Tournament Directors Association Rule #12 reads:
No Disclosure / No Advice / One Player to a Hand
Players are obligated to protect the other players in the tournament at all times. Therefore, players, whether in the hand or not, may not:
1. Disclose contents of live or folded hands
2. Advise or criticize play before the action is complete
3. Read a hand that hasn't been tabled
The one-player-to-a-hand rule will be enforced.
One of the hottest rules debates in poker today between top players and tournament directors has been, "Should players have the right to talk about or even show their hands during play?"
I say, unequivocally, "NO!"
In my opinion Jamie Gold set poker back a year with his blatant display of rules infractions on his way to the 2006 WSOP Main Event title. When I saw him talking about his hands and getting away with it I wanted to puke. I still say that if I was tournament director in 2006, Jamie Gold never would have won because he would have been penalized for his behavior and stopped, but then a lot of the high-stakes players would have been mad at me for sure. The famous "Top Top" hand was clearly against the rules and even Norman Chad realized it and made a comment. The floorman announcing the table should have penalized him. To refresh your memory, or in case you haven't seen it, here is the hand.
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I understand that chatter at the table makes the game more fun, interesting, and better for TV. However, there are a few reasons it is inappropriate in a poker tournament:
1. You are not really heads up until there are two players left in the tournament and your action in a hand affects everyone's equity;
2. Can you imagine the stalling that would take place if every player had the opportunity to talk about their hands? Tournament structures would be damaged even further by players Hollywooding in this manner;
3. The grey lines of soft play are difficult enough to regulate. Allowing players to show and discuss hands would make it impossible;
4. It could stifle action. Suppose you had pocket aces and the flop came three spades but you had no spade, you may want to turn your cards face up so the other player would not call. Also, suppose a player could not beat the one card shown?
Daniel Negreanu has made the statement both on "High Stakes Poker" and on his blog that he should be allowed to talk about his hands and that tournament directors are ruining the game with their rules. Of course, "High Stakes Poker" is a live game and that is completely different than a tournament. It was in a hand against Sam Farha that Daniel showed a 10 on a 9-9-2 flop; some chatter continued and Sam Farha folded the best hand — great for TV, right? Unfortunately, most hands in a tournament are not televised and there is far too much room for interpretation in that situation. I really think Daniel was confused when he made those statements and was comparing a made-for-TV live game to tournament poker.
Phil Hellmuth and I had an impromptu public debate about this very subject in Aruba last year, and it was a little embarrassing when he started shouting at me in a room full of over 100 online qualifiers and pros. It was not the right place to have this argument but I am sure the players were happy to see Phil taken down a level or two. We discussed it further later that day, and not only are we still friends, he seems to understand my points on the issue, though he does not like it as he feels it eliminates one of his valuable intimidation skills.
Another situation of disclosure that I did penalize Antonio Esfandiari for happened at the 2006 World Poker Tour at Bay 101. Antonio was all in, but there were still two other players in the pot. In typical Antonio fashion, he stood on his chair, and as the flop came down A-J-10 he leapt down and started hugging his adoring fans. I was there and when the hand was shown, Antonio had exactly what I and everyone else in the room thought he had, which was K-Q. The problem is that his actions disclosed his hand and caused the other two players in the pot to check it down when they knew they could not win the main pot. I immediately put him on a penalty, and he listened to the explanation and accepted his punishment.
I do understand the reasons why some players would prefer to be able to disclose their hands and show cards, but I believe in my heart that the no-disclosure rule is what is best for poker. The positives outweigh the negatives.
See you at the final table!
Matt Savage is one of the world's most recognized poker tournament directors, and has been involved with over 350 televised events including the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, and many others. Matt is a founder of the Tournament Directors Association, the first inductee into the Poker Managers Hall of Fame, and actor in the movie Lucky You. If you have questions about any rulings please send them to AskTheBoard@PokerTDA.com or check out Matt's website at SavageTournaments.com.