The Muck: What Should Happen if a Poker Player Tests Positive for COVID?

poker tournaments covid test

A player who bagged chips in a live poker tournament begins to feel ill and decides to take a COVID-19 test, which comes back positive. This is a scenario that will likely arise on occasion with the world stuck in the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic.

When this similar situation occurs, what course of action should tournament operators take? In this edition of The Muck, we dive deep into this issue based on the poker community's opinions.

We start The Muck with tweets from Allen Kessler and Justin Bonomo, who each brought forth interesting suggestions on Twitter.

"The Chainsaw" was focused on ensuring those who sat at a table with a COVID-positive player were informed by staff. He polled his followers on the type of responsibility tournament staff should have in informing those individuals.

Bonomo, on the other hand, argued that tournament operators should have a policy in place to give a player money back from the prize pool in the event of a positive COVID-19 test during the event.

Addressing Kessler's Poll

Both issues are important for the poker community to address. Many pros sounded off on social media with some interesting responses to Kessler and Bonomo. Based on the responses, it's clear that no matter which policies are put in place, there will be plenty of players who disagree.

Allen Kessler

Of the 865 Twitter users who voted in Kessler's poll, 58% voted in favor of the card room or tournament staff informing opponents that a player at their table tested positive for COVID-19. Everyone else seems to believe that catching the virus during a pandemic is an assumed risk when playing live poker.

"Every event has exposure direct and/indirect. Every player enters an event knowing this fact. Many might not want to admit it," @VIPVegas72 wrote.

"So you travel 1500 miles to play in a tournament and someone tells you someone has covid. I would not do anything and keep playing. What would you do?" @Bancheeta tweeted.

"Unless they are doing contact tracing, which would be near impossible, just send a notification to all and maybe a picture. That's about all ya could do," @Eddiefelson2019 argued.

The issue at hand is if poker room and tournament staff have a moral obligaton to inform players and dealers they came in contact with a person who tested positive, possibly for many hours. Kessler was critical of the World Poker Tour (WPT) for failing to inform those who sat with Matt Stout during the recently completed WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic after he announced publicly that he was COVID-19 positive.

Paying Back Sick Players?

Bonomo raised a separate but related concern in his tweet, and that is the issue of giving players who test positive in the middle of a tournament a portion of the prize pool.

An example of this would be if a player experiences symptoms after bagging a big stack following Day 2 of a three-day event heading into the final table. If there isn't a policy in place to ensure the sick player is fairly compensated, will that player show up ill and not inform others at the table of the positive test? But not everyone agrees with Bonomo's suggestion.

"How about we just learn to live with Covid and people can decide to take their own risks. This isn’t difficult," @DontMindMoi3 said.

"Pulls out test kit after getting crippled," @YUFollowingM3 joked.

"How bout we treat it like any other illness? You get sick and leave your stack blinds out," @SherryPluskota added.

Sean McCormack, Director of Operations at the Aria poker room in Las Vegas, responded to Bonomo's tweet.

Matt Savage, the WPT's Executive Tour Director, also responded.

"A lot of moving parts and need casino partners to agree with terms and there’s different protocols by casino, state, and country. Would also need all players to sign a release form and it’s already difficult enough to get some players to sign a standard TV release," Savage wrote.

If tournament operators are to implement a policy to pay players a portion of the prize pool following a mid-tournament COVID-19 positive test, they'll have some loose ends to iron out. Will the player receive just the buy-in, an ICM value based on their chip stack, or some other amount? And will such a policy turn some players away from competing?

During the 2021 World Series of Poker (WSOP) $250,000 Super High Roller, one player proposed a buy-in refund for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 during the bracelet event. But that is one of the few examples in which such a policy was put in place, and not every player agreed to it.

There's likely no easy answer to a question that's bound to rise frequently in the pandemic times in which we live.

  • Read what poker players had to say about potential COVID-19 rules during tournaments.

Name Surname
Senior Editor U.S.

More Stories

Other Stories

Recommended for you

The Muck: Daniel Negreanu on Players Who Duck Tough Opposition The Muck: Daniel Negreanu on Players Who Duck Tough Opposition