Count your chips before they hatch


A look into mistaken chip count at tournaments and their ruling

 Poker has always been a game of various permutations and combinations and situations with rare oddities are not uncommon. Let’s analyze the controversial mistaken chip count in the 50th anniversary of the WSOP and what the poker rulebooks say.

Situation: A player bets 1 lakh and another player goes all-in. The original bettor asks for a chip count and the dealer says it is 7 lakh. The player calls but as the chips are counted out, it becomes clear that the all-in is for 12 and not 7. The player objects to having to call the entire 12, and the Tournament Director (TD) is summoned for a ruling. What should the TD decide?

What does the rule on ‘Count of Opponent’s Chip Stack’ State?

Solution: WSOP Rule 62 provides that “participants are entitled to a reasonable estimation of opponent’s chip stacks.” Therefore players are reprimanded for keeping their bigger denomination chips in front and mixing their chip denominations that prevent a clear visual count.

A player is entitled to a precise count when facing an all-in bet. Rule 62 further goes on to state: “Participants may only request a more precise count if facing an all-in bet. The all-in participant is not required to count; if he opts not to, the dealer or floor will count it.”

The situation stated above actually happened this summer at the WSOP when Nick Marchington went all-in for 22.2 million. The dealer then counted it out and incorrectly announced 17.2 million before Dario Sammartino called. After the mistake was pointed out Sammartino protested and the floor personnel ruled that his call would stand as a call of 22.2 million, citing the accepted action rule.

The rule no 104 on Accepted Action states: “Poker is a game of alert, continuous observation. It is the caller’s responsibility to determine the correct amount of an opponent’s bet before calling, regardless of what is stated by the dealer or participants. If a caller requests a count but receives incorrect information from the dealer or participants, then places that amount in the pot, the caller is assumed to accept the full correct action & is subject to the correct wager or all-in amount.”

 Unfortunately for Sammartino, as he continued to argue, the dealer decided to run the flop. At that point, the Tournament Director arrived. He could have ruled that it was now too late to appeal the ruling, for a player should be stopped from claiming a rules violation after play has continued.

Nevertheless, the TD affirmed the decision, stating that the accepted action rule was clear. The rulebook also states the TD did not have to follow the rule.


WSOP Rule 56 states:

Floor People: The event Tournament Director, Managers, and Supervisors are to consider the best interest of the game and fairness as the top priority in the decision-making process. Unusual circumstances can on occasion dictate that decisions in the interest of fairness take priority over the technical rules.

In applying a rule, it can be helpful to look at the principle behind the rule. This problem can be likened to those situations in law where there are two innocent parties, and we must determine which of them should bear the loss. One factor to consider in allocating that loss is to determine which person was in a better position to prevent the loss, which in this case would be the person better able to prevent the mistake.

The TD was right that under Rule 104, which puts the burden on the caller, the decision is the correct one. As to whether he should have exercised discretion under Rule 56 to rule otherwise in the interest of fairness, there can be reasonable disagreement, at least if he had arrived before the flop.

Ironically, those of us watching at home knew that Marchington was all-in for 22.2 million and were immediately aware of the mistake because the chip counts are displayed at the top of the screen. Why shouldn’t this information be available to players as well?

It could be argued that estimating other players’ chip count is an important skill and the display would eliminate that advantage. But when there are two tables remaining, as there were when this situation arose, it would be helpful for players to know what the chip counts are at the other table in order to help them make ICM (Independent Chip Model) decisions, and no amount of skill would help them obtain that information.

Perhaps most importantly, if the information was readily available, it would make players happy because players would not have to ask others for their chip counts. We hope the WSOP will include this feature in its future events.