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The Muck: A Controversial Ruling in the EPT Barcelona High Roller

Kristen Bicknell
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  • The dealer drops the deck into the muck before flop is dealt - Now what? A look at a controversial EPT ruling.

On Day 1 of the 2018 PokerStars EPT Barcelona €10,300 High Roller – a tournament currently being live reported right here on PokerNews – a controversial hand took place, or rather didn’t take place. It ended in a ruling that not only riled up players in attendance, but also those in the Twittersphere.

It happened in Level 4 (200/400/400) when Louis Nyberg raised from under the gun and Enrico Coppola called. Kristen Bicknell then three-bet from the button, Nyberg folded, and Coppola called. So far, so good.

However, at that point the dealer inexplicably dropped the deck and spread it, consequently mixing in folded cards. The floor was called and instructed the dealer to shuffle the deck and await further instructions. He soon returned and ruled that the pot would be chopped between Bicknell and Coppola, the two players remaining in the hand.

Kristen Bicknell
Kristen Bicknell at the EPT Barcelona

The table disagreed and the floor sought a second opinion. The ruling stood and the pot was indeed chopped.

It was at that point that Christopher Kruk took to Twitter and shared the incident with the poker world.

Kenny Hallaert, an accomplished poker player but also tournament director for the Unibet Open, responded to Kruk’s tweet.

“TDA ruling (PS has their own rules which are very similar to TDA) would be to mix all cards (trying to discard as much possible cards that would never have been on the board) and deal the flop,” he said. “[PokerStars] doesn't want to have mucked cards on the board so there's something to say for this.”

Another player who chimed in was Ari Engel, who simply said: “This does not seem like the correct ruling to me.”

There was no shortage of responses, and they varied widely.

“To avoid even the remotest collusion, I think it is correct but not feverishly defending it,” Bill Perkins chimed in.

Mike Dentale, a controversial figure in his own right, echoed the sentiment: “If the dealer dropped the deck into the folded cards ‘the muck’ then it is a correct ruling. They can’t distinguish between the muck and the stub.”

Gavin Griffin offered his two cents: “Seems the worst option possible? I can see arguments for both declaring the hand a misdeal and shuffling every card together and playing from there.”

On the other side of the coin were those who said the hand needed to play out.

“I think you have to just use the folded cards and proceed with the hand? It just can’t be a chop,” said Dave Mock.

Even Ryan Beauregard, the director of poker operations at Wynn Las Vegas, thought the hand should’ve played out. “They had it right the first time,” he said. “Shuffle all and continue the hand. A very common ruling actually.”

TDA Rules

So, what does the Tournament Directors Association (TDA) have to say? There are a few rules that seem to apply to the situation.

35 D: Once substantial action occurs a misdeal cannot be declared; the hand must proceed (See Rule 36).

36: Substantial Action (SA) Substantial Action is either A. any 2 actions in turn, at least one of which puts chips in the pot (i.e. any 2 actions except 2 checks or 2 folds) or B. any combination of 3 actions in turn (check, bet, raise, call, fold). Posted blinds do not count towards SA. See Rules 35-D & 44-B.

Clearly a three-bet pot constitutes substantial action, so a misdeal shouldn’t have been declared. That said, chopping the pot isn’t necessarily a misdeal as chips were exchanged as a result of the hand.

In 2013, a recommended procedure – RP-4. Disordered Stub – was released and is applicable to this situation.

“When cards remain to be dealt on a hand and the stub is accidentally dropped and appears it may be disordered: 1) it is first preferable to try to reconstruct the original order of the stub if possible; 2) If not possible, try to create a new stub using only the stub cards (not the muck & prior burn cards.) These should be scrambled, shuffled, cut, & play then proceeds with the new stub; 3) If when the stub is dropped it becomes mixed in with the muck & burncards, then scramble the stub, muck & burncards together, shuffle, and cut. Play then proceeds with the new stub.”

If you go by RP-4, it seems pretty straightforward that in this hand, an incorrect ruling was made.

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