Etiquette on the Poker Felt

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Etiquette on the Poker Felt
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The World Series of Poker* has released its updated rules for this year's schedule of events and, apparently, 2009 will be the year of decorum. One may rightly ask, since when does civility mix with poker?

Certainly not in years past, when we've had browbeating, verbal abuse, and endless harangues at the table. But if they are true to their rules, that will now be just a memory.

The "no swearing" rule of last year—which prohibited cursing at another player—has now been expanded to every public place at the casino. According to Rule 36, "Harrah’s prohibits the use of obscene or foul language in any public area of the casino at any time."

So now, when your pocket aces are cracked by someone who called your preflop all-in with 3-5 offsuit, you have to get up from the table and say, "Oh, my, that was unfortunate."

When your opponent catches the one-outer that saves him on the river, you say, "Heavens, how disappointing."

While the blanket "no swearing" seems a bit excessive, I'm thrilled to pieces with another change.

Immediately named the Scotty Nguyen/Phil Hellmuth rule, Rule 30B provides, "All participants are entitled to expect civility and courtesy from one another at every Tournament table and throughout the Tournament area.

"Any individual who encounters behavior that is not civil or courteous—or is abusive in any way—is encouraged to immediately contact a Tournament official."

A corollary to this rule is Rule 38, which provides, "Player or staff abuse will not be tolerated. A player will incur a penalty up to and including disqualification for any abuse towards another player or staff member."

On its face, this would seem to gut the game of poker of its character and image. Heck, this was the game Wild Bill Hickok was playing when he was shot dead.

But in recent years, as TV cameras have covered tournaments and made celebrities of the most memorable players, it seems that rudeness and disrespect have been an easy way to gain notoriety.

The new rule is very clearly an attempt to rein in Scotty and Hellmuth, who, last year, embarrassed themselves and poker with their childish tirades.

Scotty was a drunken mess at the H.O.R.S.E. final table, and you can Google Hellmuth and "idiot" and find any number of videos of his tirades against players who had the audacity to beat him in a hand.

Hellmuth's most outrageous World Series outbursts came at the end of Day Five last year, against Christian Dragomir.

After getting outplayed on a hand, Hellmuth thought Dragomir shouldn't even have been playing. Hellmuth went ballistic on the poor guy, calling him an idiot five separate times and saying he was the worst player ever.

Hellmuth was given a penalty which was supposed to kick in at the beginning of the next day, but it was rescinded to the disappointment of many and the surprise of no one.

Of course, the famous Phil Hellmuth could not be playing near the end of what could have been his third Main Event title—his twelfth bracelet over all. So, the penalty was set aside.

I understand that poker is a mental game, and you try to use any tactic to get the better of your opponent. And I've seen browbeating and denigrating your opponent as a winning approach.

But that doesn't make it right, and at some point, you have to wonder, is devaluing your opponent as a human being really worth it? Isn't winning with class—think Peter Eastgate, Jerry Yang, or Greg Raymer—even sweeter?

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