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Top 10 Stories of 2013: #6, Controversial "First Card Off the Deck" Rule

Posted at 17:42 2013-12-27 by Josh Cahlik

Every year, the staff at PokerNews votes and compiles its Top 10 Stories of the Year. On Monday, the list debuted with #10, Phil Ivey, Masa Kagawa, Justin Smith, and Others Face Legal Trouble and one story has been released each day since, counting down the list towards No. 1. It's now Friday, and we're here with the No. 6 story on the list, the highly controversial "First Card Off the Deck" (FCOTD) rule.

The FCOTD rule was the most hotly contested debate to take place in the poker world this year. The rule combined with its adoption by the Tournament Directors Association (TDA) spawned several articles, social media warfare, and killed poker hands. This rule has been the target of much controversy over the course of this year, having been both criticized and defended by high-profile names in the poker world.

The rule states the following:

TDA 29: At Your Seat

A player must be at his seat when the first card is dealt on the initial deal or he will have a dead hand. A player not then at his seat is dealt in, he may not look at his cards, and the hand is immediately killed after the initial deal. His blinds and antes are posted and if dealt the bring-in card in a stud-type game he will post the bring-in*. A player must be at his seat to call time. “At your seat” means within reach of your chair. This rule is not intended to condone players being out of their seats while involved in a hand.

This rule was adopted by the TDA this summer, after the organization met June 26-27 for its bi-annual summit at the Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino. The purpose of the organization is to create and implement basic standards, rules, and procedures in an effort to standardize rulings in tournament poker. During the course of these meetings, some rules were altered, some added, and some completely changed.

The most notable change was was to this "first card off the deck" rule. In the past, the rule stated that a player's hand would be killed if he or she was not at the table by the time the last card was dealt to the button. The change was made so that if a player was not at his seat when the first card came off the deck, his or her hand would be announced dead.

It must be noted that while this rule was adopted by the TDA over the summer, it has been implemented by PokerStars-sponsored events for the last two years. PokerStars, and most notably its European Poker Tour, are governed by their own rules which include the FCOTD rule.

Despite PokerStars already having this rule in place, the TDA's adoption of it sparked strong opinions from some professional players. Leading the charge against this rule was none other than Team PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu, who had no qualms with attacking the change.

"Is this an issue that players were concerned with? Have you ever heard anyone have a problem or complaint about the last card off the deck rule? I have never ever heard a single person ask for such a change," Negreanu wrote in his blog.

Poker Hall of Famer and TDA board member Linda Johnson quickly came to the defense of the rule and presented the following statements to PokerNews:

"The first card off the deck rule was made mainly for game integrity," said Johnson. "There are a few other reasons as well, but first of all what this rule says is that a player can no longer come behind another player and still have a live hand. It’s happened to all of us. I’ve come up to a table and accidently seen a player's card and my hand is kept live. It’s been done to me as well. I think there was a big issue the other day with that same problem. So what this does is eliminate that so it’s really good for the game integrity."

"Another reason it’s good because of favoritism," she added. "A dealer looks up and sees Phil Ivey coming to the table and may decide to slow it down to get his hand to him on time. Conversely, a dealer may look up and see a guy who doesn’t tip or doesn’t treat them nicely and will speed things up to kill his hand. This takes away any kind of integrity issues from the dealer or the player."

Negreanu's reply to her argument on favoritism? "Bulls***."

Of course, that was far from all that Negreanu had to say on the issue. His main complaints with the change were that it was never a concern of players to begin with and the fact that the TDA failed to seek out the opinions of the players when making such dramatic changes to the rules. Negreanu took to YouTube to discuss this issue in one of his famous "rants".

"The biggest issue with what they are doing is they are implementing rules, putting them forth, without any issue coming from a player," said Negreanu. "No player has ever, ever made an issue out of the last card off the deck rule. So to make a change to something on a whim, without there being a pressing issue is a problem. Especially because they are not polling the players or asking the players what they think of such things."

The rule began to catch more flack from players in August as the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $10 Million Guarantee Championship Event took place. Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier was one such player.

“Are you ready for me to rip on it?” Mercier asked our very own Rich Ryan in his piece "The War Against Wandering". “It’s terrible.”

Mercier's sentiments were made even more clear in a blog that he wrote on the subject of the rule.

At the same event, pro Paul Volpe agreed with Mercier's sentiment, calling the rule "unbearable."

On the other end of the spectrum, poker rule connoisseur Allen Kessler had some words that showed appreciation for how the rule guards integrity.

“It’s alright,” Kessler said. “If you’re standing, you could potentially see other people’s cards. As long as everybody knows the rule and every dealer is enforcing it the same, it’s fine.”

And so the opinions continued to grow while some players came out against the rule and others vocalized their support of it. It was an incident during the EPT Barcelona €10,300 High Roller, however, that got the entire poker world talking.

Once again, Negreanu was at the center of the drama.

Thankfully, our Live Reporting Team was on hand to provide a full account of the incident, but the cliffnotes are as follows:

During Level 2 of the tournament, a hand began where Negreanu was in the small blind. Negreanu, who had recently been talking with Philipp Gruissem at an adjacent table, had returned to his table, posted his small blind, and stood behind his chair while continuing to talk across the tournament floor. The dealer began to deal the cards and immediately mucked Negreanu's hand. When Negreanu turned his head back to the table and saw this had happened, fireworks began to fly.

"I was right there!" shouted Negreanu. "I was standing right there!"

The floor staff was called and the situation was explained. Negreanu's hand was ultimately pronounced dead and the six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner went into a tirade that almost brought the tournament to a halt. An enraged Negreanu picked up his entire stack of chips in one hand and slammed them into the middle of the table in protest, announcing that he was all in in the dark because he did not want to be part of the tournament anymore.

"These f***ing rules are so stupid they make me want to shoot myself in the face!" exclaimed Negreanu.

Ultimately, Negreanu was all in from the button and Timothy Adams quietly dropped forward a call from the small blind. Adams tabled {7-Diamonds}{7-Spades} and Negreanu squeezed out the {A-Hearts}{3-Hearts}. The board fell {2-Hearts}{2-Diamonds}{2-Clubs}{5-Spades}{J-Diamonds} and just like that Negreanu was eliminated from play, later tweeting that he "literally quit the tourney lol".

Comically enough, once Negreanu participated in several interviews where he addressed his actions, he bought back into the tournament and ultimately finished runner-up to Thomas Muhlocker for €263,800.

After this was all said and done, Negreanu's punting of his stack in the big buy-in event prompted strong reactions from many of the top players in the world. Suddenly, the rule that annoyed and bothered some was the mostly hotly debated topic in poker.

World renowned tournament director Matt Savage came out with an Op-Ed defending the FCOTD rule where he cited his reasons for supporting it and wanted to make clear his willingness to listen to player input.

On the other side of the coin, Dan O'Brien wrote a lengthy response stating a case against the FCOTD, focusing on the ideas that rules should err on the side of not killing hand, dealer function, and the fact that poker is a social game.

Despite all of the hotly contested debate surrounding the rule change, the rule still stands. The TDA will meet again in 2015 where there will certainly be much input and vocalization of rule changes from an array of professional players.

PokerNews Top 10 Stories of 2013:

Stay tuned for more of the Top 10 Stories of the Year right here on PokerNews.

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