Non-disclosure rule has long existed, and for good reason
My dedication to poker tournaments and the game itself is two decades old. Starting with my first foray into the role of tournament director in 1997 and through my founding of the Tournament Directors Association (TDA) with Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher, and Dave Lamb in 2001, I have worked tirelessly to standardize tournament rules and to make poker a better game for everyone involved.
This is the reason that we host the website www.PokerTDA.com, open the TDA to all interested parties, and make myself available on Twitter and other social media outlets. My passion for poker only grows when I share it with others.
The rule is not new, and does not ban table talk by any means … A recreational player may not understand, nor even care to know all the rules, but professionals who make a living at the game should.
During the 2011 World Series of Poker “nearly live” telecast from the Rio, I became aware of comments from Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) through my own Twitter feed (@SavagePoker). He said that the TDA created a “new” rule that banned table talk. This certainly is not the case and in hindsight, it was learned that he had received an incorrect ruling at the table that had nothing to do with TDA rules. Since social media has limited words with which to sufficiently explain the rule and its longtime existence, this clarification seems necessary.
The TDA board, in conjunction with tournament directors and card room managers, has donated thousands of hours to standardize rules in the best interest of the game. When well-known poker players like Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth choose to say on national television that “the TDA has it wrong” and “does not care about what the players want,” it becomes personal.
To begin with the basics, the TDA rule at the center of the recent discussion is the “No Disclosure” rule, which states:
Players are obligated to protect the other players in the tournament at all times. Therefore, players, whether in the hand or not, may not:
- Disclose contents of live or folded hands,
- Advise or criticize play at any time,
- Read a hand that hasn’t been tabled.
The one-player-to-a-hand rule will be enforced.
Regarding Negreanu’s previous statements, the rule is not new, as it was enacted more than seven years ago. In addition, it does not ban table talk by any means.
He also stated that players should be able to “say whatever you want in a heads-up pot at any point of the tournament.” In theory, that sounds great for the television audience. But keep in mind that far less than one percent of all poker tournaments are televised! Thus, the rule that pertains to all poker players must apply to all tournaments, televised or not. Rules cannot be changed to help individual players or enhance a televised tournament.
A quote, brought to my attention by @GaryC101, from Neil Peart of Rush sums it up best: “Glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity.” OK, kind of a random quote but says a lot about the situation in my opinion and I consider integrity the most important trait of a good tournament director.
Personally, I would like to see Negreanu say anything he wants on television, as he is one of the most entertaining players to watch. His popularity and influence on the game of poker is immense. However, as a tournament director, I believe the integrity of the game is more important than the entertainment provided by a single event. I agree with his point that the rule is difficult to enforce but it needs to be there to provide a reason for TD’s to investigate possible collusion or soft play situations.
Let’s start with a purely hypothetical situation:
Player A is friends with Player B and backs him in a major tournament. Both have significant chips late in a tournament. They are seated at the same table and involved in a hand. Player B raises, and it folds around to Player A, who reraises and says, “I have aces.” Player B folds kings.
This obviously does not make for better poker. In fact, it could easily be considered “soft play” or collusion, and making this permissible only encourages such actions. I am not by any means suggesting that Negreanu is in favor of soft play or collusion, but this is just one of several very negative ramifications that can arise from what he says he believes players should be able to say at the table.
Moreover, tournament directors around the world cannot be expected to be aware of all friendships, relationships, and backing arrangements between players in a tournament. Therefore, the rules are established to enable enforcement for all players, regardless of their associations. And all are protected from any collusion or appearances of collusion.An interesting idea was proposed by Barry Greenstein, who believes the current TDA rule is not enforced. He suggested that a player should be able to discuss his/her hand when action is on that player and they are facing a bet.
I discussed this idea with Dave Lamb, and we recognized the flaws in that idea.
First, it is not acceptable to disclose the contents of your hand in a multi-way action pot.
Second, it is not acceptable to disclose the contents of your hand preflop when facing a bet.
Barry responded that it would be okay when facing a bet on the river if you were only going to call, not raise. However, that does not seem enforceable and only creates more confusion for tournament staff, dealers, and players.
The bottom line is that the TDA is never going to agree to a rule that not only allows, but legalizes soft play and collusion.
The most common question I’ve received of late is this: “If table talk is legal but players cannot disclose the contents of their hands, what can they say”? The answer is simply anything except information relating to the content of their own hand with action pending. Whether lying or telling the truth about the contents or the strength of a hand, it breaks the rule and may be penalized. There is not a blanket rule for when it is a penalty or not but with the “non disclosure” rule in place it gives the players the right to investigate possible situations.
The most difficult part of this situation has been responding to television sound bites with which friends like Negreanu have addressed this issue. Also the sudden urgency is perplexing considering the rule has been in place for more than seven years.
Greenstein and Negreanu were asked to attend the June 2011 TDA summit in Las Vegas, in the same Convention Center as the WSOP. There were more than 120 tournament directors and card room managers at the summit, and anyone was allowed to discuss any rule issues or concerns. However, at that conference, Greenstein asked about procedures for raising blinds when time expires in a current blind structure, and Negreanu brought up shorting limit bets. Neither chose to discuss the “no disclosure” rule.
Suddenly, however, Negreanu’s airing of his grievance on ESPN, as well as Hellmuth’s declaration on the same broadcast that he intends to change the rule, brought it to the forefront and forced me to address the issue.
The recreational poker tournament player may not understand every rule, or even care to know all of the rules, but professionals who make a living at the game should learn and study the entirety of the TDA rules.
Moreover, these rules are in place and enforced in order to create uniformity, as they are used by nearly every major tournament venue around the world. More than 1,500 tournament directors, card room managers, and their staffs are members of the TDA, and the rules are accepted and enforced globally.
That doesn’t mean the TDA isn’t open for discussions. However, the “no disclosure” rule has been in place for many years, and there has never been an issue with it until this incident. Airing grievances may make for good television, but it does not permit the detailed analysis necessary for drafting the most functional and fair poker tournament rules that protect the integrity of the game. There will be more opportunities in the future to revisit the “no disclosure” rule and it will most definitely come up at our next TDA Summit not yet planned.
I have received a ton of feedback on this issue some positive and some negative. I have also taken personal attacks for defending a rule hundreds have put in place, which I feel is really unfair. I have worked diligently in my career to further the great game of poker with the TDA and its members and despite accusations to the contrary we care deeply about the players, as the majority are players as well.
In the end, I choose the integrity of poker, which is good for the game, over good television every time.
Matt Savage is World Poker Tour Executive Tour Director for eight stops on the WPT. He is also Tournament Director for Commerce Casino, the world’s largest poker casino, and Bay 101. He also recently signed on to direct both the Epic Poker League and the Partouche Poker Tour. Matt can be reached on Twitter @SavagePoker, or via the TDA (www.PokerTDA.com), or his website (www.SavageTournaments.com).