Protect Your Action

Poker Concepts, Rules

June 12, 2008

This article is specifically for online players switching to playing live and new live players. When you start playing live, you unfortunately have to cope with one of the major downsides of live play: angleshooting, rules abuse, and dealer and player errors. These issues don’t arise in online play, by and large, but they matter quite a bit in live play.

Angleshooting, or rules abuse, is simply a player manipulating the rules or structure of the game to gain an advantage not derived from good play. It can take a lot of forms. Oftentimes the angleshooting villain is on a freeroll – his angle rarely works, but if it does, he profits and if it doesn’t he doesn’t lose anything.

For example, at 2/5 NL holdem villain bets $500 into a $300 pot.  He does it without saying anything and just pushes 3 stacks of reds ($5 chips), plus two blacks ($100) burried in the back of the pile.  Villain holds the nuts, and thinks his expectation is about the same whether he bets $300 or $500 – he’ll get more calls for $300, but win less when called.

After villain bets, he pretends to loose interest in the table.

Now, look what happens.  If the dealer breaks villain’s stacks down correctly and notices the blacks, he will announce a bet of $500 and the hand proceeds normally.  But if the dealer does a poor job, he might anounce a bet of $300 or not announce the bet size at all.  Then, if hero calls, villains starts paying attention again and says “no, wait, it’s $500” and argues that hero’s verbal call is binding, or that the chips hero has already put in the pot can’t be removed.  Nine times out of ten, hero wins this argument.  But villain’s on a freeroll.  If he gets a favorable floor decision, he’s better off.  If he loses the argument, he’s no worse off.

Unfortunately, guys like villain in the example above are more common than you might like.  And there are infinite variations that villain can try.  Luckily, there’s a way to defend yourself against this crap.  What you have to do is “protect your action” – which really means follow a series of procedures that insure that you get treated fairly in the hand.  Here is a (perhaps not 100% comprehensive) list of those procedures:

  • Know The Rules – Before you can deal with people manipulating the rules in their favor, you need to know what the rules are. They differ from room to room, but reading Roberts Rules Of Poker should at least get you thinking about the issues involved. I don’t think it’s the best rules set, but it’s a start. Then you need to know what rules your room actually uses. Some rooms have published rules, but most don’t. In such a situation you may just have to play a bit and notice the differences. Also realize that a lot of rooms are not totally consistent.
  • Follow the Action – Online has the nice feature that you are told by the software when it’s your turn to act.  Live, you need to follow the action and know who it’s on an when it gets to you.  This is a good policy for the purpose of picking up tells anyways.
  • Keep Track Of Who Is In The Hand – In order to follow the action, you need to know who is still in the hand.  Usually dealers announce how many players to the flop/4th street/the draw.  You should visually figure out which players those are.  If the numbers don’t match up, or the dealer doesn’t say anything, ask how many players.
  • Act in turn – If you act out of turn, you expose yourself to the question of whether you action is binding.  The angleshooter will of course argue whichever way is best for him.  Don’t give him the option. Acting in turn is easy if you follow the action closely.
  • Make Sure You Understand Before Acting – Any time you’re not 100% sure what the action in front of you is, or what’s going on with some dealer ruling or procedure, you must become certain before you act.  Sometimes this involves asking questions.  Sometimes it just requires waiting a bit.  But that nagging feeling that something is weird here is you best defense against the angleshoot.
  • Ask If You Have Questions – when in doubt, ask the dealer.  Things like “was that a raise?” or “who raised?” or “is he all in, or do those white chips play?” will clarify situations that you’re not going to figure out the answer to just by thinking about it.
  • Get The Ruling Now, Not Later – Similarly, if a situation arises that requires the dealer or floor to make a ruling, ask for that ruling at the point where the issue arises rather than allowing action to pile up and THEN asking for the ruling.
  • Point Out Anything Odd – If you see something odd with the deal, or any other aspect of the game procedure, point it out when you see it.  If the dealer made a mistake, they’ll be glad you caught it.  If it’s actually not a problem, you won’t be out anything but a bit of your time.
  • Verbally Declare, Then Bet – While the rules don’t require that you state your bets and raises and their sizes, it reduced the chances that something will go wrong if you don’t.  So do it, and do it first (once it’s your turn to act) before you move a single chip.  Verbal is binding in all rooms, so even if you make a chip handling mistake you won’t be adversely affected.  Against opponents who don’t state their actions, especially bet sizes in PL/NL games, be super careful and verify everything.
  • Standardize Your Betting Motions – When you bet, bet with a standard motion that cannot be considered a string bet.  Assemble your bets and raises neatly by your stack, and then bet.  Using a standard betting procedure will also help you avoid giving off tells.
  • Consider Abandoning Suspicious Hands – This mostly applys to PL/NL games.  If you’re in a hand, and something very weird happens and you have very little money in the pot, consider just abandoning the hand.  This is also a defense against cheating.  If you do decide to proceed in a hand with “issues”, make sure that all relevant floor rulings are made before you put any additional money in the pot.
  • Stay Calm and Reasonable – This may not be fair, but a lot of floor decisions go to the guy who seems calm and reasonable if he opponent is all riled up.  Be the reasonable guy.
  • Slow Down A Bit – a lot of the suggestions above could be summarized as slow down, think, THEN act.  Haste makes mistakes.
  • Be On Friendly Terms With Your Floorman – it never hurts to have the floor know you’re a regular and honest player.  Maybe this shouldn’t affect their rulings, but in practice it does.

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