As the author of Robert's Rules of Poker, I get a lot
of e-mail about poker rules, especially those that pertain
to no-limit hold'em. Quite often, poker rules are enforced
in a manner that might be appropriate for limit poker, but
to mimic that enforcement manner in no-limit can do a great
deal of damage. I frequently get e-mail of this nature
regarding situations in which a player has misunderstood the
amount of a bet, calls, and then finds out that the pot has
been raised. This can easily happen, the way the modern game
is played; that is, a player is allowed to say "I'm all in"
and not even put any chips into the pot. This method leaves
the other players without any visual evidence of how the
betting has gone. If someone is hard of hearing or there is
a lounge band playing some blaring rock music, it is easy
for a person to be unaware of the big escalation in the cost
of playing. Of course, the problem also could be that
someone is not paying attention, perhaps watching the tube
instead of the play. I appreciated the fact that the
World Series of Poker had a special chip made that had
"all in" written on it, and believe use of this chip should
be mandatory whenever a player does not put all of his chips
into the pot, making it obvious that he has bet the farm.
(Its use was made optional last year.)
Here is the way the rule reads for limit poker on putting in an amount that's sufficient enough to only call in a case where the pot has been raised:
"A player who bets or calls by releasing chips into the pot is bound by that action and must make the amount of the wager correct. (This also applies right before the showdown when putting chips into the pot causes the opponent to show the winning hand before the full amount needed to call has been put into the pot.) However, if you are unaware that the pot has been raised, you may withdraw that money and reconsider your action, provided that no one else has acted after you."
If for some reason a limit player is forced to leave the amount of his call in the pot (or call the raise), he loses a bet. This is unpleasant, but not the catastrophe that can occur in no-limit. Let me illustrate the effect of a strict enforcement of the rules in no-limit.
In a $50-$100 blinds no-limit hold'em game, Player A, who's deep in chips, opens for a raise to $400.
Player B, with $3,200 in chips, says, "I'm all in," but puts no chips into the pot.
Player C says, "Call," and instantly puts $400 into the pot. Player D, on Player C's immediate left, who had his hand cocked, such that everyone at the table who was paying attention knew he was going to fold, mucks with a Sonny Jurgensen speed of release.
The dealer now says to Player C, "The bet to you is $3,200," and someone calls the floorman. What should the ruling be?
Before we go into the ruling itself, I would like to make some comments.
First, it is clearly right to call the floorman instead of having the dealer try to settle such a situation.
Second, if the decision-maker says Player C's call must remain in the pot and gives him an option to call the reraise or fold, Player C is between a rock and a hard place. If Player C decides now to call the all-in wager, Player A, who had raised from under the gun, may well decide to make a big reraise, since he knows that Player C is weak. If we change the situation and have Player B with a lot of money left, he will not know if a big reraise by Player A was influenced by the "string-call" that Player C had to make because of the ruling. So, forcing Player C to leave the money in affects the subsequent betting for all concerned in a serious manner.
Third, in practice, if Player C is given an option to withdraw his money and fold, he will almost certainly take that option rather than put a large amount of money into the pot. His hand is unlikely to be worth the larger amount, and it is dangerous to play on when a big stack knows that he has a mediocre hand and wished to play for a lot less money.
In this situation, I know that Player C will be very fortunate in most cardrooms to get his call out of the pot, because a player acted after him before the dealer drew attention to the fact that the pot was raised. In fact, there is a good chance that he will be forced to call the raise, because he said "call" a split second before putting his chips into the pot. I do not think either making the player call the raise or giving him the option to leave his call in the pot and fold are fair rulings. I would allow him to fold without penalty. Let me explain my thinking.
Did the player make an honest mistake? Almost certainly so,
as evidenced by his putting the exact amount of the original
opening raise into the pot. Was the house partly at fault by
allowing a player to declare all in and not put anything
into the pot? I think allowing a player to be all in without
putting any chips into the pot played a large role in
creating this situation. But the most important factor here
is that no harm would be done to anyone if the player was
allowed to retrieve his money and fold. I do not regard
Player A or Player B as being damaged, because they are not
hurt when someone is allowed to do what his hand indicates
is right, assuming that player did not get any unauthorized
information that allowed a change of course from what would
have occurred. In fact, it is quite possible that one and
possibly both players contending for the pot would not mind
in the least having one fewer opponent to beat. Lastly, it
is obvious that Player D's fold did not induce Player C to
take a course of action that he would not otherwise have
taken. (It would be a totally different situation if the
action taken by Player D had not been a fold, but a call or
reraise.) So, if I were making the ruling, I would allow
Player C to withdraw his chips and muck his hand. You should
not be as strict in this situation when it occurs in
no-limit as you might choose to be in limit hold'em.
Should the rules of poker covering this situation in no-limit be rewritten? Possibly. Should people making rulings not be so literal-minded that they cannot see or do what is fair? For sure. We may remember the admonition of Confucius: "Better wise men than wise laws." I suggest that floorpeople in most situations allow a no-limit player to fold if he is obviously unaware of a raise when putting money into the pot.