The Other Side of the Felt #13 – Thoughts on Scotty Nguyen's HORSE Final Table
I received a barrage of emails and phone calls about the recently televised ESPN $50,000 H.O.R.S.E Tournament in which there was a lot of controversy over the actions of Scotty Nguyen and the reactions of Michael DeMichele, Erick Lindgren, and spectator Layne Flack (In case you missed it, a YouTube video of some of the 'highlights' is at the bottom of this story). I say reactions because it is clear that, while Scotty won the event, it was his unfortunate disruptive behavior that turned out to be the real story. Before I get started I want to say that Scotty has been good to me and my family and has invited us to his home many times. I have also seen him go out of his way to sign autographs and take pictures with his many fans. That is what makes the events of June 30th so tough to watch again months later.
Here are the questions that have been asked that still demand answers
1. Where was the Tournament Director?
While Scotty's actions were inexcusable you have to ask the question who was in charge of supervising the table and more importantly why wasn't he stopped! I am shocked that Scotty was not penalized or even disqualified from this event. He was in clear violation of WSOP rules 31, 35, 36, 37, 38, 50, 57, and 76 during the final table. An analysis of the rules violated during this final table.
WSOP Rule 31
Harrah's may disqualify any person for any prize based upon fraud, dishonesty, violation of promotional rules or other misconduct while on the property or otherwise occurring in relation to the World Series of Poker or as otherwise reasonable or necessary for Harrah's to comply with applicable statutes and regulations, in its sole and absolute discretion. Harrah's also reserves the right to exclude any individual(s) acting in a disruptive or inappropriate manner
• [B]Scotty's behavior was 100% disruptive[/B]
WSOP Rule 35
Any player who directs any profane and/or abusive language at another player, dealer or tournament staff member or who makes any profane and/or abusive comments about another player, dealer or tournament staff member will be penalized in accordance with Rules No. 31 and/or 51. In particular, the use of the so-called "f-bomb" and "c-bomb" as well as derivatives of those and similarly offensive terms, will subject the offending player to penalties if they are directed at or refer to another player, dealer, staff member, patron or official of Harrah's or the WSOP. In Harrah's sole and absolute discretion, it may impose at any time a zero-tolerance policy for profane language whether directed at another person or not.
• [B]Zero Tolerance Policy………….Are you kidding me!
WSOP Rule 36[/B]
Excessive celebration through extended theatrics, inappropriate behavior, or physical actions, gestures, or conduct may be subject to penalty. Any player that engages a member of the tournament staff during the celebration or utilizes any property of Harrah's will be penalized in accordance with Rules No. 31 and/or 51. Harrah's property includes but is not limited to chairs, tournament tables, and stanchions.
• [B]A new rule put into place in 2008 could have easily been enforced here
WSOP Rule 37[/B]
Any player(s) adjudged or determined by Harrah's to be colluding with other players will immediately be disqualified from the event, and will not be allowed to play in future WSOP events at any Harrah's Entertainment property.
• [B]This is the most grievous of all of the things that Scotty is accused of. Allegedly, he was stopped by the WSOP staff from openly talking about soft playing Erick to make sure DeMichele finished third. To his credit Lindgren wanted to have no part of it and even told Scotty to stop.
WSOP Rule 38 [/B]
Player or staff abuse will not be tolerated. A player may incur a penalty up to and including disqualification for any abuse towards another player or staff member, and player could be asked to leave the property. Repeated etiquette violations such as touching another player's cards or chips, delay of game and excessive chatter will result in penalties
• [B]Scotty verbally abused DeMichele many times and I would assume the waitress had to feel abused as well.
WSOP Rule 50 [/B]
A player exposing his or her cards with action pending may incur a penalty, but will not have a dead hand. The penalty will begin at the end of the hand. All players at the table are entitled to see the exposed card(s), if requested. A penalty may also be imposed if a player throws a card off the table, violates the one-player-to-a-hand rule or engages in similar behavior. Penalties will be invoked in cases of soft-play, abuse or disruptive behavior. All penalties will be imposed at Harrah's sole and absolute discretion, in accordance with Rule No. 51.
• [B]Scotty is allowed to show his hand to the audience while Michael is still acting on his hand, but should be assessed a penalty after the hand.[/B]
WSOP Rule 57
Players are obligated to protect the other players in the tournament at all times. Therefore, whether in a hand or not, players may not a.) disclose contents of live or folded hands, b.) advise or criticize play before the action is completed, or c.) read a hand that hasn't been tabled. While in a hand, players may not a) discuss hands or strategy with any spectator, or b) seek or receive consultation from an outside source. The one-player-to-a-hand rule will be enforced. Players who violate this rule are subject to penalty in accordance with Rule 51.
• [B]Scotty talks about his hands, shows cards to the audience, and discusses with the audience his intentions.[/B]
To address some of the remaining questions…..
2. Why was Scotty allowed to become so intoxicated?
Witnesses of the final table told me that Scotty was slurring his words (Even the ones that did not start with the letter F) and having trouble walking during the breaks. He has been known to drink a few beers while playing in poker tournaments but this was a 13 plus hour final table and even the most experienced drinkers will have trouble pacing themselves for that period of time. We do not know why was he being served even after he was obviously over the limit and cocktail servers are trained to know the signs of intoxication but we do know that the Rio must do a better job of watching their patrons.
3. Why was Scotty so angry?
DeMichele was bowing to the crowd and his supporters early during final table and both Scotty and Erick apparently took offense but while Lindgren let his feelings of displeasure known to Michael, Scotty chose to go into a verbal tirade of F-bombs demanding respect. Michael is 23 years old and his behavior is easily excused but Scotty should know better.
4. Did Scotty receive special treatment?
There is a recent documented case of a an intoxicated player being disqualified from a final table, but it was not the World Series of Poker, a $50,000 buy-in, or Scotty Nguyen! It is easy to assume that he received special treatment but I prefer to think that the situation just got out of control to a point where it was too late. As Tournament Directors and staff we need to make sure that we do not allow situations to reach this level with any player whether it is a first time player or a world champion.
5. Why did ESPN chose to show the negatives and is this "Bad for Poker"?
The truth is that it was impossible not to show this table as it happened. Scotty's language was constantly foul and there was no avoiding the confrontations. There is also no denying that this will probably be the most talked about poker show in years and maybe of all time and in the end producers are paid to create interesting television. Whether it is bad for the game or not is yet to be seen but I cannot see major sponsors lining up to pay for a show containing alcohol abuse and swearing.
6. What can be done so that this does not happen in the future?
Many of the emails I have received have suggestions for what should be done. They range from creating rules for no alcohol allowed in tournaments, fining Scotty 10% of his winnings, and disqualifying him from the 2009 WSOP. I do not think that any of those suggestions are valid but do think that a better job needs to be done by those of us with the authority to do so. Scotty has already publicly apologized for his actions and has asked his fans for forgiveness and I truly believe that he has learned a valuable lesson.
Harrah's and the staff of the World Series of Poker received well deserved rave reviews in 2008 and I am sure that this one hiccup will be reviewed and corrected by Jack Effel and his team for 2009.
See you at the Final Table!
YouTube video of some of Scotty's behavior:
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Matt Savage is the worlds most recognized Tournament Director 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 contact Matt at his website, SavageTournaments.com