This week, one of the rules that rarely causes controversy was right at the center of it. When calling an all-in during the 2023 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure Main Event, a professional poker player, Paulina Loeliger, attempted to refuse to show her cards. Having lost the pot, not only did the situation escalate, but so too the social media backlash, for weirder reasons than outsiders to poker might imagine.
In the days after the incident, one question has remained hanging in the air: should the ‘must show’ rule remain part of live poker? Are the rules actually rules that should be followed at all times, or in this instance, is the law an ass and one that should be sent on its way long after its time?
The Hand in Question
It’s the PCA Main Event, the tournament is near the money bubble and the cameras are right on you. It’s at that point that your opponent sets you all-in. This was the situation faced by Loeliger – we refuse to start adopting animal-related nicknames otherwise where does it end, River Rabbit, Flop Fox, All-In Antelope? – and she only had pocket threes.
There are times for a hero call and others for throwing away bottom pair. Of course, the fact that the cameras are on the hand and her opponent, the almost comically named Daniel Custodio, play into the aggressor’s hands. Not only does Custodio sound like Portugal’s answer to Detective Harry Bosch, but Custodio could have made the move light in order to ramp up the pressure. With the cameras facing Loeliger, that makes it easier for her to fold so that she doesn’t have to hero call light.
Loeliger, in the end, balanced that tricky thought process back to making the call – and was wrong, Custodio having made a set of fours to be more than strong enough to win the hand. Loeliger, having called, had seen his cards, but felt that the rule that said she had to show hers was wrong. Was it because she didn’t want to show her hand or she disagreed with the rule on principle?
Watch it here and make your own mind up on that one.
Either way, Loeliger’s refusal to show extending to a brief but impromptu arm-wrestling session with the dealer exacerbated the situation beyond what it was – a poker player not wanting to show a hand when it was ruled that they needed to. Was it right? Of course not – it sits outside the rules and if they are being adhered to by one player, they should be adhered to by all. But some rules take drastic action to change.
Was this the right time? It’s a source of heated debate.
Keeping the Show and Tell – The Argument For
Should a player in Loeliger’s position need to show or should they be allowed to muck? Asked the question by Johnnie ‘VIBES’ Moreno, who recently put a bartender into an MSPT event which won them $41,000, the Twitter audience was split.
Can we just remove this stupid rule anyway? Let people lose in peace. The only place it’s actually enforced is overseas. If people want to muck their cards let them muck. https://t.co/vAGe8eSl5M
— Johnnie VIBES (@JohnnieVibes) January 27, 2023
As some referenced, not showing leaves the hand open to collusion. Maybe not in this hand, where it doesn’t seem like Custodio knows Loeliger from anyone else – particularly upon her lunge towards the pot, at which point he looks at her akin to how someone might look at a human magically turning into a horse – but in others, it could create problems.
Let’s argue for example that two friends are approaching the bubble. One has a gargantuan stack, the other is a little short with the trapdoor potentially approaching. If the gargantuan-stacked player was in Loeliger’s position, they might be able to play this hand not caring what they had, knowing that they can muck their all-in hand and ‘dump’ their chips onto their friend’s stack without anyone being able to intervene. There’s no suggestion that was happening in this situation, but plenty of players believed it would if the rule was changed.
Chris Brewer, who plays most high-stakes tournaments in Las Vegas, said: “I strongly disagree, the rule is important for fair play. People shouldn’t angle and try to muck their cards.”
Changing the Record – The Argument Against
For a fast-moving game at the felt, poker seldom makes any changes to its rules and regulations too quickly. In most ways, this makes general sense; why change an extremely popular game unless there is an overwhelming reason to do so? Poker is enjoyed by millions across the globe and both live and online attendances in tournaments and cash games are vast. If one player has a problem with a tournament rule, the likeliest scenario is that their end-game refusal to play would only see another hungry player fill their seat.
Certainly, Daniel ‘Kid Poker’ Negreanu believes that the rule should be changed.
When I started playing the WSOP in the late 90’s, no one put their cards on their backs when all in
After the run out, the first player to act turned it over and the other player would muck if they couldn’t beat it
No good reason for the must show rule
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) January 27, 2023
Could the ‘must show’ rule at all-ins be changed? It’s certainly up for discussion and after the Loeliger Debate – which frankly took a weird turn online – raised the issue, more and more players are asking the question as to the rule’s importance against its obvious annoyance.
As Negreanu added about poker back in the days before the rule was applied: “It did create some added anxiety. Imagine [being] all in with KK and flop is A72. You have no idea if it’s good, so you stare at the other player to get a read!”
Jason Koon replied: “It isn’t talked about as much but I think the rule also keeps some players from making calls they would otherwise make if they knew they didn’t have to worry about being embarrassed when their hand is flipped over.”
Negreanu admitted: “That is 100% part of why we did it that way back then.”
Could poker return to the old ways in this most modern of futures? We’re not throwing our hand in… but we’re saying there’s a chance.