Good for Poker or Good for TV?

by , Aug 1, 2011 | 4:45 am

matt savage table talk

Matt Savage


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, 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.

The Rule
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:

  1. Disclose contents of live or folded hands,
  2. Advise or criticize play at any time,
  3. 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.

In-Depth Analysis
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 (, or his website (

31 Comments to “Good for Poker or Good for TV?”

  1. Kc

    gawd enough with this non issue already

  2. ScottyWayne

    You right, it is a non-issue and Negreanu brought it up, not Savage. Negreanu and Hellmuth have years of live table experience in high stakes tournaments, it is the LAST edge they still have and want to hang on to it. But the bottom line is they do not understand the rule which is really deplorable because as you say, it is a non-issue.

  3. Barb Dwyer

    I’ve never liked this rule nor have I known anyone who does.  There’s a difference between a player saying he has aces than there would be when a player probes for information – asking him if he wants a call and other discussion to get tells.  I think the rule should be eliminated.  

    In the example you give, saying he has aces would in that situation would be collusion.  Daniel’s off the cuff comments about the TDA were inappropriate.  Having a standard set of rules in place is great for the game and a big thanks to you for that. 

  4. Ghardy1155

    In Matts scenario the dealer should call the floor and if the player DOES have aces he should be penalized. But if he has JT os he should get a round of applause from the table.

  5. Ghardy1155

    In Matts scenario the dealer should call the floor and if the player DOES have aces he should be penalized. But if he has JT os he should get a round of applause from the table.

  6. Dan Michalski

    no way. shouldn’t matter one bit what his cards are. why is matt’s general concept so hard to grasp? the key is to NOT leave it to the floor to determine what’s in a player’s head when certain words come out of his or her mouth. 

  7. Kevin

    Even having JT could be collusion. If player B is his buddy, it very well may be code-speak for “I need you to fold”. His actual cards held is irrelevant. The rule is a good rule.

  8. Steve Brecher

    Barb, the rule prohibits disclosing the contents of one’s hand (of live or folded hands).  It doesn’t prohibit asking if the opponent wants a call.

  9. Mcrelish2

    The example he uses is ridiculous.  If 2 players want to collude they are not going to be stupid enough to do it so obviously.  I have still not heard an example where this rule prevents anything.

  10. Sam M.

    I watched Negreanu go off at the WSOP.  He may have misunderstood rule 41 and even gotten a little carried away, but I did agree with him to the extent that the rule, as it’s written, is too general.  I don’t think the rules of poker need to read like tax code, but those three subsections of rule #41 should be a little more specific.  There are nuances to poker that have existed long before rule 41 was created that are very much a part of the game.

    On a totally different topic, I 100% agree with all the pros that have been calling for a ban on sunglasses.  

  11. Jerry P

    I think the real problem is not with the players, but with both misinterpretation of the rule by TD’s, and the inconsistency of rules enforcement.

  12. Framincire

    1. Can we assume that ANYTHING goes when a tourney is headsup? There can be no collusion at that point.

    2. Why would the Wsop have this rule but then allow all hands to be shown on a short tape delay. That allows for more players to get unfair advantage. WSOP has chose entertainment over integrity of game in 1 situation but not another.

    3. Heads up at a table, two colluding players will not care what the other has. They will make sure play goes to the player they want regardless. Talking won’t effect it. In fact it might only help players get caught.

    4 I hope Daniel has made it clear that he respects your work but thinks you are off base on this.

    5 anytime you wish, I will be happy to have either of you/both on my very small internet radio show.

  13. Barb Dwyer

    By most dealers interpretation, this rule does prevent me from fishing for information – e.g. fishing for information by asking if a player wants a call.  Dealers always say ‘you can’t talk about your hands’ when it’s heads up.  

    I still think it’s an awful rule that doesn’t protect anyone from anything.  Can a tournament director give any example of where this rule has stopped what it was allegedly created to do – prevent collusion?  I’ve never heard of one instance.  I agree with the blog Daniel just wrote on the subject.   

    As a side note, in the Bike’s current tourney series they are allowing players to 

  14. Backslider

    You can say there is a good reason for the rule all you want, but you’ve never given a single credible example.  You’ve come up with a terrible rule to address a minor problem.  Just listen to the players and stop being a tool.

