Friday, May 18, 2012

Should Poker Players Point Out Dealer Errors?

I think so, but this may be specific to my own peculiar view.

At a poker table, it is the dealer's job to make sure the game is being played by the book. Some dealers are better at this than others, and even the best dealers make occasional mistakes. Bets are miscounted, hands are misread, players are directed to play out of turn, anti-collusion rules go unenforced, pots are split incorrectly, and any number of other mistakes can happen. When I notice these things, I like to point them out and get them corrected, but when I do some other players sometimes get upset. Should I be pointing these things out? Let's look at the main factors.

1. Effect on my winnings. 
The only direct effect is that I will usually point out errors even if they were in my favor, such as an opponent putting in two many chips to call a bet. I lose money when I do that.

One indirect factor is the effect of either upsetting or pleasing other players. However, there's not that much they can do about it, and not many people take these things very personally, anyway.

Another indirect factor is that new players might feel more comfortable in the casino, which may help to make the average competition a little softer.

This category is a wash, with maybe a tiny advantage to NOT pointing out errors, especially those errors that directly result in more chips for myself.

2. Effect on the social atmosphere.
Usually, if I don't point out an error, it will go unnoticed by whomever it hurt. So, by pointing out the errors, I might be making the social atmosphere a little more tense.

An indirect effect is that everyone can relax a little more about the whether the rules are being followed. We can trust that somebody else will usually point out any mistakes.

Another indirect effect is that players might trust each other a little more, which I think encourages a better social atmosphere in the long run.

For me, the major reason I like to point out any errors I see is that the alternative is unfair to inexperienced players and players who are new to a casino. For inexperienced players, they obviously are less likely to realize if a mistake has been made. For players new to a casino, they suffer from the fact that the other players are likely to know each other and be inclined to look out for each other. So, errors that were made in the new players' favor are more likely to be pointed out and reversed, putting new players at an unfair disadvantage. When this happens, the social atmosphere becomes much worse. However, these situations are rarely so clear cut as to make a big difference.

Personally, I just feel better if I do what feels like the "right" thing, so I would be particularly uncomfortable if I ignored errors. You may be different.

Advantage to pointing out errors, but this may be partly specific to myself.

3. Effect on the purity of the game. This depends on what you think "pure" poker means. To me, it means a game of poker played by the rules, but other purists might argue that poker should be a purely individualistic game, and no player should say anything that could help another player out, even if it's just to ensure that rules are being followed.

Advantage to pointing out errors, but players with different philosophies may disagree.

I personally would certainly like it if players took a more active role in policing their games, but it doesn't seem likely that we could overturn the prevailing mentality that players should avoid getting involved in other players' hands.


I accepted a spot in the PhD program in statistics at UMBC.


I've been posting on a blog called "Skepolitical," a portmanteau of "skeptic" and "political." My most recent post was on Attachment Parenting.

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