Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

4th Videoblog (little heavier on the poker)

Thursday, 13 January 2011

  Here’s my fourth mini-videoblog from the PCA in Nassau (the link’s at the bottom; for the previous videoblogs, see the two threads before this one).

  As requested by The Sweep, this one contains a couple of hand sweats. Non-poker-players may find it a little too card-heavy, relative to the others - or perhaps it’ll just be a pleasant and occasionally baffling 5-minute narrative of a day.

  This was the day I played the $5000 Heads Up side event. I was looking forward to this a lot. I love Heads Up - plenty of action. And I’d been so card-dead for a few days, I was looking forward to a variant where the cards barely matter at all. I mean… of course they matter. But “finding a good hand” when there are only two of you at the table is very different from “finding a good hand” on a ten-player Day One Main Event table - and bluffing is a damn sight easier to get through.

  But the event began oddly for me. I sat down with my first opponent, a young Dutch fellow called Rashid. Very nice guy, very online-pro-looking in his patterned jumper. And the match kicked off very well for me. We played for about twenty minutes and I didn’t lose a hand. I gained a chip lead of about 2-1, while the poor chap next to us was still waiting for his opponent to show up. (I don’t think it’s great form to show up late for a Heads Up match. Your opponent will almost invariably wait for you, if he’s a nice guy, but that gives you a big advantage because he’s got bored while you’re still showering and enjoying breakfast.)

  Nevertheless, I have no idea why this opponent was late, so I can’t judge in this case. And when he turned up, he too turned out to be a very nice and funny guy. A very nice and funny guy with a ticket for Table 22, seat 2. Where my opponent Rashid was already sitting. Yes: Rashid had sat in the wrong seat by mistake.

  The solution seemed obvious to me: we were quite deep into the first game (these matches are, quite rightly, best of three), the guy next to us was waiting for an opponent, the whole situation was only as random as the seat draw itself, so the new guy should obviously sit down in the spare seat and play the person who was waiting. But that was not the ruling. The ruling was that Rashid be given his chips back, and we all start again with new opponents.

  Oh, I dunno. I’ve always felt that in any poker situation - whether a single hand or a whole tournament - once there’s been action, there’s no going back. In a multi-table tournament, if someone had sat in the wrong seat and lost chips, they would never be given their stack back and redirected elsewhere. In a Heads Up, of course, that’s easier to do: you know exactly where the chips have gone, you can re-allocate them very simply. At the time, I definitely felt the ruling was wrong. Later, I have wondered whether perhaps it was actually right and fair, since it stuck by the original seat draw.

  But I couldn’t help being a little affected by it. I accepted the decision of course, and sat down for the new game. But I felt strange - as if I’d somehow used up some of my good plays and good hands, in a match that had become unexpectedly irrelevant. I know I know, just superstition talking. But that’s how I felt. I felt a sense of ill omen, of the day having gone wrong already, which is bad for the mindset at the start of a poker tournament.

  Anyway, mustn’t complain about that. One of the key skills of poker is rising above any kind of emotional disturbance (whether it’s the change of an opponent, the loss of a pot, the sprain of an ankle or the break of a heart) to play your game in as focussed and positive a way as possible. Readers of my book will know that this is one of the things I love about poker: the demand to quiet your heart and engage your brain is a challenge which also works as a comfort. It’s an anaesthetic, without being mindless or (if you’re playing properly) damaging. It feels good for you, rather than bad. That’s one of the reasons why poker is my escape and my safe place, in times of trouble, and I’ll always be grateful to have it.

  I can only be responsible for my own game - if I am helped or hindered by an unexpected turn of events, that should be down to my reaction rather than the events themselves. I was (as I hope you’ll see from the video) pretty philosophical about it and I enjoyed the tournament. But I mention it here because I’d be interested to know, if other poker players are stopping by, whether they think this was the right ruling. I honestly don’t know; I can see both sides.

  Here’s the video anyway, hope you enjoy the little tale.

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jim carr at 1:22 pm on January 13th, 2011

Why is there no appeals system? You were clearly disadvantaged.

The Squirrel at 1:57 pm on January 13th, 2011

This has my teeth gnashing. It’s all very simple. If you’re late for a tournament you pay your blinds while the game continues until you turn up or are blinded away. The same should apply for heads up. In this way Rashid would have automatically paid his blinds for the other table and so would the Coren opponent. Once the cards are dealt the away hand is automatically dead and it’s on to the next hand.

Chris at 3:38 pm on January 13th, 2011

That’s tough luck VC and even if you only had a hint of superstitious belief it must be impossible to remain sanguine after handing back those negated winnings and starting the game over. ‘Tomorrow is another day’ then… (How glib!) ..well at least you got the vino, chocolte and healthy brekkers…!
Thanks for the video diary and blog entries, I continue to enjoy them immensely.

Ken Singtone at 4:07 pm on January 13th, 2011

I know little about poker tournaments,  but suppose that what happened was not an accident but a ploy agreed between the latecomer and the wrongly seated opponents so as to swap tables.
Would this really matter?  Should this be allowed?  I leave this to the experts to answer.

Victoria Coren at 4:18 pm on January 13th, 2011

Interesting point, Ken. Just to be clear (after all, both opponents feature in the video and are identifiable) I am absolutely certain that this was NOT an arrangement between them! They didn’t know each other and I’m absolutely sure were not cheating in any way, it was an honest mistake. Before we started, Rashid even showed his seat ticket to the dealer who also failed to spot the error; it’s easily done.