  15. Marco

    “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.”

    What?  Do you even think about what you are saying?  You think without this rule TD’s can investigate collusion or soft play situations?  Your lack of logic is infuriating.  Just make a rule that says collusion and soft play are prohibited, and now you have the authority to investigate collusion or soft play.  You don’t need to take away a great part of the game to allow you to do your job.  You’re trying to kill an ant with a hand grenade and you sound completely ridiculous any time you try to defend it.

  16. David Alexander

    The rule is way to open and ambiguous… and makes it so dealers believe you cant talk about your cards…. It’s one of those things that drives me crazy… when at a casino vs. a home type or card room environment….

    Poker is about information…. and when heads up you should be allowed to talk , reveal or anything…  this rule drives me crazy right along with not allowing curse words at a poker table… I mean… come on… It’s poker… its about gaming your opponent…

  17. David Alexander

    The rule is way to open and ambiguous… and makes it so dealers believe you cant talk about your cards…. It’s one of those things that drives me crazy… when at a casino vs. a home type or card room environment….

    Poker is about information…. and when heads up you should be allowed to talk , reveal or anything…  this rule drives me crazy right along with not allowing curse words at a poker table… I mean… come on… It’s poker… its about gaming your opponent…

  18. THE GRIZ-Q6

    talking about the hand as to get information should be allowed so long as it doesn’t effect other players standing in the tourney, such as not getting a player to go all-in and getting the remaining players a better standing in the prize pool….not collusion or soft play……….

  19. Nate

    okay, the example of collusion he gives in the above article about player A backing player B in a tournament and player B revealing his hand is nonsense. If that was the case, no matter what hand player B had, player A is folding to any of player B’s bet. So whether player B says he has aces or quads or air, it won’t matter to player A cuz he or she will just fold to any bet by player B to tournament. Also in heads up, I don’t see how the hell talking about the hand can be collusion. I mean if any players decided to collude, they could not only use verbal means, but they could also do some crazy sign language or eyeballing patterns to reveal their hands, right? Am I going too far with this? In the fundamentals, NO! I don’t think so cuz I think that is totally possible. It just takes a little more effort than verbal and less obvious or is it? What is the next rule they are going to implement now? That we cannot even look at each other’s face and should just keep our eyes directly to the table cuz there’s possibility of collusion by body language right? Nonsense. I mean this rule they say does eliminate the possibility of collusion doesn’t really do any help to eliminate collusion but to eliminate the skills we use or we need while playing poker: reading skill. If we can’t use reading skills by talking to a player and seeing player’s reaction, then what the hell are we player poker for? I might as well just quit poker and play some craps. This guy really needs to get a common sense or he seriously doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Just go to Daniel’s blog and read his opinion on this matter. I’ve talked to him a few days ago on this matter and he clearly explains way better than my explanation and addresses clearly where this Matt Savage moron got it all wrong on this matter.

  20. Dan Michalski

    you know, at first i thought i was clearly coming down on Matt’s side of the argument. and though i do think negreanu may be playing semantics to distract from the initial inaccuracy — which is that he made false and disparaging comments on TV about the TDA — i’ve started to come around on the need to allow some semblance of table talk … AND the TD needs to have some room for interpretation. 

    but that gets down to bigger issues of tournament rules. why IS chip dumping or soft play illegal? if i put down my $10k, shouldn’t i be able to play however i want to? i’m not talking collusion. but without a doubt i have stayed out of friends’ ways before, not chased, and folded in a spot where i might otherwise raise, because i wanted to see both me and my fellow cronie go farther. 

  21. Kevin

    So you want to get rid of Rule #43, too???

  22. Dan Michalski

    probably not. what’s rule #43 again?

  23. Brickmn808

    Why is chip dumping or soft play illegal, you ask! It is illegal because it can and will effect the outcome of the tournament. I play many tournaments where my wife is also a participant. Not once have I ever soft played to protect her, or her soft play against me. That changes the whole integrity of the tournament.

  24. Dan Michalski

    how does that change the integrity? changing play, maybe … even changing outcome. but i’m not so sure i see how it changes the integrity

    you could make an argument that having rules that aren’t fully enforceble alters the integrity. 

    and again, that comes down to the principle. if i paid my $x buy-in … who are you to tell me i can’t raise in middle position with 4-8o or check-check-check a flopped straight against some hot-girl who’s pants i hope to get into?

