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How Do We Appropriately Punish Bad Behavior in Poker?

Player punishment in live poker tournaments is an interesting animal. In most sports, penalties for violating the rules or over-the-line behavior involve some sort of consequence that directly hurts the player’s team. In hockey, players get put in the penalty box, forcing their team to play short-handed. In basketball, the opposing team gets to shoot free throws, offering a chance for easy points. In American football, the offending team loses a down or yards.

In poker, though, penalties almost always just involve a player having to sit out an orbit. The odd thing about that is that there is no guarantee it is actually a punishment. Live tournaments are a mental grind, so sitting out for a little while could actually do a player some good. Plus, while there is of course no way to know, the player may have been saved from a bustout.

But what about those times when a penalty of an orbit or two doesn’t seem like enough? A situation came up in Pennsylvania recently where tournament officials were put to the test. Over the weekend, 2012 World Series of Poker National Champion Ryan Eriquezzo blew up during the PARX Poker Big Stax $1500 + $100 tournament. In his words via Twitter, “Had it back to 200 k and lose aa to qq all in pre for 150k each at 1600. Nbd just a 200 bb pot again w aa here. Standard. Crumbs left.”

Ryan Eriquezzo Image from Joe Giron/WSOP.com

Ryan Eriquezzo
Image from Joe Giron/WSOP.com

Getting drilled for that many chips with Aces against Queens is certainly demoralizing. I wouldn’t be happy about it at all. But Eriquezzo did not simply fume silently. About twenty minutes later, Eriquezzo followed up with another tweet, “Just had my stack taken out ofcplay on PARX main event for crumbling my cards after taking a 200/bb beat. Had 85k left. @MattGlantz”

The final portion of that tweet is a callout to poker pro Matt Glantz, who serves as the PARX poker room ambassador. Initially, while nobody thought crumpling the cards was appropriate behavior, some in the poker community were coming to his defense. An example of a post from Two Plus Two: “Disqualifying someone from a tournament for damaging the cards, at least unless it has been done on more than one occasion, is WAY too severe a penalty. He should be given a one-round penalty and forced to pay for a replacement deck. Seriously, you’re going to essentially fine him $1600 for doing like $1 worth of damage?”

In the meantime, though, Glantz was investigating the situation, as he was not present at the time of the incident. He later tweeted, “I am being told u were DQ’d for crumpling the cards, throwing the cards, & berating the floor & dealer.”

Ok, things got a bit more heated.

Speaking of heated, Glantz followed that up with, “@RyanEriquezzo the floor said he would have prob only have given u a 2 orbit penalty if u didn’t threaten to “blow torch the place.”

Well, now.

Eriquezzo has denied the blow torch comment and Glantz actually clarified later that it does appear that he made a “torch” comment after being disqualified, saying something to the effect of, “I’m going to torch this place on Twitter.”

When all was said and done, reactions in the poker community continued to be mixed. Some felt the disqualification was entirely justified, with or without the “blow torch” statement. An example:

This issue is more about how you’re supposed to act in a public place and less about the monetary damage inflicted. Think about it this way: if a grown man throws a temper tantrum in a shopping mall, grocery store, night club, movie theater etc. without damaging any property should he be allowed to stay there? Hell no! He’s disturbing other customers and employees and acting in a socially unacceptable way. Also, people who act in such aggressive ways are the most likely candidates to inflict physical harm on others, so it’s a good pre-emptive measure to kick them out. Good riddance.

As mentioned earlier, nobody has defended Eriquezzo’s behavior, but some do have a problem with the penalty. In response to the above quote, one Two Plus Two poster wrote:

In each of these instances, the person in question isn’t being denied several thousand dollars in equity by being kicked out. The cost of being DQed from a tournament is so much greater by several orders of magnitude that the situation is not comparable. It would be more like saying that if someone throws a tantrum in a grocery store, the store has a right to kick them out and also confiscate their car that’s in the parking lot.

And that seems to be the key point of contention here. How do we appropriately penalize someone who has clearly crossed a line, who has done something deserving of more than just timeout? Poker players are risking real money. Is it justified for a poker room to kick a guy out and keep his buy-in? What if it was the $10,000 WSOP Main Event? What might Jack Effel do if someone loses control in the $1 million Big One for One Drop? Does he take someone’s seven-figure buy-in? In poker, it almost seems like punishments are either too lenient or too harsh. There’s not much of a middle ground. Either someone gets a slap on the wrist that offers them a chance for a breather or they get money taken away from them.

For his part, Matt Glantz responded to critics on Two Plus Two with a simple and effective statement. “While other venues may tolerate that type of behavior, we will not at Parx,” he said. “I guess we are the exception in the industry that we choose to protect our staff and make sure we maintain an enjoyable environment for all players. I am so very proud of that fact.”

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