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Op-Ed: "First Card Off the Deck" Rule is Good #ForTheGame

Matt Savage

The newly-adopted Tournament Directors Association Rule #29 has recently been instituted, and while reaction has been mostly positive a few “top pros” including Daniel Negreanu and Jason Mercier have come out in opposition.

Here is the rule:

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.

It recently came to a dramatic dispute at EPT Barcelona involving Daniel Negreanu.

First of all I believe Daniel's hand was killed incorrectly in this situation as he was apparently "at his seat." Did he react correctly? Obviously not, but the "first card of the deck rule" (FCOTD) was not to blame here at all and in fact these "was he at his seat" arguments were more common with the way the rule was before the TDA adopted FCOTD. Daniel also needs to also realize that being away from the table at all hugely increases the likelihood that his had could be killed in error.

Now about the "first card of the deck rule."

When I first heard that the EPT (Now GPTL) was using this rule two years ago I was not a fan. After hearing Daniel Negreanu and Jason Mercier (PokerStars Pros) tweet me about it I was on their side and questioned the reason for the change. Fast forward to June 2013 when I, as a Tournament Directors Association (TDA) founder, felt it was time to get the rules globally standardized and invited the following to the Board to join myself, Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, Dave Lamb and Mike Bishop: WSOP TD Jack Effel, GPTL Head of Live Poker Operations Neil Johnson, and WPT Borgata TD Tab Duchateau.

By adding Neil I knew there were some major rules differences (FCOTD, last aggressor, and significant action). The goal was to get all major tournaments to use the same rules so I knew there would have to be some compromises. I was ready with all my arguments to get Neil to change to TDA standard on the three and dump FCOTD. Getting him to change the significant action rule to 3/2 was easy, last aggressor a bit more difficult, but he wouldn't budge on FCOTD. After listening to his reasons (which he later wrote a blog about here), I proposed to the rest of the board that we bring it to the TDA Summit and the 170-plus attendees comprised of Tournament Directors and Card Room Managers from around the world. The way the TDA creates rules is by getting a majority for a rule and then asking those that don’t agree if they can live with the new rule in the interest of standardization.

At the Summit when the rule came up for discussion both sides were presented and it was 100% in favor of the change. As word traveled to the WSOP that the EPT FCOTD would now be global Daniel fired some nasty tweets toward the TDA stating that we don’t have the player’s best interests in mind and that we are just trying to piss off the customers, which could not be further from the truth. He also backed off other statements made that TDA members wouldn’t even understand how bad this rule is because they were not players, which upset Hall of Famer Linda Johnson and led to this article at PokerNews.

I have made it my career goal to listen to players and adjust to the changing times. For Daniel and Jason to say the players have no input is completely false. I personally ask players for input multiple times on twitter, the forums, and in person and rarely get a suggestion. The EPT rule of FCOTD was also never mentioned. Many times the player with the loudest voice gets the changes but the amateur player that supports the rule isn’t often heard which I think is very unfortunate. I want new players in the game and making them comfortable is vital.

My reasons in support of FCOTD are not exactly the same as Neil’s.

1. Players should not have to worry about people at THEIR table standing behind them while looking at their cards. I have seen players accidently see another players cards and know that malice wasn’t intended but that should not even be an option. After explaining to players that this is the main reason for the rule change I have turned many players who hated the rule to at least understanding it and many are now in favor.

2. EPT/GPTL was not changing its stance and having one of the market leaders on board with the TDA is an important step for poker.

3. I have personally witnessed hundreds of times dealers wait/ stall before getting the last card off the deck if they see a player they know or like coming to the table. It’s a favoritism issue and there should not be any room for that in the game.

4. I have been told by players on occasion that they feel that a player may have seen their cards and that it affected the way the hand played out. This is the one that scares me the most because these decisions could be for millions of dollars and a scandal of this magnitude would be bad for the game.

5. Having players keep their seat naturally during “bubble play” is a nice added feature to this rule.

6. It’s just not that big of an issue. It’s true that the learning process for the players, dealers, and staff is the toughest part, but the industry will learn and players will adjust and the problem of understanding and implementation will diminish greatly. I have already used the new TDA rules at Bay 101, Seminole Hard Rock, and now at Commerce with no real issues.

I’d now like to debate the arguments I have heard against the rule.

1. “I hate this rule” and “It’s stupid” are not proper arguments

2. “It’s a social game and you are taking that away from us.” — I feel that talking to the player at your table is a much more social part of the game. There are breaks to catch up with your friends.

3. “I cannot leave the table anymore.” — This one drives me crazy! Of course you can still leave the table. The average time it takes to pitch two cards is 6-10 seconds!!!! That means that 6-10 seconds is the difference in them being able to walk around and not being able to leave the table from the old rule to the new. Missing a hand is not the end of the world and many players don’t even mind missing the occasional hand.

The Tournament Directors Association will meet again in 2015 and anyone that knows me is aware that I am happy to discuss and debate poker rules and issues on my twitter account @SavagePoker.

Please note that the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article reflect those of the author and not of PokerNews.

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