  25. Kevin

    For your information – Rule #43. Ethical Play:
    is an individual game. Soft play will result in penalties, which may include
    forfeiture of chips and/or disqualification. Chip dumping
    and/or all other forms of collusion will result in disqualification.So I’m guessing – YES – you would prefer to get rid of rule #43, too.And you obviously have a problem with definitions. INTEGRITY is what you exercise when no one is looking; when no one is there to enforce the rules. I’m guessing you don’t play golf, either. You don’t strike me as the type who would call a penalty on themselves. Say, ball movement that was no fault of your own…Also, one of the definitions of COLLUSION: …to appear as adversaries though in agreement. That’s why it is also illegal to agree to check-check-check down a flopped straight – hot-chick or not.Your $buy-in doesn’t get you a free pass to play any way you wish. Not with integrity, anyway…

  26. Dan Michalski

    kevin, you are welcome to question my integrity — i am confident in what the data will reveal. but just because a rule is made to protect integrity doesn’t mean that it does. 

    thanks for reminding me what rule 43 is … and no, i do not propose getting rid of it, but i do think it should be re-examined. because as much of a threat to the game as the practices it tries to prevent may be … i’d say equally  as threatening are rules that are unenforced as well as unenforceable. 

    collusion seems much easier to prevent/stop/penalize imho than soft-play. 

    i will admit that i have soft-played. (i joked to my friends that i was just part of a long-term set-up … so i can take more of their money later down the line. lol, didn’t i read somewhere that poker is a lifelong game?)

    i also have fast-played, slow-played, and dumb-played. thankfully the last one isn’t against the rules. 

    but see my point? soft-play is virtually impossible to enforce because it is near-impossible to define. 

  27. Dan Michalski

    >>That’s why it is also illegal to agree to check-check-check down a flopped straight – hot-chick or not.<<

    also, just to be clear, re-read my comment. i never said AGREE to check-check-check. that is a form of collusion. but to decide to check-check-check is different. 

  28. Fallenheroesusa

    What ever happened to the saying “There are NO friends in Poker”? Table talk is a MUST when trying to get information, “How much you have behind”? “do you want a call” “I have a big hand” “You have pocket rockets”? I personally dont see aproblem with talk like this after all reactions to certain questions when trying to get a read on someone is vital at times.

    I think the rule is telling someone what you “actually have in your hand” or showing them one card to get a reaction.

    Matt if I am wrong please let me know the next time I see you. Because what I stated above table talk wise happens everyday and some TD’s and their staff don’t follow the TDA.

    This should be part of their licensing agreement somehow and if the rules are broke pay a fine!

  29. Andrei Ungureanu

    Bad for TV imo

  30. Andrei Ungureanu

    Bad for TV imo

  31. Anonymous

     I am a poker player [versus ‘a guy playing poker’] and a member of the TDA, that being said, we have all ‘soft-played’ and to some degree ‘disclosed’ something while in a hand. Usually this is to gain an edge in some way. So far so good. 
     At the 2009 TDA Summit I asked about soft play, sometimes its a tactical and strategic move, same as disclosure, right?
     Here’s the bottom line as defined by Jan Fisher, TDA executive member, a one time occurrence is just that, a tactical or strategic move. But collusion begins to show a pattern after a while, poker is a game of hours, not one hand.
      Seriously, a player discloses a hand, ONE (1) hand, he gets a warning at most. But if a pattern emerges, that’s when floor personnel and TD’s need to be alert for collusion (i.e. CHEATING). 
      Trying to get in a hot girl’s pants isn’t cheating but it is sure as hell not poker. Although in that situation I may need to decide the odds, calling on a draw on the table or calling on a draw with her, depends on HOW hot.
      The decision is up to the TD. Will they always make the right decision? Duh, no! Different people, different reactions. Welcome to life. 
      Because of the controversy, no doubt we will try to clarify the wording at the next TDA Summit.
      But until that time the rule should stand and be interpreted and enforced by the TD’s, that’s why they’re getting paid. The rule isn’t 100% black and white, it WILL require a TD to actually make a decision. You may not like their decision and are therefore welcome to take your business elsewhere.