Integrity best play for poker tournament directors

Jun 11, 2013 3:00 AM

Poker is always evolving, but some things are constant. For example, what makes a great tournament director has not changed in the over 30 years I have been playing tournaments.

Whether you ask a sample of players or tournament directors, you will get basically the same answers. A great tournament director has three main responsibilities – to represent the casino in the best light, to represent the players’ best interest, and to protect the integrity of the event he is running.

When I hired tournament directors, I looked for someone smart enough to handle people with a clear understanding of tournament structures, but above all, who embodied integrity. A thorough understanding of the gaming industry and the logistics of putting on a tournament are hallmarks of the best tournament directors, but honesty is the most important.

This point cannot be overstated. I have had to terminate four or five tournament directors for not being transparent. Tournament directors are ambassadors for their casinos.

This brings to mind a story where I was playing a $60 buy-in tournament with a $40 re-buy and $10 add-ons. I noticed all the prize money was taken into the office, where the tournament director went to count it, and at the end he came out and said, “Here is your prize pool. I know it’s correct because I counted it myself.”

With this tournament structure, there was no way to have accountability for the chips, which then leaves doubt in players’ minds. There is no reason to leave a doubt nowadays.

In Europe, some casinos use software that tracks rebuys and posts it immediately for the players to see. I have not seen this software used in U.S. casinos though it has been around for years. This would lead to more transparency in tournaments.

As Russell Matsuo, tournament director at the Normandie Casino in Gardena, Calif., put it, “Integrity is essential in any gaming venue…so that everyone, employees and players alike, know exactly what to expect at all times.”

Another hallmark of a good tournament director is fairness. The first rule in the Poker Tournament Directors Association (TDA) states: “Floor people are to consider the best interest of the game and fairness as top priorities in the decision-making process. Unusual circumstances can on occasion dictate that decisions in the interest of fairness take priority over the technical rules. The floor person’s decision is final.”

Russell Matsuo recalled an incident where he was called to a table where a player had checked out of turn, trying to influence the player from betting who was in first position. Twice he ruled acting out of turn was not binding, but on the third time he checked out of turn and it forced the first player to turn over his hand. He now wanted to bet.

Russell goes on to say, “I ruled he could not bet because he was abusing the rule and taking a shot. Using a rule for the best of fair play is TDA rule number one.”

As Nolan Dalla, the WSOP media director, said, a good tournament director “must be knowledgeable about standard rules and procedures, but also be flexible in the judgments he makes, when leniency is warranted.”

In the 10 years since the Moneymaker effect helped kick off the poker boom of the last decade, the number of tournaments has exploded around the world. The TDA has come a long way in trying to add consistency to tournament rules, but much more needs to be done.

Jack McClelland, director of poker tournament operations at Bellagio, perhaps states it best: “When I started running poker tournaments almost 40 years ago, there were a handful of rules…our tournament rule book is now over 100 pages long and each tournament starts with ‘Don’t do A thru Z.’ It has been an interesting and rewarding career that I would not trade, but staying abreast of the players who are trying to use the rules for their benefit has been a challenge. A tournament director must always strive to be fair and consistent with their rulings. I believe that I enjoy that reputation among the players.”

Next week, Part 2, the perspective of such world-class tournament players as Mel Judah and Marsha Waggoner.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Robert can be reached at [email protected].

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