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Rethinking WSOP Rule 89

by Shari Geller

The 2012 WSOP Main Event is in the books and while we have a new champ, Gregory Merson, it is tempting to put an asterisk by his name and wonder what might have been. Because in poker, as in life, every action has a ripple effect that reverberates far beyond its beginning. One such ripple started with a questionable floor ruling on a hand involving eventual October Niner, Andras Koroknai, and ended when the final table bubble burst last July, establishing who would be part of the final table.

 Back on Day 5, ultimate sixth-place finisher, Koroknai, was involved in a controversial hand with later tenth-place finisher, Gaelle Baumann. Baumann had min-raised from under the gun to 60K and it folded around to Koroknai in the small blind. He shoved for his last 1.3 million, and when Gavin Smith in the big blind folded, Koroknai mucked his cards. It was then that he realized that Baumann was still in the hand, and he attempted to retrieve his cards, but only one could be found.

 The floor was called over to make a ruling. “In the fairest interest of the tournament I’m going to make you pay the 60K in, but I’m not going to make you go all in and knock you out of the tournament at this point,” said Dennis Jones on behalf of the tournament. Baumann, among others, was surprised by the ruling, and asked for a review by a higher authority. Not God, but Jack Effel, the WSOP Tournament Director. He was reached by phone, and confirmed the floor ruling.

 The floor explained the ruling in terms more suited for a kindergarten playground dispute than an adult contest for millions of dollars. It wasn’t fair, he stated, for Koroknai’s mistake to knock him out of the tournament this far into it. Jones said, “I hate eliminating him completely from the tournament,” in justifying his decision. No one had asked whether he liked keeping Baumann from Koroknai’s millionplus chips. Poker is all about taking advantage of other player’s mistakes, and avoiding making mistakes of your own. It’s every player’s responsibility to pay attention to the action at the table, and if you fail to, then you should be out of luck.

 Instead, Koroknai took that ruling and rode it all the way to the final table, by using his new-found luck to wreak havoc on his less-fortunate opponents. He doubled up with A-9 versus the A-10 of 14th-place finisher Danny Wong, and then won a massive cooler when his ace-king made the nut flush against Marc Ladouceur’s ace-king. Koroknai eventually eliminated Baumann and the other woman vying for a seat at the final table, Elizabeth Hille, in tenth and eleventh respectively.

 It is time to rethink the WSOP tournament rule that the floor used to justify this outcome. WSOP Rule 89 states that if you raise, but muck your hand before anyone else calls, you forfeit the call amount but not the raise. That is on its face a ridiculous rule. Once you announce all in, you are – or at least should be – committed to that decision. There is no escape hatch or back door you can use when you decide you would like your all-in back. More importantly, there is no more action required on your part. The action now rests with those who are still in the hand. If you failed to realize who still had to act, that is your problem. But your hand, and your tournament life, should be in play. If you don’t want to take that risk, don’t go all in. Wong, Ladoucer, Baumann, and Hille, all will ponder how their fates may have been different had the floor not made that ruling. And Koroknai is $1.6 million richer for being lucky enough to get to take advantage of the Rule 89 “just kidding” exception to the all-in move.

 Shari Geller is an attorney, journalist, reporter, blogger, poker player, and observer of the poker scene. You can write her at BurnThis2@aol.com, and read her blog at www.burnthistoo.blogspot.com.

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