First Card Off the Deck debate has not gone away

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Sep 14, 2013 Posted in Op-Ed, Tournament News | No Comments »

TDAEarlier this week I penned an article that began with a quick overview of the newly implemented “First Card Off the Deck” rule that evolved into an editorial regarding the role of the Tournament Directors Association (TDA) and how the organization had become increasingly hands-on in recent years. While the rule itself seems almost insignificant –do I need to be at the table when the first card is dealt or when the last card is dealt; which is a difference of about 10 seconds—it has caused one of the more heated debates about poker rules in recent years.

Oddly enough, in a recent podcast both Matt Savage and Bill Bruce downplayed the controversy, which I think is good from a public relations standpoint, but not so great when it comes to addressing the issue. In this same podcast, Bill Bruce did come up with a great solution to the issue, which I think is a great idea, but more on that later.

Despite his pleadings that this was not a big deal, Matt Savage chimed-in on the issue with an editorial in earlier this week (which would seem unnecessary id this was in fact “no big deal”), and on Thursday Savage’s points were rebutted by tournament poker pro Dan O’Brien, also at All of this while other players posted their thoughts and opinions on Twitter and other social media sites, poker forums, and even a video mashup where they got opinions from multiple players and tournament directors (which is posted below).

So whether they want to admit it or not, the rule change is a very big deal: Here is a look at the rule in question:

TDA 29: At Your Seat

A player must be at his seat when the first card is dealt on the initial deal or he will have a dead hand. A player not then at his seat is dealt in, he may not look at his cards, and the hand is immediately killed after the initial deal. His blinds and antes are posted and if dealt the bring-in card in a stud-type game he will post the bring-in*. A player must be at his seat to call time. “At your seat” means within reach of your chair. This rule is not intended to condone players being out of their seats while involved in a hand.

Matt Savage made the following points in his article (summed-up beautifully into terse bulleted points by O’Brien:

1. Game Integrity

2. Dealer Integrity

3. Bubble Play

4. Room Flow

5. Standardization

Savage raises two excellent points in that poker rules should be standardized and game integrity protected –the other three points about Bubble Play (that can be solved by its own rule), Room Flow (the ability for tournament staff to move about the tournament area), and dealer integrity (slow-dealing) seem like self-created issues to give the “First Card Off the Deck” rule some legs.

O’Brien countered with the following arguments:

1. Rules Should Err On the Side of NOT Killing Hands

2. Dealer Function

3. It’s a Social Game

O’Brien’s first point is spot on; when rules start to favor the killing of hands I believe we have hit the proverbial slippery slope; the other two are similar to Savage’s arguments in that they aren’t of any real concern in the grand scheme of things.

My Thoughts

So what do I think of this mess? I have a few of thoughts actually:

#1 — If Savage is going to argue that dealer’s play favorites and will slow-deal wouldn’t it stand to reason that they could do the same and either throw in an extra couple of shuffles, ungracefully collect the antes, or muck up the deal? And just how long could a dealer delay pitching the last few cards before its obvious what he or she is doing? A couple seconds perhaps?

#2 – Bill Bruce raised the excellent point on the podcast of, “why are we dealing to stacks?” In cash games an absent player is not dealt in at all, so why do we deal an absent tournament player their cards if we are just going to kill them anyway? It seems like an invitation for a “he-said, she-said” battle of how far away or precisely when they arrived in relation to the start of the deal.

I like Bruce’s idea; if you’re not in your seat when the antes are brought in you are not going to be dealt cards.

#3 – I’m ambivalent to the rule myself, considering I sit in my seat the entire time I play, so first or last card doesn’t really affect me. I’m also pretty diligent in protecting my hand so I don’t worry about some eagle-eyed angle-shooter seeing my cards. On the other hand I do sort of see the rule as meddling. Basically the TDA is meddling into an area of the game that doesn’t need fixing. I wrote an in-depth column on this earlier this week if you want a more in-depth explanation of what I mean by meddling:

What it all boils down to for me is not the rule per se, but the decision to create regulations that simply aren’t needed and don’t fix the basically nonexistent problem. It would be like a store in Manhattan implementing a policy that you can’t tie your horse to a pole near the entrance. It’s a nonexistent problem and quite frankly there are already enough laws that this falls into that could prevent this from happening.

#4 – In the end I think this will stay the way it is and he controversy will just go away on its own, as it’s not really a big deal either way, but I worry about the precedent it sets –as I do with other strange rule changes/enforcements from the past few years, like the “no talking about your hand rule” and the “declare your actions at the final table” rule.


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