  But you raise an interesting point: with this ruling, other people *could* collude in this way. That’s certainly an argument in favour of ruling the other way, that the matches must continue even with people in the wrong seats.

Camel at 5:33 pm on January 13th, 2011

Horrible decision.

The two players who were in the wrong (one for showing up late, one for sitting in the wrong seat) were neither penalised for their actions.

At the very least, the opponent you ended up playing should have been forced to forfeit the blinds he would have lost if you had won every pot ‘til he showed up.

I wonder if this decision was made partly because you are on Team Pokerstars? It’s their tournament and they don’t want to be seen favouring “their” players in any way.

seven2off at 6:05 pm on January 13th, 2011

At those stakes I don’t like the restart, or the seating error. Horrible decision, I would have been furious.

Ken Singtone at 6:05 pm on January 13th, 2011

Just to confirm, I also believe that this was an honest mistake.
However, when making the rules the possibilities should be considered. 
Would you feel the same way if Rashid had been winning?

FMD at 7:11 pm on January 13th, 2011

I guess I’d need to read the tournament rules to give you the definitive answer, Victoria.

If it came down to a Tournament Director’s judgement call then, all personal bias aside, they chose the worst possible option available — completely devoid of common sense and the spirit of fair play.

I would’ve disqualified Mr Wrong Seat & Mr Late, and given you and the other player bys, rather than make the decision to start again.

Had I been you I would not have taken this decision lightly!

Yes, a poker player should be able to take anything on the chin. But you, and Mr Wrong Seat, were both dealt an unfair, and disruptive, psychological blow.

The best thing I can say to you is to see this as putting away a few quid in the karma bank, Victoria. ;)

Good hunting…

Palladian at 8:22 am on January 14th, 2011

Small south coast casino tourney a few years back. Friendly local game, 100 players, no big buy-in.

All rocking nicely for half an hour, then I’m dealt Q-Q with Q-x-x on flop. Trouble was I had a Qh and so did the flop!

Director summonsed, he turns white, checks decks on other tables, all but one with rogue cards. Printing error? Who knows.

Do we start again? No, he rules that we carry on with fresh, checked decks. Friendly game indeed!

johnny turner at 12:49 pm on January 14th, 2011

The late guy should have been disqualified as he was late (how late was he?) Rashid was also, in effect, late but this hadn’t been noticed by officials. You & the “waiting guy” should have been declared the winners of your matches I think. But then there’d be no poker..

Richard Gryko at 5:58 pm on January 14th, 2011

Was directed to this blog by a friend, and am very surprised by a bunch of the comments.
Firstly, no way can the match continue, that should be completely obvious - its so open to potential angleshooting as to be absurd (I see some guy I rate highly sitting opposite where my assigned seat is, and a couple tables away I see someone I think I have an edge over, I hurry to that table and pray for an unobservant dealer). 

Secondly, no one should be DQd -  that idea is ridiculous. You cant DQ the latecomer because all he did was, well, show up late, which people do all the time.  And you cant DQ Rashid because he can turn around and say “what about the dealer, its his responsibility to check my ticket to verify I’m in the right place?”  The whole mess is as much the dealers fault as Rashids.

Richard Gryko at 6:00 pm on January 14th, 2011

In EPT hu tournaments, you get a ten minute grace period from the tournament start time and if you’re still absent, you’re blinded off at the rate of one round of blinds every three minutes.  This is to prevent the waiting player having to be the bad guy if they dont cut their opponent unlimited slack to show up, and also to standardise the penalty to the latecomer. 

So, your opponent loses three rounds of blinds to you and the tables are reset as per the original draw.  Obviously its tilting, but its the least bad solution.

Alan C at 9:40 pm on January 14th, 2011

Slap the dealer. Seeing as you had started playing you should have been allowed to continue, as to change as you say would upset your flow.  If a player sits at the wrong table then tough it is his fault. Stricter controls should be employed, double checking or glasses for the dealer maybe. 

Rob Forth at 12:32 pm on January 15th, 2011

It always irks me that despite paying either an entry fee or table charge, presumably for the privilege of being in a well run game, situations like this so often arise.

I’ve no experience of heads up tournament play, but as a previous poster suggested I think Wrong Seat and Late should have been sent to their correct tables and an approriate number of blinds should have been forfeited for the time of their absence. It’s a pity you were up in the game and it tilted you slightly to have to start all over again, but imagine how much worse it would have been to be steamrollered by the guy only to discover you shouldn’t have been against him in the first place, then saunter over to see how your designated opponent was doing and find he was an idiot?

JazBenz at 4:56 pm on January 15th, 2011

You reacted amazingly well. And you’re right, the mind frame you have after something like that, not exactly the kind of mind frame you’d sit at any table with. Oh well, I’m sure the universe will reward you in other ways because you took it so well, believe it =)

Alvin at 7:42 pm on January 17th, 2011

Richard Gryko’s being silly about the possible angle shoot. The same would be true of a MTT wouldn’t it? Anyone could sit down on a soft table and hope to get away with it. But in a MTT they don’t say, if you realize the mistake half way through you get all your chips back and start again.

Seems to me more open to angling with the rule as was (that the match starts again) - that’s the freeroll. You still as Gryko suggests sit in the wrong seat hoping for the unobservant dealer, but this way round if you’re losing you go “Oh just looked at my ticket, we have to start again!” and keep shtum if you’re in front.

Victoria Coren

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