A sideways move
The Main Event of the World Series Of Poker (WSOP) captures the imagination of players and onlookers like no other poker tournament. The feature table coverage is an annual treat with the trio of Lon McEachern, Norman Chad, and Jamie Kerstetter providing the quintessential soundtrack to the afternoon action. Meanwhile, the pairing of Nick Schulman and Ali Nejad brings a smooth jazz espresso flavor to the night shift.
Sometimes, the feature table throws up a moment of controversy. Under the lights, who can forget (despite how we all try) William Kassouf and Griffin Benger squaring off in 2016. Well, one hand during feature table coverage on Day 5 of this year’s Main Event delivered a moment that appears to have split public opinion.
he slid those stacks an inch to the right
Elite high stakes poker pro Chance Kornuth was on the turn after his opponent Kyle Arora made a bet. In the tank, Kornuth stared at his opponent for 30 seconds before reaching down to his stack, pulling away enough chips for a raise, and then, with his sunglasses-covered eyes surreptitiously focused on Arora, he slid those stacks an inch to the right.
This motion constitutes no action but it can induce a reaction from a player, who could in that moment, give away the strength of his hand. Some people on social media thought that this move was an angle-shoot, an unsporting maneuver outside of the realm of fair play. Others believe it was absolutely fine and part of what separates live poker from its online counterpart.
Let’s go to the tape
A video clip of Kornuth’s dummy sparked off a heated debate:
In the hand, Kornuth had pocket jacks on a board that read 6 7 2 7. Kyle Arora bet 710,000 into a pot of 1,205,000, roughly half of his remaining stack. Kornuth paused for half a minute before grabbing a stack of chips, enough to put his opponent all-in. In a deliberate action, he motioned those chips sideways and not forward, staring at Arora in the hopes of seeing a tell.
In Brewer’s opinion: “There should be penalties for intentionally moving your chips in a way such that you are making your opponent think you are calling/raising for reads.” On the other hand, Poker Players Championship runner-up Ryan Leng thought it was fine:
Live poker is not online poker
Here’s the problem. Live poker is just that. It’s a game in which the players can look at each other, talk to each other, gesture to each other, and induce each other to reveal their true intentions. Online poker is a sanitized version of the game, an offshoot that removed aspects of what had previously been integral. It has become so popular that, for some, it has become the standard by which poker is judged. So much so that it is almost as if live poker is a variant of the purer online version.
live poker needs to be a battle of wits, nerves, and composure
This is relevant in the case of Kornuth and this hand, as it is likely this perspective that has adversely affected public opinion, with many deeming his behavior unconscionable. The thing is, live poker needs to be a battle of wits, nerves, and composure under pressure. Live poker is poker in its purest sense and for all the brilliance of online, it is poker with aspects removed, rather than the other way around.
Brewer believes that, in this case, Kornuth’s actions warranted a penalty. Norman Chad on commentary said: “It’s allowable but I still don’t like it.” Daniel Negreanu joined the debate, commenting: “If you try to start enforcing rules like this then you are headed down an incredibly slippery slope.” The Canadian poker pro added: “He didn’t come close to breaking any rule, and I don’t know how you would word a rule fairly to prevent something like that.”
The dealer here saw Kornuth’s actions but since there was no forward motion with the chips, there was no violation. This provoked some to question the rules as they are:
Others believe that the rules are robust enough:
World Poker Tour champion Soheb Porbandarwala had a more liberal definition of what is okay:
Whatever you think of Kornuth’s play, it is within the rules. It is certainly reasonable to think that those rules could be modified but doing so would risk further sanitizing the game, removing interpersonal aspects that make it challenging for players.
Also, in these spots, there’s always one more pundit’s opinion worth considering: