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Live from 2012 WSOP: T.I. Poker Room Management Complaint (Updated)

I’m happy to be back in Las Vegas for the seventh straight summer during the WSOP. I always enjoy blogging about the experience and despite this interest waning due to the instant-blogging nature of Twitter, I still hope to write a few updates from this trip.

Vegas is crazy right now and full of poker action and drunk tourists. There’s really no place like it. The insanity of this city seems even more pronounced to me this year after spending the last several months living in the tranquil Caribbean paradise of Playa del Carmen.

I played my first event of the WSOP yesterday, a $1,000 buy-in that attracted ~5,000 total players spread across two starting days. I was eliminated near the end of day one after battling pretty hard all day and making a couple of big folds on hands which probably would have led to an expedited bustout. I was really happy with how I played which is mostly what matters and am feeling good for the Main Event; I’ll play Day 1C on Monday (follow me on Twitter if you’re interested in tracking updates from that event).

Tonight, I stopped by one of my favorite poker rooms in Las Vegas, T.I., where a questionable floor ruling potentially cost me some EV and some of that property’s good-standing in my book.

I’ll let you be the judge.

In a $1/$3 no-limit game, a player opened the pot to $18. Next to act, I re-raised to $40. Another player called the $40. The original raiser moved all-in for $59 total.

Holding Ace-King, I would have preferred to shove the ~$160 I had behind, but I calculated that the original raiser would have needed to shove for $62 or more in order for me to have that option to raise. This is because my raise was $22 more than his raise, so he would need to re-raise $22 on top of my raise in order for the option to exist for me to re-raise yet again. Or so I thought.

After simply flat-calling the $19 more, the other player in the hand asked if he was allowed to raise. “No, otherwise I would have already,” I told him. But then the dealer told him he was able to! I disagreed with the dealer (Don I believe his name was) and asked him to call the floor. The shift manager Isaac came over and agreed with Don saying that the player was allowed to re-raise.

So the player behind me moved all-in. I was pretty tilted because I felt like it cost me a lot of EV in the hand not being able to make that move myself, but I was so certain that I couldn’t that I didn’t even bother asking the dealer if I could.

After the other player moved all-in (he had me covered), I reluctantly folded. From my vantage point, he seemed very eager to move all-in after having played cautiously all night. Usually in these low-stakes live games players are pretty cool with just calling to see the flop in hopes of improving their hand, so when he was champing at the bit to move all-in (after I just finished telling him I would have moved all-in if I could have) I felt his range was really strong and opted to fold my hand (in hindsight, this was fairly nitty but I felt okay about it at the time given my read on the situation).

Despite the dealer and floor man both thinking otherwise, I still felt like I was right and that it wasn’t a legal raise. So I texted my friend Jon Aguiar who is well-versed in all things poker and usually never wrong. He confirmed my suspicion: the player would have needed to make it $62 or more for a re-raise to be permissible.

Fueled with reassurance that I’m not crazy, I called Isaac over to the table and told him I believe his ruling was wrong. I asked what he could do to make the situation right. This is when the encounter began to turn distasteful. I understand making an errant ruling; mistakes happen. But what I didn’t appreciate was how unprofessional T.I. management was regarding the situation.

Isaac rather coldly told me, “my ruling is final.”

“I know, but you were wrong. This is a business. Normally when businesses get something wrong that affects a customer, they try to make it right.”

“My ruling on the hand is final.” And then he just walked away!

I called after him to ask if I could even get an apology at the very least. He continued with the hard-line and unwillingness to make any reparations, so I asked for the number of the poker room manager.

Minutes later, he came back to the table and (in front of everyone, with action taking place) told me to make sure I tell his manager that it didn’t matter and that I wouldn’t have won the hand anyway (the player all-in for $59 had Jacks which held, but I would have won the all-in side pot of ~$280 if I had shoved and the other player called (which he said he would have) – he had King-Queen). I told him he didn’t need to coach me on what to report to his boss since I had nothing to gain from reporting anything other than exactly what happened and asked him for the opportunity to explain to him why it didn’t matter whether or not I would have won the hand. He walked away reasserting his disinterest in having any type of a two-way discussion about the situation.

