The dinner break ended just under an hour ago, and play has been in full swing since then at nearly every table in the room. The players at Table 37, however, didn't play a single hand until nearly 30 minutes had elapsed from the tournament clock, as yet another scandal involving chips broke out here at the Borgata Winter Poker Open.
Here's what we've determined after talking with the players involved and Tab Duchateau, Tournament Director here at Borgata.
D.J. MacKinnon returned from the dinner break and went to take Seat 1, where he had been playing from before break. Maruti Yarlapati — who finished in 13th place at the six-max event here just two days ago — was waiting for him, though, having just been handed a seat card after his table broke that directed him there. Confused? Imagine how MacKinnon felt.
Apparently, MacKinnon had stood up to sweat the result of the last hand before break, leaving his 61,500 stack under the supervision of the dealer — something that isn't out of the norm during poker tournaments. The last hand was contested by Robert Merulla (Seat 2) and Allison Schultz (Seat 4), with Merulla moving all in on the river for 50,000 (effectively 13,000, as he had Schultz covered).
Schultz tanked for a while, which prompted MacKinnon to stick around to see what happened, although he sweated from afar rather than remaining in his seat. After taking her time to make a decision, Schultz called off and put her last 13,000 into the pot, only to find her was second-best to Merulla's (we weren't around for the showdown, and thus the board cards here remain a mystery, but Schultz took to Twitter to vent about her aces being cracked by deuces).
This is where the issue of MacKinnon's missing stack began, because with his 61,500 stacked in front of the empty chair in Seat 1, Merulla's drag of the pot somehow included those chips as well as those just won from Schultz. Despite Merulla quickly producing a cell phone photograph of his stack taken after the hand — which in Merulla's opinion proved his ownership of the 143,000 now at his disposal — MacKinnon was calmly, but quietly insistent that his chips had been added to his neighbor's pile.
MacKinnon never accused Merulla of angle-shooting or stealing, attributing the situation to a potential dealer error instead, but the mathematics of the situation added up to show something was amiss. Merulla readily admitted that he began the last hand before break with around 50,000, but disputed his tablemate's assertion that Schultz only held 23,000 to start the hand before going bust. According to Merulla, she shipped a nearly equal stack his way, thus explaining the currently swollen size of his stack.
Nonetheless, a 50,000 stack had somehow transformed into one containing 143,000 — which shouldn't happen after a straight double up even with blinds and antes accounted for. However, if Merulla had added the 23,000 stack Schultz confirmed via Twitter that she lost, he should have started Level 7 with about 75,000 — and if MacKinnon's 61,500 was at some point added to that, his total of 143,000 made much more sense.
Merulla continued to deny any wrongdoing while showing Duchateau his cell phone images to show that he dragged a pot worth 143,000 his way before heading off to break. Despite the protestations of his tablemates — who pointed out that the cell phone shot could just as easily show the product of MacKinnon's stack being added to the pot — Merulla continued to state his case, insisting that his stack was accurate. Duchateau conferred with everybody involved before checking the video evidence, and after explaining the situation to the relevant parties, he ruled that MacKinnon's 61,500 would be removed from Merulla's stack and restored to its proper owner.
In explaining the ruling, Duchateau said that the video surveillance showed MacKinnon standing behind his chair to observe the showdown, and walking away after the cards were tabled. According to Duchateau, during the act of dragging the pot Merulla pulled MacKinnon's stack towards his and the chips became mixed, but the respected tournament director stated that intent was impossible to prove given the visual evidence. This meant Merulla kept his seat and the situation was deemed to be resolved.
Yarlapati, for his part, got out of dodge with his rightfully earned 145,000 — taking a new seat card and resuming his tournament. The other seven players at Table 37 were not so fortunate, though, and they were forced to sacrifice 30 minutes worth of irreplaceable tournament time at a key level in this second starting flight. Nobody was pleased with this fact, but despite their objections (MacKinnon himself was the most vocal in requesting either a frozen clock for the room or an extended clock for his table), Duchateau ruled that the tournament would roll on.
Play resumed at Table 37 with 45:00 or so remaining in Level 7, and the Borgata Winter Poker Open WPT Main Event continued without further incident.
Mackinnon took to Twitter shortly after resuming play to comment on his new predicament for the rest of night, showing that despite almost losing a 157-big blind stack while sitting at the buffet, he can still see the humorous side of a strange situation: