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Hand Dilemma

Hand Dilemma: When the Cards are Face Up
by Chad Holloway of Predictem.com

Throughout my years of playing poker I have come across a number of debatable issues that arise at the table. These issues are often subjective, which allows an array of dispositions where each player has an opinion. The most controversial poker issue I have encountered seems to be whether a player, who is not involved in the hand, should identify a winning hand once the cards have been turned face-up.

The most public incident of this came at the 2000 World Series of Poker with 18 people left. Hasan Habib had raised to $25,000 with Ac-9c and Taso Lazarou put his tournament on the line with A-6 off suit.

The hands were then turned face-up as the board ran out 5-8-K-5-J. The tournament director announced that Taso was eliminated in 18th place, as he got up from the table to leave. The cards were then turned face-down, while Hassan stacked his newly won chips.

Do you see the problem here? This was actually a split pot. Amazingly, of the roughly 200 spectators, players, and staff at the 2000 WSOP, only one man seemed to notice . . . Phil Hellmuth.

Hellmuth caught up with Taso about 20 seconds later and informed him that the pot should have been split. Taso confronted the tournament staff and they did indeed recognize their error. As such, the pot was reconstructed and split accordingly.

The controversy with this hand seems to be whether or not Hellmuth, who was not in the tournament but merely a spectator, should have interfered in the hand. In his book Bad Beats and Lucky Draws, Hellmuth asks himself:

"Did I do something wrong here? Obviously, if I hadn't said anything, the tournament would have continued on, with Taso in his car headed home. After the fourth card was turned up (5-8-K-5), I said to myself, 'It will be a split pot if a face card is turned up.' A face card, a jack, was turned up, and I announced out loud (several times) that it was a split pot. But, at this point, no one heard me.

I had never in my life met Taso Lazarou. I thought I was doing the right thing. Moreover, this hand was being covered by a lot of cameras and press. Can you imagine what they would have done to the image of poker if this mistake hadn't been rectified?"

"Had I done the right thing? To a person, everyone said yes, but I still wasn't sure. I felt really terrible that I had interfered in the WSOP, but if Taso had been eliminated in this way, I would have felt he had been cheated (and I can't abide cheating)."

Hellmuth goes on to say that he was haunted by the hand and even hoped Taso, who was still riding a short stack, would be eliminated in 18th place so the outcome wouldn't be affected. Unfortunately, Taso managed to double-up a couple times and ran his chips to over $300,000.

Buddy Pitcock, a player who had doubled Taso, went bust shortly thereafter and Hellmuth felt compelled to apologize in the case that he felt wronged. Luckily, Pitcock responded, "Phil, you absolutely did the right thing." Now, as a poker player, do you believe Hellmuth did the right thing? I have been on both sides of the issue and I must say that it is nice when someone enlightens me to a winning hand I clearly missed. On the other hand, I couldn't help but feel robbed when someone informed my opponent of their winning hand. In Bad Beats and Lucky Draws, Hellmuth explains his belief:

"Do cards 'read' when they are sitting on the table face-up or not? Should spectators be allowed to assist the tournament directors when a mistake has been made? . . . I was taught in poker that cards read if they are sitting face-up on the table, and I have always called the winning hand in such a case. I guess the lines are drawn now, and I will always tell someone when they have the winning hand, if it is sitting face-up on the table."

Hellmuth's opinion seems to echo the belief of most poker players. The key is to remember that the cards must be sitting face-up on the table, otherwise it would be absolutely wrong to say anything. For example, if you were standing behind a player who was holding his cards it would not be your place to say something such as, "You see you have a flush right?" Doing this would not only be against the rules but you would likely find yourself the victim of the wronged player's wraith as well.

As a poker player, you are going to encounter certain issues like the one mentioned above. Use your experience, common sense and ask what you would want someone to do if the roles were reversed. Doing this will allow you to analyze the situation thoroughly and from multiple perspectives. From here all you have to do is what you believe is right.

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