At this point, it occurred to me that it was ridiculous for me to continue playing in the game and paying rake, so I took my chips up to the counter. When I got there (and before he realized I was there), I overheard him explaining to another staff member why it was stupid of me to be arguing since I wouldn’t have won the hand anyway. He caught himself and stopped the story in its tracks when he realized I was standing right there.

I again asked him for the opportunity to explain to him why the results of the hand didn’t matter and how his errant ruling cost me equity. I asked if he wanted me to recreate the action in the hand to make sure we both understand exactly what happened. He responded defensively to this and said, “no, you don’t have to insult me, I’m being nice to you!” I calmly explained to him that I wasn’t insulting him and that I was just hoping to start from the beginning to help him understand why I was upset.

He continued to keep the window closed for me to do this by saying, “I make 19 or 20 rulings a day and I might get one or two them wrong.” He repeated this a couple of times interrupting efforts of mine to help him understand how his error affected me. (Yes, he repeatedly admitted that he gets rulings wrong sometimes with a “that’s just how it goes” attitude).

I thought about telling him I am the editor of a highly-trafficked poker portal which has a Las Vegas poker section that includes a review of the T.I. poker room, but it was clear he was uninterested in having a reasonable discussion. He seemed too off-balance to handle any further discussion on the topic. I just couldn’t get a word in edge-wise, so I opted to drop it and take things up with his boss at a later time (I’m awaiting a callback on a voicemail I left). I took down the name and number of another player in the game who can corroborate the incident to T.I. management should they be interested.

In hindsight, I wish Isaac would have done the following:

  • politely ask me to step away from the table to continue the discussion as it was unprofessional of him to allow the debate to distract from the gameflow
  • give me a chance to calmly explain how the ruling affected me from an EV standpoint rather than taking the approach of treating me like an enemy who needed to be silenced
  • acknowledge that he wasn’t confident in his ruling (even if the ruling was correct, which remains to be seen, he certainly didn’t still think he was correct after I told him he was wrong) and do whatever he could to make it right; a $20 food comp would have been a nice gesture and gone a long way to diffuse the situation

I try to be a pretty reasonable guy and I understand that mistakes happen. This situation could have been swept under the rug with a polite apology and small reimbursement of value from the onset. Instead, I was treated unprofessionally as the villain in a confrontation who needed to be silenced rather than a customer with perhaps some legitimate points to make about how I was negatively affected by a questionable managerial decision.

My read on the situation was that Isaac felt threatened and took it personally that he got the ruling wrong and was doing everything he could to protect himself rather than serve at the best interest of the customer.

It could be the case that Isaac’s floor ruling was correct. But I didn’t think it was, Jon Aguiar didn’t think it was, and Isaac himself didn’t think it was after I told him he was wrong. But whether the ruling was right or wrong is less important to me right now than how the situation was handled.

A poker room is a business. Players are the customers. When you are a business and you screw up (or believe it when someone says you screwed up), you do what you can to make the situation right. Tonight, the T.I. poker room dropped the ball in this regard. It’s unfortunate because prior to tonight I used to think it was a pretty good place to play cards. Now I’m not so sure.


Footnote: apologies for the long-winded recount of the story, I just wanted to make sure I included any relevant details in case T.I. management themselves read this. And just to be clear, I’m not as upset about the EV I lost due to the ruling as I am about the manner in which T.I. management chose to handle the situation after I informed them that I believed it was an incorrect ruling.

Next day update: I received a call from T.I.’s poker room manager Kurt. He apologized for the situation and confirmed that it was indeed an incorrect ruling. He offered to put $59 in comp value on my T.I. Player’s Card as an apology. I thanked him for calling me back and accepted the offer. I knew I wasn’t crazy that it was a bad ruling and I appreciate T.I. taking the time to follow up with me to make things right.


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