A little more than a week ago, an interesting situation took place in the 2016 Aussie Millions Event #1: $1,150 No-Limit Hold’em when Katrina Sheary played one of the Day 1 flights and made it through to the end of the day with 38,500 in chips. Heavily pregnant, she went home, and the next day she went into labor a month earlier than expected (she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy).
Unable to play the following day, her husband Peter Sheary (who had not played the event) stepped in to take her place, which was permitted by Crown officials under the following rule in their rulebook:
Peter Sheary went on to finish 25th in the event for $6,495.
The whole situation, while permitted in the rules, caused a bit of a controversy in the poker community, with many flabbergasted a substitution was allowed. Among those responding was Allen Kessler, who even started a TwoPlusTwo thread about it.
The thread seemed split between those who felt it wasn’t that big a deal and those who thought the only recourse was to blind her out. The situation — specifically an incapacitated player becoming unable to play a stack — is not unprecedented. One year at the World Series of Poker, “Miami” John Cernuto collapsed at the table during an event and was unable to continue. In 1990, Stu Ungar infamously overdosed and fell into a coma after bagging the chip lead in the Main Event.
In both instances the player’s stacks were blinded out. Interestingly, Ungar had so many chips in that tournament his empty seat ended up making it all the way to ninth place.
Debatable as it may be, the situation in Australia was permitted by the rules and the tournament officials believed allowing Sheary’s husband to substitute was the best option. But what do some of the world’s most renowned tournament directors think?
“I’m going to come off as being the bad guy here, but if the player that started the tournament cannot finish the chips should be blinded off,” American Poker Award nominee Matt Savage told me. “The player can still get into the money and collect the prize where the chips finish. Why is the husband playing in the tournament anyway with his wife in the hospital with a new baby?”
Likewise, Bill Bruce, tournament director for the Hollywood Poker Open, agreed with Savage.
“If a player was unable to finish play, for whatever reason, the player’s chips would be blinded out. Once you open the door to judging any excuse, you open the door for problems. Going into labor is something that was very foreseeable and the player had to have known that it was a calculated risk that it could possibly happen,” said Bruce, who went on to describe the potential problems that could arise from making such an allowance.
“If you make an exception for her because she needed to leave for a medical condition, what other medical conditions would you allow this for? Heart attack? Pneumonia? Broken legs/body cast? How about severe migraine requiring hospitalization? Severe anxiety? Death of spouse? Death of parent? Death of child? Death of uncle? Cousin? Sister-in-law? You get the idea. Once you allow any, where do you draw the line? Who is the judge? Does the judge need medical certification?”
Our Sarah Herring spoke to several people about the situation at the Aussie Millions, some of whom echoed Bruce’s concerns. Take a look:
What Would Happen if Someone Died During the November Nine Hiatus?
That’s certainly the most extreme case in a situation like this, so I decided to find out by reaching out to Seth Palansky, Vice President of Corporate Communications for the WSOP. Here’s what he had to say:
”We have rules that are really clear. (1) No alternate players. The person who registers is the only
person who can play in the event. And (2) Any player unable to continue will have their chips
blinded off in their absence.
For the integrity of the tournament and all its participants, we believe never making an exception
to the rule(s) is important to ensure we don’t allow any gray area or potential manipulation.
The November Nine is not handled any differently. Players enter that tournament in the summer
under the same rules as the beginning of that event and all other events we run.
While we sympathize with the circumstances that arose in Australia, it is just one of those tough
situations where we would choose to follow the letter of our rules despite the empathy
we would feel for the individual and her unique circumstances.”
So the lesson to be learned from this week’s column — unless you’re playing in the “Land Down Under,” you can expect to find your stack blinded out whenever you’re unable to play.