

A terrible ruling when it was clear that Cates had intended a shove and terrible sportsmanship from ‘jungleman’ – not for the first or last time.

Pocket aces without protection? Crazy!

Denis v JC Tran

Sometimes a ruling will seem completely unfair but be perfectly within the letter of the law, and it usually ends in tears for one player at least. Just such a case occurred when the French pro Estelle Denis found herself staring down at pocket rockets in the 2011 WSOP Main Event and facing a raise from JC Tran.

Announcing all-in, she shoved her chips forward, only to stare in horror as the dealer hesitantly raked in her cards along with all the dead hands, mucking them completely out of sight in the pile!

“My cards, my cards!” she exclaimed in her wonderfully cute accent, with the dealer responding, “Did you protect your cards? I don’t know.”

“I’m ALL-IN!” she replied, before whispering what she had to a clearly befuddled dealer. When the floor supervisor got involved , he had to tell the dealer at least twice not to touch anything – but it was already clear what the ruling would be since neither the TD nor the dealer had any idea what had really happened.

The dealer had mucked Denis’ cards underneath the others, so when a senior floorman was brought in and they started looking for her pocket aces at the top of the pile it was a lost cause. And to make matters worse for the young Frenchwoman, she was told she would have to pay off the 60K bet Tran had made! Talk about rubbing salt into the wound!

“It’s a joke!” the unhappy Denis exclaimed, adding “I had two aces!”

So, not actually an incorrect or bad ruling, but a reminder to protect your hand at all times – even when you’re all-in with your chips way in front of your cards! Otherwise you’ll lose your killer hand and the dealer will likely lose their job!

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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